Hartpury go into Saturday’s difficult trip to Bedford with a rash of injury worries, following last weekend’s chastening home defeat to a strong Jersey Reds (pictured).
Big lock forward, Rob Fuller, now looks to be out for the season after coming on as replacement and sustaining a serious knee injury in the match, while a potential replacement for him in the RFC squad, Hartpury student and former Bedford youngster Ben Kelland, is also out of contention for a number of weeks.
Meanwhile there are further issues in the back row. Rob Langley, always an important presence for the Red & Blacks, will miss the next month – also a knee – while Mat Gilbert is a question mark for Bedford with an injury to a shin.
Experienced centre, Luke Eves, is doubtful for the weekend and there is no sign of a return for midfield partner, Steve Leonard.
The situation is complicated by two further factors. Firstly, the Hartpury University first team – themselves affected by injuries – had a BUCS Super Rugby fixture, away at Durham, on Wednesday night which might impact availability further. Despite satisfaction at picking up a sensational 57-14 away victory against a side previously 100% in the competition, Hartpury will be more interested in the physical condition of the returning squad.
Secondly, the advent of the Premiership Cup competition this weekend is likely to impact the supply of dual-registered young players from clubs such as Gloucester Rugby, Bristol Bears and Worcester Warriors – who Hartpury have close relationships with.
All of which means a headache for Director of Rugby, John Barnes, and Head Coach, Mark Cornwell, particularly given the task in hand this coming Saturday.
After winning their opening two games of the season, Bedford then hit a run of three defeats, albeit one of those away at unbeaten London Irish. Since then, however, they have been back on the winning trail, following up back-to-back victories over the two Yorkshire sides with a stunning away win at Cornish Pirates last time out.
“After Jersey last weekend, Bedford represent another massive challenge,” said John Barnes.
“They are a team full of high-calibre players. They have pace out wide and a very solid forward pack.”
“The injuries that we have, right across our rugby programme, are causing us some issues at the moment and there is a good chance that we will have to ask some players to ‘double-up’ from university duty – something that we generally try to avoid.”
Barnes, though, was making no excuses after the 14-52 home beating by Jersey.
“We were facing a good side, in good form,” he said.
“There was a big turning point in the first half when we were on their line and they were down to thirteen. We failed to score and then we concede two tries and the game has gone away from us completely.”
“I was very impressed by Jersey. They were as physical as we expected them to be, but they played plenty of open rugby when the opportunity arose. I’m expecting them to be near the top of the table come April.”
Saturday’s game is a 3pm kick off.