Hartpury travel to Ealing Trailfinders on Sunday, where it would be hard to over-estimate the size of the challenge that awaits them.
Ealing – among the pre-season favourites for promotion, along with former Premiership and European champions, Saracens – have made a blistering start to the new campaign, with three wins from three and 161 ‘points for’ collected in the process.
Only Coventry have lived with the Londoners for any period of time – being all square at half-time in their match at the Butts Arena last Friday evening – before being blown away by a second half of power and pace from their visitors.
The Hartpury coaches will be hoping that this kind of challenge will bring the right response from their squad, and that is certainly the expectation of Scrum Coach, Wayne Thompson.
“This is definitely the sort of game that our players should be getting excited about,” he said.
“We obviously appreciate that a lot of our players, quite rightly, see Hartpury as a springboard to playing at a higher level. If boys have that aspiration to step up, then these are exactly the games in which they’ve got to go and stand-out and show what they can do.”
“It’s similar to when we have played Bristol and Newcastle in previous years – it’s that level of challenge.”
“We’ll be picking what we consider to be a strong squad. In a normal season, where you are playing up to 30 matches, you may rotate a bit to give players a rest and allow them to get over knocks, but when it’s only 10 games that’s less of an issue.”
“We’re definitely going there looking for a positive outcome,” he continued, “and you’d be foolish to go to a place like Ealing half-cocked.”
“They’ve started the season very well and, of course, before that they’ve beaten Saracens twice in the Trailfinders Cup.”
Hartpury go into Week 4 on the back of a spirited, but ultimately unrewarded, performance against the (also unbeaten) Doncaster Knights last Friday. This was after pulling the game back, from 7-22, to score-line of 21-25 with just a few minutes to play.
“We’ve shown snippets, in all the games so far, of what we can do,” said Thompson. “It’s a question of maintaining that level over the course of a whole match. Against both Doncaster and Bedford we’ve allowed teams to get away from us before we’ve really started to play – we need to be a lot more consistent within games.”
“Having said that, we’re like a lot of teams in that we’ve had a pretty short pre-season and we’ve had to ease our way in a little bit.”
One of the issues that Hartpury have had to face has been the leaking of penalties at the scrum. Who better to ask than the Scrum Coach as to why that might be?
“Looking back at a lot of the calls, they’ve been 50/50,” he said. “If you allow a scrum to go down, then you’re putting it into the hands of the referee to make a decision. These days it’s all about painting a good picture for the referee, so this is very much in our own hands.”
“It’s about taking away that 50/50 decision, which may or may not go your way.”
“The good news is that, after two successive Friday evening kick-offs, we’ve had an extra day this week in which to prepare.”
Hartpury will go into Sunday’s challenge with a full squad to choose from, with the exception of the longer term injury to co-captain, Luke Stratford (fractured jaw).
“That’s testament to ‘Boz’ (Hartpury’s Head of Strength & Conditioning, Lee Douglas),” said Thompson.
“Physically, we’ve come through the last couple of games more or less unscathed and, in both, we have been strong in the second half. Selection this week will be down to the quality of the opposition and the form that individuals have shown over the past three weekends.”
Sunday’s match-day line-up will be announced on Friday at noon.
Supporters are reminded that the whole match will be shown live, on-line. To see the Red & Blacks test themselves against one the league’s strongest sides, go HERE for access.