It’s always exciting to announce new signings and this year we’ve got something of a bumper crop.
As usual, the club has focused on signing younger players that we believe will make a real contribution in the Championship and who can benefit from their association with Hartpury as a launch-pad to a higher level.
However, experience is always valuable and – as has been previously announced – tight-head prop Shaun Knight (far left) returns to the county, where he will combine his Hartpury playing role with coaching at Newent RFC. Shaun has a significant rugby cv that includes Gloucester, Dragons, Bath and Stade Rouennais.
Another front-row arrival is loose-head Cameron Holenstein (left) who was playing at Old Elthamians in National 1 last season.
Originating from South Africa and a product of Michealhouse School in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Cameron originally came to the UK a few years ago to sign for Harlequins where he trained and played alongside the likes of Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler.
Sadly, injury deprived him of the chance to develop at The Stoop, but we hope that opportunity will now come in the Championship. Cameron is also starting a Sports Business Management degree at Hartpury in the coming academic year.
John Barnes, DoR at Hartpury, commented, “Both players are great additions to the front row. Shaun has vast experience from his playing days in the Premiership and it’s hugely beneficial to have that kind of background mixed into the squad to bring our younger players on. Cameron, also has experience from playing at Harlequins and Jersey. He will bring a big physical presence on the pitch and is a welcome addition as he studies alongside his playing commitments.”
The second row receives some much-needed new blood in the shape of three new signings.
Ehize Ehizode developed as part of the academy systems at both Wasps and Bristol Bears before joining ambitious National 1 club Chinnor last season. He has already made some useful contributions for Hartpury whilst on dual registration from the Bears in the 18-19 season and we look forward to getting better acquainted in the months ahead.
Dale Lemon, still a young player at just 23, has been a stand-out performer for our good friends at Cinderford RFC in recent seasons and we expect him to develop further at Hartpury. Dale is a local lad and a product of Cleeve School who played his junior rugby at Cheltenham Tigers before moving to Cinderford. He has also represented Gloucestershire and was in The Rugby Paper National 1 Team of the Season for 2019-20.
Scott Russell is one of three new signings who emerged at our BUCS Super Rugby rivals, Bath University. More recently the lock forward has been at fellow-Championship club, Coventry, initially starting in their development squad before signing a senior contract ahead of the 2019-20 season, soon after making his Championship debut. He was also voted as Cov’s Young player of the Season for 2018-19.
“It was important to get some new faces into the second row, along with our own home-produced player, Tom Everard,” said Barnes.
“Dale comes from Cinderford and is highly praised by their DOR, Paul Morris. He has been one of the stand out locks in National 1 and is now wanting the challenge of the Championship. A big, physical player who can run a line-out, to add to his qualities.”
(Above, L-R, Ehize Ehizode, Dale Lemon, Scott Russell)
“Ehize is no stranger to us having been dual registered here two 2 seasons ago. He’s an athletic lock with a great work rate. We’re looking forward to working with him more closely this time around.”
“Scott comes from Coventry and previously Bath University. Adept in either the back row or second row he adds a physical edge to our squad. A hard working player who is always wanting to improve and looking for much needed game-time for a youngster with his qualities.”
A new face among the back row forwards comes in the shape of Aled Ward (left) who joins us from another BUCS Super Rugby contender, Cardiff Met. Aled has been a strong presence in student rugby over the past few seasons and, like new club-mate George Simpson, was in the side that played Hartpury University in the 2018 play-off final at Twickenham. He has also been involved with Cardiff Blues at age grade and academy level and has been capped by Wales at both U18 and U20.
“Aled can play at blindside or Number 8,” said Barnes. “He has been one of the stand out players in BUCS Super Rugby over the past few years.”
“I’m really pleased to have him on board this coming season and see the levels that he can reach. Danny Milton, the Head Coach at Cardiff Met, has high praise for Aled and giving him the captains armband at Met shows us what a talent he is.”
There are three brand new arrivals outside the pack, including two new scrum halves.
Will Flinn is another player who will be familiar with Hartpury from his student days at Bath. The Devonian also played for Bath Rugby in the A-League before moving to Coventry in 2018. Like Scott Russell, he too signed his first senior contract with the Midlands club for the 2019-20 season.
Also in contention for the Number 9 shirt will be Calum Waters, who is currently at Bristol University and was formerly with Harlequins. Some might remember a number of electric performances from Calum in the Premiership 7s competition in recent years and he was also a member of the same England U20 squad as Hartpury forward Will Safe and old-boy Mat Protheroe.
Barnes said, “It’s fantastic to have two new 9s added to the squad. They will complement each other well, with Will being a taller, more physical scrum-half and Calum and being a sharp, sniping threat.”
“Will comes from Coventry and previously Bath Uni. He was sat behind two good scrum halves at Coventry last year and he will be looking to improve his game with minutes on the pitch.”
“Calum is an ex-England 7s player and a Harlequins product. Some will remember him well from his Jersey performance against us two seasons ago, where they – and he – tore us apart! He’s currently studying dentistry and will combine that with Championship Rugby.”
(Above, L-R, Will Flinn, Calum Waters, Wil Partington)
The third in-coming player with a Bath University background is Wil Partington. The back-three player was also with the Bath Rugby academy during his student days and spent last season with Premiership club London Irish. During his student rugby career he was named in the BUCS Super Rugby Team of the Season and also selected for England Students. Wil has also signed up to do his Sports Performance top-up degree at Hartpury.
“Wil is a fast, elusive runner and his ability to play across the back three will add great variety to our squad,” said Barnes.
Finally, we can report on three familiar faces that will be returning to the Alpas Arena.
Luke Stratford returns after a year away at Clifton RFC. A double BUCS Super Rugby winner who originally arrived from Jersey in 2014, Luke has plenty of Championship experience and produced a number of stirring performances for both University and RFC in his first spell here.
James Williams also played plenty of Championship rugby with Hartpury during the 2017-18 season before returning to his previous club, Moseley, the following year. Last season he was with Sale Sharks, making his Premiership Cup debut against Saracens back in September 2019 and also appearing in European rugby against La Rochelle and Glasgow Warriors. James can play at 10 or 12.
Ben Foley also spent one season with the club, featuring strongly during the tricky 2018-19 campaign before taking a full-time contract at Nottingham Rugby last season. With the rugby landscape in a state of flux, we are very happy to welcome the former Rotherham and Clifton winger back to Hartpury for a second spell.
(Below, L-R, Luke Stratford, James Williams, Ben Foley)
“Luke Stratford returns with a new energy and determination to crack the Championship,” said Barnes. “A tireless worker who will put his body on the line for his team mates, he will fill any energy void off the pitch left by the departure of fellow Jersey boy Harry Cochrane!”
“Jimmy Williams performed extremely well in our first year in the Championship and we were disappointed to see him leave. Sale Sharks picked him up last season and after a year up there we are very pleased to see him back and ready to perform for us again.”
“It’s also exciting to have Ben Foley back from Nottingham, where he was linked into one of the best back three combinations in the league.”
“We now have a young and exciting squad for 2020/21. There is lots of BUCS Super Rugby experience – from both inside and outside Hartpury – which shows the level that competition has got to. Adding these signings to our own BUCS signed players and our re-signed players, I firmly believe we can challenge higher up in the League this coming season. We hope that starts as soon and as safely as possible!
Hartpury University RFC players are currently scheduled to report for the start of pre-season – in whatever form that will take – on June 22nd.