Mid-table at the half-way mark – Ampthill the next challenge…

Hartpury travel to Ampthill on Sunday for Round 6 of the shortened Greene King IPA Championship season.

The two clubs know each other pretty well, having met on a number of occasions since the first encounter in National League 2 back in 2013.  Hartpury had the edge in those early days winning five out of six meetings in the National Leagues, although Ampthill were clearly ahead last season, winning both home and away during a successful first year in Championship rugby.

In fact the last meeting – a 16-5 Ampthill victory on a miserable and rain-sodden night at the Alpas – was the last game that Hartpury played in the 2019-20 season, before its premature end.

Last Saturday’s scramble to a late home win over Nottingham actually represented the half-way point in this short campaign and we asked Director of Rugby John Barnes for his thoughts on the progress so far.

“We’re reasonably happy with the two wins from five,” he said.

“We’d have been aiming for three, thinking that we could have got something from either Doncaster or Bedford, but as we know it didn’t quite work out for us in those games.

In reality, we always thought that Ealing might have been a ‘bridge too far’ for us and, as we know, there were one or two aspects of that performance that we weren’t too happy with.  Other than that, we’ve been competitive in all of the games.

“The encouraging thing is that our attacking play has developed and we are certainly starting to create more scoring opportunities.”

“Looking ahead – we’ve got five to go – we’re certainly targeting our home games.  Both Coventry and Jersey are teams that we should be able to compete with and there’s no reason why those matches can’t be won.”

“Of the away fixtures, Ampthill this weekend is another one where we feel that we can certainly get something, if we perform at anything like the levels that we know we are capable of.  We know that Pirates are going to be a challenge, but after a few wet days down there in recent seasons maybe this year we’ll get a chance to see how we can go against them on a dry pitch.”

“We’ve got Saracens in the last game and there’s obviously a chance that they may need a win to ensure their play-off spot.  That’s probably going to be one of those games where the lads can go out and enjoy testing themselves against current internationals and, I assume, a few Lions.”

Looking back to last Saturday, it was a much-needed win against the league’s bottom club, particularly after the schooling that Hartpury had received at Vallis Way in the previous round.  After a bright, if relatively unproductive, first half, the home team slipped behind and it took a last-gasp Max Clementson try to rescue the result.  

“Having re-watched and analysed the Nottingham performance, I thought we actually played some really good attacking rugby, particularly in the first half,” said Barnes

“I think that things might have been different had James Williams managed to ground the ball when he went over very early on and we also missed another good chance when we knocked-on close to the line.”

“We all know that life gets a bit easier if you can go out and build an early lead, because it means that the other team has to eventually go out to chase the game.  Because we couldn’t finish our chances, the score-line stayed very tight and I think that got to the lads after the break and we started to look a bit nervous.”

Ampthill have won one of their four fixtures so far this season, also at home to Nottingham, with defeats at Ealing and Coventry and, narrowly, at home to Doncaster.  Looking ahead to another big challenge on Sunday, Barnes is hopeful that his squad will be well-prepared for the match.

Ampthill is a team that we have played a lot since our National 2 days together, so I guess we know what we’re going to face there.  They’ve got a strong, physical pack and they play a lot off scrum-half, sending their big runners at you.” 

“On top of that, they’ve got an outside half, in Louis Grimoldby, who is very good at getting them into the areas of the field that they want to play in.”

“That’s what we’re expecting and that’s what we’ve been preparing for.”

As usual, there could be a few familiar faces in the opposing line-up when Hartpury arrive at Dillingham Park.

Ampthill have four hookers listed in their squad and two of them formerly turned out in Red & Black.  Syd Blackmore was actually a back-row forward when he skippered the successful Hartpury Under-18 AASE squad to a national title six years ago, while Ollie Walliker was part of the BUCS set-up at around the same time.

Additionally, lock Charlie Beckett and full-back Tom Hudson each made Championship appearances on dual-registration for Hartpury while with Gloucester Rugby.

There is some injury news this week, the most serious of which is that lock forward Scott Russell will not play again this season after a shoulder injury forced him off against Nottingham.

Number 8 Morgan Monks left the field at the same time as Russell, but has made a good recovery and is expected to be in contention this weekend.

There were a number of other bumps and bruises arising from the Nottingham match – and from training this week – which means that the composition of the final 23 will not be known until after the team run on Friday morning.

As always, supporters can watch the match via livestream and can organise that access HERE.

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