With 10 of the match-day 23 making their league debuts for ‘the RFC’ there is definitely a very fresh feel about the Hartpury University squad named for tomorrow’s season opener with Richmond.
That is not to say, of course, that the players do not know each other well. Nine months of ‘pre-season’ should have put paid to any initial shyness and certainly there’s a great feel around the Alpas Arena as the preparation phase gives way to serious action.
Club co-captain, Luke Stratford will be leading from the front row, but a niggle means that there’s no place for his ‘partner in crime’ Will Crane – the experienced Nick Selway makes his debut as the back-up hooker.
Back-rowers Will Safe and Harry Wilson have both been around Hartpury long enough to feel very much at home and Ashley Challenger is now starting his second season, but the reminder of the pack are new.
Ehize Ehizode made a handful of appearances on loan from Bristol Bears in 2018-19, but his fellow lock, Dale Lemon, is on debut as are tight head Shaun Knight and flanker Aled Ward.
Both scrum halves are debutants, with Calum Waters picked to start and Will Flinn on the bench. The remainder of the back division have played for Hartpury in previous seasons, although winger Jack Johnson has only appeared in the cup, two seasons ago, and is now stepping up from the university side. James Williams is a returner, having played a full season in 2017-18 before plying his trade elsewhere, including Sale Sharks last season.
Cameron Holenstein (prop), Scott Russell (lock) and Wil Partington (outside back) all join Flinn as debutants on the bench. Joe Howard is another, although as a former AASE skipper and current undergraduate he is another who is very familiar with the Hartpury way.
The game at the Alpas Arena kicks off at 1.15pm. The match is being live-streamed via www.championshiprugby.co.uk/live-streams (£10 per match) and the coverage will start from 1pm.