Hartpury will be looking to build on last Friday’s winning performance when Yorkshire Carnegie are the visitors to the Alpas Arena on Saturday, in Week 6 of the Greene King IPA Championship.
Contests between the two clubs have been nip and tuck since the Gloucestershire side ascended into the second tier two years ago, Hartpury winning 16-5 at home in the corresponding fixture last season, while the northerners have picked up two narrow victories at Headingley.
The first ever game between the two clubs ended in a draw back in September 2017, Yorkshire recovering strongly after Hartpury, at home, had built up a big first-half lead.
Carnegie have been consistent Championship performers in recent years, making it as far as the play-off final in the 2016-17 season – losing out to eventual winners, London Irish – after also finishing second in the league table.
However, there has been a backdrop of financial turmoil at the club, which came to a head earlier in the current calendar year when it was announced that Carnegie would become a semi-professional club for the 2019-20 campaign.
This, in turn, led to a significant turn-over in playing and coaching staff, with a number of the club’s leading figures moving on during the summer.
This has resulted in an influx of new or, in some cases, returning faces for the current season and the club, under the leadership of Director of Rugby, Martyn Wood, and Head Coach, Joe Ford, are working hard to pull the squad together.
Joe Carlisle, a former Hartpury student and player, has been recruited and many will recognise Tom Varndell, previously of Leicester Tigers, Wasps and England, among the other recent signings.
Unsurprisingly, in the unforgiving environment of Championship rugby, results have been hard to come by. Yorkshire have yet to record a win in either league or cup so far, the most recent result being a 66-13 home defeat at the hands of fourth-placed Ealing Trailfinders.
This, combined with Hartpury wins in each of their previous two home games, sees the Red & Blacks coming into Saturday’s fixture with the unusual tag of favourites.
Certainly, there was much to admire in the most recent display – a 44-17 victory over London Scottish – and Director of Rugby, John Barnes, was happy that his team finally seem to be reaching the levels that he has been looking for.
“We finally delivered the performance we knew we had in us,” he said.
“The dry weather helped us execute with far greater accuracy than we had shown at Ampthill in the previous match.”
“We scored early and controlled the game, for most parts. Our set-piece performed well, which laid the foundations for a more attacking game plan.”
“Scoring six tries in an emphatic win is a real confidence boost and we will look to continue that level of performance against Yorkshire on Saturday. It’s another game that we need to win in order to push ourselves up the league.”
The game is the last of the opening six-match league ‘block’ before the Championship Cup returns for a three-week period, after a weekend off.
Finishing that block with, potentially, three wins from the previous four games would represent a healthy state of affairs for Hartpury who, last season, failed to register a single victory in any of October, November, December or January.
Much will depend upon personnel. There are a few bumps and bruises and decisions to be made around certain positions. The match-day squad will be announced at noon today (Friday).