Hartpury will start the Championship season at the Trailfinders Sports Ground on Saturday with a very similar XV to that which kicked off in pre-season against the Ospreys, taking a lead into the half-time interval and scoring three tries in the process.
There have been some enforced changes as George Simpson, a former Ealing player, picked up a knock in training this week. The most likely man to replace him in the 15 shirt, new-signing Charlie Foley, was already out, having suffered a neck injury in last week’s behind closed doors session with the Bristol Bears. Thus, the younger Foley, Ben, moves from wing to full-back.
On the tight head, Shaun Knight has a niggling knee injury, but the good news is that cousin Ciaran, currently on DR from Gloucester Rugby, is a tailor-made replacement. He will joined in the front row by loose-head Conor Maguire, who made his Hartpury debut in the last match of 2020-21 and by hooker and co-captain, Will Crane.
A number of players will – not unusually for September – be making their competitive debuts for Hartpury. At lock forward, Alex Groves gets the nod to play alongside Cameron Jordan, thus making an all-debutant second row, while summer signings Oli Robinson – also formerly of Ealing – and Xavier Hastings, join Joe Howard in the breakaway trio.
The other club co-captain, JB Bruzulier, starts at 9 and forms a brand new half-back partnership with England U20 fly-half, Tommy Mathews, a former Hartpury College student who has returned to the Red & Blacks after two-years at Northampton Saints.
The successful centre partnership from last season, James Williams and Robbie Smith, are named again, with a Sam on either wing – Goatley and Smith.
There are three further debutants on the bench as former AASE hooker, Ethan Hunt, now of Gloucester Rugby, is set for a first Championship appearance, as are undergraduate prop forward Jonathan Benz-Salomon and the recently graduated Zimbabwean international winger, Mat McNab.
Dale Lemon and Luke Eves will offer experience later in the match, while Olly Adkins, Josh Gray and another student, Oscar Lennon, are all very capable of making an impact.
There is palpable sense of belief and optimism within the squad and, whilst nobody under-estimates the challenge posed by the red-hot promotion favourites, there is definite excitement about this game, which kicks off at 3pm.