Both Bedford and Hartpury come into Saturday’s fixture on the back of mixed recent results when the two sides meet at the Blues’ Goldington Road ground on Saturday.
Hartpury had enjoyed three straight wins either side of Christmas, before slipping up in an injury-hit afternoon at Coventry – albeit by a single point in the last seconds of the game – and then snatching a draw in similarly dramatic circumstances at home to a feisty London Scottish last Friday.
Blues – one place below Hartpury in the table – have been equally inconsistent. Three of their last five games have ended in defeat, although there was a good home win, against a strong Jersey Reds outfit, on Boxing Day.
Friday’s draw came at a further cost for Hartpury, when another busy night for the side-line medical staff saw them lose two more good-quality props during the course of the first hour and eventually finish the game by playing the last 30 minutes with 14 men, a fact which puts the eventual outcome – guaranteed by a Nathan-Hughes inspired last minute try and a sensational touchline conversion from the ice-cold James Williams – into a more favourable light.
Hartpury will delay announcing their squad until the last minute on Friday, although there will certainly be a number of changes from the relatively settled squads of the last few weeks. Add to that the fact that one or two of the previous absentees are healing slower than initially anticipated and it provides for a challenging week in terms of selection.
History will also favour the hosts on Saturday. Meetings between the teams have generally gone the way of the Blues so far, with Hartpury’s sole success coming at home during the strong run to safety in the spring of 2019.
Trips to Bedfordshire have, so far, proven fruitless, the closest being in that same 2018-19 season, when Hartpury led for much of the game and only a late penalty miss denied them the points.
The reverse fixture, back in October and which Hartpury came into with high hopes, also ended in disappointment when the impressive visiting half-back combination of Alex Day and Will Maisey dictated events, particularly in a second half, and which saw Bedford help themselves to a bonus-point win.
“We had a decent side out for that game and I remember that we were ahead shortly after half-time,” said Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.
“We also had the elements in our favour, but they played very well and the tactical kicking game from 9 and 10 just kept us pinned back.”
“What surprises me is Bedford’s results since then – when they’ve a lost a few games that that they might have expected to win – and some of the performances that they have put in have been fairly uncharacteristic of them.”
“The way they had played against us – scoring more than 40 points in the end – had led me to expect that they would be winning more matches than they have recently.”
“We will go out there and be positive on Saturday. We made more than 150 tackles on Friday and I think that the boys are starting to realise that we cannot just try to rely on a strong defence – we still need to challenge more with the ball in hand and create more scoring opportunities.”
“If we just allow Bedford to play the way they like to, it could turn in a long afternoon for us.”
In an interesting side-note to Saturday’s fixture (KO 3pm), Hartpury’s James Williams has emerged at the top of the current RFU Championship points-scoring table, with his closest current rival being Bedford’s Maisey, the pair sitting on 110 and 107 points respectively (Ampthill’s Russell Bennett is also close, with 106).
Williams has been in great form with the boot this season, delivering not only quantity but quality from the tee, including wide-angle successes in the closing minutes of each of the last two matches.
Perhaps the only surprise, for such a talented runner and stepper, is that he has yet to cross the whitewash this this season. Hartpury will be hoping that he and his colleagues can upset the odds and produce something special this weekend.