The benefits of a largely fit and available player group – something that the club experienced very rarely last season – are becoming apparent as Hartpury are able to rotate in a number of positions and yet still field a strong line-up for Saturday’s visit to Ealing.
After last weekend’s satisfying home win in a typically tight fixture with Coventry, Hartpury now face the powerful Trailfinders, followed by Premiership-club-in-waiting, Newcastle Falcons, on successive weekends.
With the immediate pressure for points not as critical as it was this time last year, these are fixtures for the players to look forward to and by which Hartpury can measure the progress that they appear to be making this season.
George Simpson is not available to play against his parent club, so Mike Wilcox steps back in at 15. The three-quarters are largely as per the Coventry game, with the exception that Joe Margetts gets the chance to recreate his BUCS Super Rugby-winning centre partnership with Robbie Smith, as Luke Eves gets a break.
The lively Harry Cochrane will start at scrum-half, with club skipper and former Trailfinder, Luke Carter, swapping to the bench. Tiff Eden, who landed the match-winning last-minute kick versus Coventry, gets the 10 shirt at the ground where he made his Hartpury debut last year.
There are several changes in the pack. Des Merrey and Bristol loanee, Jake Armstrong, are selected either side of hooker, Will Crane. Armstrong will be making his first Hartpury appearance of the season, having played during the 2018-19 run-in. Current undergraduate, Crane, will skipper the starting line-up.
John Hawkins remains in the engine room, where he is joined by the versatile and hard-working Will Safe, transitioning from last week’s back row.
Max Clementson gets his first start of 2020 on the open side, with Sam Graham starting at 6. Sadly, Seb Nagle-Taylor is unwell, meaning that Iain Grieve, another former Ealing man, slots neatly in at Number 8.
The bench has a strong look, with Will Tanner and Ashley Challenger providing the front row options alongside England age group loose-head, Harry Fry, stepping up to this level for the first time. University skipper, Harry Wilson, and the industrious Jack Preece are the other forwards available.
With Hartpury opting for a 5/3 split for what is likely to be a fast, open game, Carter and Joshua Bragman – the regular starting half-back partnership – can add impact, alongside England age-group centre, Jack Reeves.