England U20 scrum-half, Matty Jones, starts for Hartpury tomorrow night in the first leg of the new Championship Cup competition away at Richmond Rugby.
His return to availability following the recent U20 Six Nations is timely, as resources are stretched in his position following injury to JB Bruzulier during the regular season finale at Cornish Pirates back in mid-March. He most recently featured for a young Gloucester Rugby squad in their impressive Premiership Cup win at Ashton Gate last week.
The rest of the squad has a familiar look. Will Britton and Dale Lemon form a powerful second row as part of an established front five. With Premiership clubs involved in cup competitions, there are relatively few DRs, which means no Mitch Eadie, although the back row of Aled Ward, Harry Short and Josh Gray should be able to give a good account of themselves.
Tommy Mathews will be pleased to return to the 10 shirt, after playing much of the Pirates game at 9, while newly-announced Bears’ signing, Jimmy Williams – Championship leading points scorer in the regular season – starts at centre.
A few fresh faces on the bench see Tom Sims (prop) arrive from Bristol as a DR (he has featured before) as well as club-mate and back-up scrum half Rhys Price, who has been training with the squad for a number of weeks.
There is also an opportunity for student and BUCS Super Rugby back three player Brandon Wood, a goal-kicker who has represented Wales at sevens. Another back, Tom Price, has spent plenty of time in and around the squad but opportunities have been limited to pre-season.
Head Coach, Mark Cornwell, will be relieved that there is finally some clarity on squad sizes for the competition, now confirmed as 23 – as per the regular season – following an initial guidance to clubs of 20, which called into question issues of player welfare.
The Cup comes at the end of the league campaign and it remains to be seen how the majority of clubs choose to treat it, although the chance of a few extra games to fill coffers and the possibility of some extra silverware is likely to appeal to some.
“We’re ok player-wise,” said Cornwell, “despite some absences as a result of injury and other factors.”
Hartpury do come off the back of an encouraging performance, despite defeat, at the Mennaye in which they picked up two bonus points to finish a creditable seventh in the table.
“Conditions were pretty difficult with a strong wind blowing straight across the pitch,” Cornwell said.
“We knew what Pirates wanted to get their game going and we denied them that. We drove well and we generally played well overall to take a half-time lead. We physically stood up to them and we could, possibly should, have won the match. The injuries obviously didn’t help.”
There was time for a word for James Williams, whose signing by Pat Lam was announced this week, revealing him as the latest in a long line of Hartpury University, College and RFC players to made have made the step up to the Premiership over the past 10-15 seasons.
“He’s done very well and it’s obviously no surprise to us that the top points scorer in the Championship is attractive to a Premiership club,” said Cornwell.
“Bristol have acquired a more than decent player who can play at 10 or 12. He’s Bristol-based, which works well for both parties. Clearly, it’s up to him to make the most of his opportunity, but he certainly goes with our best wishes and, like all these players who we develop, it’s both good for him and good for Hartpury University.”
The home leg of the Richmond clash is scheduled to take place on Saturday, 23rd April and could lead to a further two-legged tie with Jersey Reds or London Scottish. Tomorrow’s game kicks off at 7.30pm.