London Scottish are the next Green King IPA Championship visitors to the Alpas Arena, this Friday evening.
It was against the Exiles, on the same field, that Hartpury ultimately ensured their Championship survival last season, with a bonus-point win. Any sort of victory on Friday would be a good indicator that Hartpury are on track to extend their Championship tenure into a fourth campaign.
It will not be easy against a club which returned to full-time professionalism two seasons ago, after a short spell as a part-time entity.
After narrow defeats to both Newcastle and Nottingham, plus a home draw with newly-promoted Ampthill, Scottish finally got their campaign moving with a 30-10 home win over early season strugglers, Yorkshire Carnegie.
“Scottish will be a challenge, as always,” said Hartpury’s Director of Rugby, John Barnes.
“They had a convincing victory over Yorkshire, last week, and jumped above us in the table with that result.”
Scottish made a number of acquisitions during the summer, but none will resonate more with Red & Blacks fans than Lithuanian winger, Jonas Mikalcius (pictured).
The former Hartpury student left Gloucestershire on a high at the end of the 2016-17 season, with a BUCS-winners medal and as member of the free-scoring ‘RFC’ side that won promotion, unbeaten, from National League 1.
In all, Mikalcius scored more than 70 tries for the Red & Blacks in two seasons of National League rugby – a phenomenal strike-rate for a side that frequently ran riot on the scoreboard.
He was signed by top-flight club, Harlequins, but – unfortunately for him – that story did not have a happy ending, as a serious knee injury, sustained during the pre-season Premiership 7s tournament, ended his dream, for now, of playing at the top domestic level.
Hopefully, for him, there will be further opportunities.
Another Hartpury old-boy and veteran of both National League and Championship campaigns with the Red & Blacks, Jacob Perry, is also on the books at the Exiles but is currently taking time out of the game after complications following a serious concussion last season.
“Sadly, Jacob Perry won’t be returning to Hartpury to play against us this week,” said Barnes.
“However, Jonas is very much a former ‘fans favourite’ here and he could well feature in the match,” he said.
“A player that we converted from back row onto the wing after his arrival from Lithuania, Jonas went on to become a massively prolific scorer for us.”
“Hopefully, there will be none this weekend, but we’re obviously delighted to see him playing again following the horrific knee injury he sustained after joining Harlequins.”
If Hartpury are to win, they will need to be more clinical than they were in their last outing, away at Ampthill.
Despite taking an early lead and dominating for much of the match, they still contrived to slip to a 19-13 defeat, with Leicester Tigers youngster, Sam Costelow, playing on dual-registration at the Bedfordshire club, taking full advantage of the chances presented from the kicking tee.
“That was a particularly disappointing result,” said Barnes.
“We had a big advantage in terms of both possession and territory but failed to score the points when we needed to.
“In – yet again – awful conditions, we made far too many errors, particularly at the set piece, and let them in for a soft try just before half time.”
“We were camped on their line for the last 10 minutes of the game but we couldn’t find a way over,” he said. “With the combination of our errors and some questionable officiating at the lineout, it wasn’t to be our day.”
Hartpury will select from a similar pool of players that has represented them over the past few weeks. Friday’s fixture will kick off at 7.45pm.