With a perfect seven bonus point wins from seven, leaving Hartpury perched proudly at the summit of National League One, John Barnes’ men have certainly sounded an early salvo to their promotion rivals.
But while, on paper, Hartpury look likely favourites for this Saturday’s match-up with Ampthill, director of rugby Barnes knows the Bedfordshire side are capable of turning over anyone on their day, as shown when they toppled Birmingham Moseley – currently second in League One – earlier this term.
And while their most recent outing saw them go down 31-17 at home to Blackheath – the team Hartpury defeated 34-0 in their league opener – an impressive record of five wins from seven games, including three four-try bonus points, means they are still very much in touch, lying fifth in the table.
With Hartpury having suffered a disappointing 24-18 defeat at Ampthill’s Dillingham Park last term, Barnes is insistent his team will be taking nothing for granted.
“This is potentially the trickiest game we’ve faced so far this season, if Ampthill put in the sort of performance we know they are capable of,” said Barnes.
“Some of their results have shown just what a threat they can be and we’ve had some good games against them in the last few years. They are a well-coached, experienced side with a lot of former professional players, especially in their pack. We know we will have to be at our best.”
Hartpury will take some comfort from the fact that they had previously beaten Ampthill on home soil last season, winning 37-10 in an excellent all-round performance (pictured, Ben Vellacott scoring), and they go into this weekend’s clash on the back of an impressive 47-5 win at Blaydon.
Barnes added: “We played some really good attacking rugby at Blaydon and could have scored more than the eight tries we did. We missed a fair few kicks too.
“Our build-up was disrupted when our fly-half, Jacob Perry, didn’t make it through the warm-up, having injured his hamstring in the Hull Ionians game the previous week. That meant we had Jamie Forrester at 10, who had not played there before for us at this level.
“We left a few points out there, but we’d have taken seven bonus point wins from the first seven games when we started the season!”
Perry will face a fitness test this Friday, along with full-back Mike Wilcox, who is struggling with an injured hip.
In other matches, Birmingham Moseley would expect to continue their good run of home results when Old Albanian, on the back of three defeats, are the visitors at Billesley Common. Blackheath, the other club with just one defeat so far, also have a winnable looking home fixture, versus Cambridge.
There’s a tasty looking match-up at the Butts Park Arena where Coventry, hoping to back-up last week’s big second half performance, will be fully tested by visitors Plymouth Albion in a game which could easily go either way.
Blaydon’s hopes of finally getting something in the ‘win’ column may have to wait for another week as they travel to an Esher team who were impressive against Coventry in their last home fixture, while Macclesfield host Rosslyn Park with both sides keen to get away from the basement area of the table. Park, in particular, would have expected much more from the season so far.
Loughborough are the third highest points scorers in the league at present and their followers might expect further entertainment against DMP, out of sorts in their defeat at Albion last time out. Ionians have had one away win so far this season, but may not add to that on Saturday as they travel coast-to-coast to face a team – Fylde – that appears to have found its feet, at least at home.
Hartpury v Ampthill kicks off at 2.30pm on Saturday, 22nd October. See you there!