After a week’s rest, we are back in business this Saturday and visiting a club that has done very nicely since following us into League One at the start of this season.
Ampthill may not be a name that trips off the tongue very often (it’s a small community of some 8,000 souls nestled between the attractions of Luton, Bedford and Milton Keynes) but this is a team that has been punching above its weight for a few seasons now.
The club’s ambitions have been made clear in its recruitment of personnel, which include the highly-experienced former Wales stand-off, Paul Turner, as Head Coach where he is assisted by other ex-internationals Maama Molitika and Viliami Ma’asi, both of whom still pull on the boots pretty frequently.
There is a further Polynesian influence in the player ranks where Paino Hehea and former Gloucester hooker Aleki Lutui both feature in a very solid-looking and seasoned pack.
The power of that unit is useful when it comes to racking up the points, as last weekend’s 19-29 win at Fylde proved. Trailing at the break, Ampthill reeled in their hosts with four second-half tries, three of them from forwards Molitika, Dyer and Evans.
Outside, usually on the wing, they have Elliot Clements-Hill who can normally be found somewhere near the top of the scoring charts, contributing with tries as well as the boot.
In their first season at this level, Ampthill are currently lying just five points and two places behind Hartpury, having now played the same number of games. 11 try-scoring bonus points, the same as Hartpury, outlines their ability to take full advantage when on top, although they have conceded more points than any other side in the top half of the table, excluding DMP.
One of their bigger defeats of the season came on their visit to Gloucestershire back in November. Amps were blown away in a first half which included a 20-minute hat-trick from winger Jonas Mikalcius, eventually going down 37-10 after a more even second period.
In fact, and at the risk of tempting fate, Hartpury have generally enjoyed their encounters with Ampthill. The only previous visit to Dillingham Park, which came in December 2013, saw the home team spring into an early lead with three quick tries before Hartpury produced one of the outstanding performances of the promotion season to run away with it, 24-41. (Pictured, Ben Roberts makes a break in the game.)
We’re expecting an altogether tighter affair on Saturday, for what might have been classed as the ‘match of the day’ had it not been for the Blackheath v Richmond tussle in South London.
Blackheath, on the back of two successive defeats, simply must prevail to keep their promotion hopes alive while a win for Richmond would leave Hartpury needing to win every game and still requiring Richmond to trip up again somewhere else, in addition to losing on their visit to the College in April.
Other games of note mainly focus on events at the foot of the table. Wharfedale host the now-embroiled Loughborough Students, while Ionians could ease their own concerns with a win at endangered Henley.
Cinderford are at home to mid-table Fylde, needing five points to kick-start the survival miracle this time around. Blaydon did themselves a lot of good by beating Henley at home last weekend and will look for something similar when Coventry visit on Saturday.
Two in-form teams meet when Plymouth make the short trip to Darlington. Rosslyn Park and Esher will enjoy a local spat, under lights, on Friday night.