Hartpury enter new territory this weekend. Saturday sees our first ever fixture in the British and Irish Cup and is another reminder of the progress made since the club’s foundation in 2004.
We are in a group that includes teams representing Ulster, Scarlets and this week’s opponents, Cornish Pirates. This is the first time that Hartpury and the Pirates have met, in what might be described – despite the 220 miles that separate the clubs – as a West Country ‘derby’.
The Red & Black’s coaching line up will have slightly different look this weekend, as the club continue their commitment to development. Senior players Luke Eves (pictured), Rhys Oakley and Dan Murphy are all playing a part in the preparation, with the group led by Jonny Goodridge.
Goodridge is the backs/attack coach for both the Championship and the AASE squads, while Eves, Oakley and Murphy all have coaching duties across Hartpury’s student teams.
“It’s very exciting for me personally, as it’s the highest level that I’ve coached at,” said Eves, a former Bristol and Newcastle Falcons centre, now very much at home at the Gillman’s Ground.
Selections are announced on Friday, but Hartpury look likely to rotate one or two players
“We’ll be going into this match with exactly the same sort of game plan that we would have in the Championship,” he said. “It is up to any of the guys that we bring in to be able to play, and to express themselves, within that structure.
This is a good opportunity for the club to be able to test and understand the depth that we have within the squad – any one of the players that we name this week might be required to step up if other squad members lose form or fitness.”
Pirates play their regular rugby, like Hartpury, in the Greene King IPA Championship and Saturday’s fixture will be the first of four meetings between the sides this season.
Results have not gone Pirates’ way in the early part of the campaign. An outrageously high-scoring 62-47 home win, over bottom club Rotherham, has been their sole victory out of six matches played, although that could be a dangerously misleading statistic.
All of their defeats have been by very narrow margins and it will only take a modest upturn in performance, or even luck, to have them quickly accumulating wins.
Eves is certainly taking nothing for granted. “We’ve had a good look at them and, as usual, they seem to be pretty strong up front. They’re a team that’s given this competition a good go in the past but, irrespective of what we’re playing in, we expect them to come here with a strong side, looking for the result.
They will be thinking that this is a good opportunity to get a bit a confidence into their squad and our guys know that we will have to be on the money this week, if we are going to get something from the game. It’s a good opportunity, for anybody who comes in, to put their hand up.”
The Penzance club has been home to a number of Hartpury alumni over the past few seasons, with the current squad containing former BUCS and RFC winger Alex O’Meara, as well as utility back Matt Evans, who earned the first of his 38 international caps for Canada whilst still a student at the College. Evans has regularly been among the tries in a lengthy career at the Pirates and would have scored many more if not for some long-term absences through injury.
Eves’ other coaching responsibilities lie with Hartpury’s Under-18 AASE squad, who had a convincing 47-10 victory over previously unbeaten Exeter College last week.
“That was a great win for us against the reigning champions and a team that many people are tipping to win it again this year,” he said.
“It’s now important for us to keep our standards high as we go into the play-offs. We want to go into those games unbeaten and full of confidence.”
Although Eves has worked with some teams close to his Bristol home, he is happy to admit that helping to develop Hartpury’s talented youngsters represents a new level in his fledgling coaching career.
“Working with the AASE squad, and now the RFC this week, has been a great step up for me,” he said. “When (Hartpury Director of Rugby) John Barnes offered me the role, I snapped his hand off – coaching is what I want to get into and it’s been great so far.
There is a perfect scenario for me at Hartpury – I feel I’ve got a good five years left as a player and to be able to combine that with coaching, at a place which is renowned for rugby development, is a real win/win for me. I’m really enjoying it.”