After the stern test that the boys underwent at Fylde last time out, it seems likely that there will be another examination in store when Coventry are our first visitors of 2016 on Saturday (2.30pm).
Despite a New Year win over Loughborough (37-12), Coventry’s results this season have been mixed and that victory ended a previous run of three consecutive losses (Blackheath at home, Ampthill and DMP away). However, reports from the Midlands suggest that the Coventry pack has the potential to be a potent weapon particularly at the scrum where, we hear, Loughborough suffered badly last weekend.
Reassuringly, set pieces have generally been one of the stronger aspects of Hartpury’s recent displays. Given that we seem set for wet conditions (again!) this Saturday, the understandable preference for a low risk game-plan could set the stage for a good, old-fashioned ‘arm wrestle’ to set Gloucestershire pulses racing…
Our record against Coventry, since promotion, has been decent in terms of overall results (two away wins, one home defeat), although the aggregate scoreline across the three previous fixtures of 66-64 in Hartpury’s favour suggests, quite accurately, that these are two pretty evenly matched teams. In the three games in question, neither team has scored more than 23 points or fewer than 20, which is a pretty remarkable statistic in itself.
Interestingly, the pattern of all three games has also been largely similar, with Hartpury enjoying themselves for the first hour or so before enduring a tense final quarter and either just hanging on – or not.
The most recent encounter produced a nail-biting 21-23 away win for Hartpury (pictured) although, in a carbon copy of the previous year’s game at the Butts, it took a last minute missed penalty kick to confirm the victory.
There are a few familiar faces in the Coventry squad, although it appears that our former flanker Alex Woodburn may have sustained a concussion last weekend and ex-student Loti Molitika has not featured since defeat to Fylde back in mid-October. However, former BUCS and RFC prop Chad Thorne should be on parade, if fit.
Coventry, with eight wins and eight defeats so far, look destined for a mid-table berth unless they can put a decent run together as they did with three straight wins back in November, albeit against some of this this season’s strugglers (Blaydon, Cinderford and Henley). Hartpury, meanwhile, remain closely engaged in matters at the top of the table and, even though it’s only January, there is a temptation to scrutinise the fixture lists that little bit more closely…
The two teams above us, Richmond and Blackheath, both have winnable-looking home matches against Fylde and Henley respectively, so a result for Hartpury this week will be important if we are to remain within striking distance. Esher, fourth, face a trip to Loughborough, who will be keen to ensure that they do not get dragged into the relegation picture.
Plymouth’s good run of results have seen them lifted into fifth place and a victory over visiting Hull Ionians would be their sixth on the bounce. A team with an even better recent record, Darlington Mowden Park (seven successive wins and counting), have home advantage over Rosslyn Park, whose two defeats either side of Christmas would seem to have ended their promotion chances this season.
At the other end of the table, our neighbours Cinderford face a difficult trip to early season pace-setters Ampthill, who have shown some good resilience after an autumnal slump. Wharfedale and Blaydon meet in a big match in North Yorkshire, while Henley will do well to get anything from their previously mentioned trip to south-east London.
We understand that there is a supporters coach coming with the visitors this weekend so your vocal support for the lads will be, as always, most welcome!