Hartpury RFC return to British & Irish Cup duties this weekend, when the Scarlets Premiership Selection are the visitors to the Gillman’s Ground (2.30pm kick off).
This game, followed by next week’s visit to Cornish Pirates, will mark the end of Hartpury’s involvement in the competition, having not won a game out of their four B&I matches so far, despite all of the games being closely fought.
As a result, Saturday’s fixture will provide some much-needed game-time for many of the younger members of Hartpury’s squad, with an eye on the resumption of this season’s BUCS Super Rugby competition, while Pirates next week will encounter something closer to a first-choice Championship fifteen.
“This game is a really good opportunity for a number of guys who maybe haven’t played a great deal of rugby in the past few weeks,” said Hartpury attack coach, former Gloucester and Bristol full-back Jonny Goodridge.
“Having said that, we’ll be preparing them in exactly the same way, and with the same level of focus, as we would be doing for a Championship match,” he said.
“There is also a slight change-around in the coaching staff who are taking the lead for this fixture, so that’s another way in which things get freshened up a little bit.
Including the BUCS lads, we’ve got a senior squad of around 40-45 players and the next two weeks is all about getting as many of them involved and on the pitch as we can. It’s an opportunity for players to put their hands up for selection in the Cardiff Met game (in BUCS Super Rugby) as well as for the league game up at Yorkshire Carnegie at the end of the month.
You can see the excitement in training and there’s been a really good buzz about the place since the New Year.”
That atmosphere has been massively helped by the fact that Hartpury grabbed a win last time out, in a critical league clash against basement team Rotherham Titans. That result leaves Hartpury virtually free of any relegation worries and, more importantly, raises spirits.
“There will always be pressure in every game, because we put that pressure on ourselves to perform well and get results,” said Goodridge.
“More than anything, the Rotherham result has brought back a bit of extra confidence. We got quite a big boost from the win up at Rotherham back in September and that came through in our performances over the next few games. We’ve got to try and make sure that we get the same positive effect this time.
We played really well for a twenty minute spell in our last game and the important thing is that we build on that, starting from this weekend.
We don’t know a great deal about who the Scarlets are likely to pick, so our emphasis this week will be on us and what we can do. We want to be winning matches.”
The Scarlets team will be a combination of academy players, alongside men selected from leading clubs within the Scarlets’ catchment area.
The reverse fixture, played on a very wet and windy day at Parc Y Scarlets, back in October, was a game that Hartpury could, and possibly should, have won, eventually going down to narrow 24-21 defeat, a pattern that has been repeated in most of their B&I Cup matches to date.
Goodridge also had words of praise for recently-departed back row forward, Jake Polledri (pictured below), now playing well for Gloucester Rugby and newly selected in to the Italian national squad ahead of this year’s Six Nations tournament.
“He deserves it. He has carried on playing for Gloucester in exactly the same way that he had been playing for us. We all know what he is capable of and it’s just brilliant that he is now doing it in the Premiership. With another old-boy, Seb Negri, in the squad as well, it would incredible for the boys – and for Hartpury – to see them both playing for Italy. It’s just fantastic.”
Hartpury’s team announcement will be made on Friday at noon, although Charlie Chapman (pictured above) is likely to start in the number 9 shirt.