Hartpury on the edge of history

Hartpury College require just a victory against Old Albanian to be crowned champions of National One
©Hartpury College RFC

We have known for quite some time that Hartpury College will become champions of National One, but this weekend, it could be made official.

John Barnes’ men have been simply unstoppable this term as they have picked up 24 consecutive victories and a win tomorrow against Old Albanian will see Hartpury College clinch the title as well promotion to the Championship.

At the wrong end of the table, a victory for either Hull Ionians or Blaydon is arguably more important. These two relegation candidates meet in Yorkshire knowing that a defeat  for either side could be fatal in their battle against the drop.

Elsewhere in National One this weekend, second placed Plymouth Albion go to fourth placed Birmingham Moseley while Coventry host an in-form Ampthill side. Also, bottom of the table Macclesfield will continue to fight valiantly for survival when they host Loughborough Students while Fylde and Cambridge meet at Woodlands.

Other fixtures in Round 25 see fifth placed Rosslyn Park travel to Esher on Friday night while Blackheath welcome a buoyant Darlington Mowden Park to Well Hall.

Hartpury College v Old Albanian

Hartpury College are on the verge of glory. They know that victory this weekend in their home fixture against Old Albanian will be enough for them to be crowned champions of National One in what has been a remarkable season for the Gloucestershire side.

Director of Rugby John Barnes told the club’s website that Hartpury ‘feel comfortable’ that they will get the points they need to clinch the title whether that be this weekend or not, but College will know deep down that they are more than capable of wrapping up the title in front of their own supporters tomorrow. The runaway league leaders have won all 24 of their games this term and win number 25 would see them promoted to the Championship just 13 years after the formation of the club.

Trying to spoil Hartpury’s potential promotion party will be Old Albanian. James Shanahan’s side come into this Saturday’s game currently occupying eighth place in table which is an excellent achievement for the club. The OAs were promoted via the National Two play-off last summer and Shanahan has guided them into the top-half of the table with six games left to play.

Their superb victory over Blackheath last time out showed the current progress the OAs are currently making, but the club know that they will have to continue the journey without Shanahan next season as he is becoming Head Coach at the aforementioned Blackheath. However, Shanahan has been keen to stress that he wants to end his time at Woollams on a high and a victory against all the odds tomorrow could arguably be the best result of his six year tenure.

Birmingham Moseley v Plymouth Albion

Second placed Plymouth Albion travel to Birmingham Moseley this weekend looking to continue their excellent recent form. Kieran Hallet’s side have won their last seven games and have maintained their strong displays this season following the exit of Head Coach Dan Parkes in December.

Albion remain on course for the silver medal spot in National One, but once again, they will be keen to keep focused on their performances following yet another departure off the pitch. This week, Managing Director Michael Dunford left the club after just six weeks in the job but Plymouth will want to continue creating headlines based on their superb run of results which they will be eager to continue this weekend in the Midlands.

Last Saturday would have been pleasing for Birmingham Moseley. After losses against Blaydon and Darlington Mowden Park, Kevin Maggs’ side began March with a bonus-point win away at Loughborough Students which keeps their hopes of a second placed finish alive.

They return to Billesley Common this weekend to face a familiar opponent in Plymouth as they aim to close the gap between themselves and the Devonshire side. Moseley are currently eight points behind Albion, but a 10th home victory of the campaign would certainly put them firmly in the mix for a top two finish.

Coventry v Ampthill and District

Ampthill and District travel to the Butts Park Arena for only the second time in their history as third take on sixth in the Midlands. The A’s first season in National One last year saw them finish in fourth place and the Bedfordshire side are on course to better that achievement as they currently lie third in the table with six games left of the season.

They secured their 18th win of the campaign last Saturday at home to Fylde and Ampthill have only lost one of their last 14 games as they head to Coventry this weekend. Throughout the season, the A’s have picked up nine victories on their travels, but it will be a tough test for them to reach double figures tomorrow against a Coventry side that has been excellent at home this term.

It really has been a contrasting season for Coventry. Rowland Winter’s side have been in and around the top six for the majority of the campaign and that is down to their 14 victories this term. It is a vast improvement on their below-par 2015/16 campaign, but their inconsistencies have still remained.

Of Coventry’s 14 victories, 11 of them have come at home which shows just how strong they are in front of their own supporters and how differently they perform on their travels. Their difficulties away from Butts Park will be put to one side this weekend as Cov look to make it three wins in a row against Ampthill as well as maintaining their excellent home record.

Esher v Rosslyn Park

Rosslyn Park gave league leaders Hartpury College quite a scare last weekend. Park were ahead against the champions elect with 20 minutes remaining and their unbeaten record was put to the test. However, College were able to overturn the deficit as they went on to seal their 24th consecutive victory of the campaign.

That defeat for Rosslyn will not have dampened their spirts as they continue to have a superb season. Currently, the London-based side sit in fifth place and considering their rocky start to the campaign, it has been an excellent turnaround by Park. They head to Surrey tonight looking to claim their sixth away win of the term as they aim to build on their positives from last week’s defeat against Hartpury.

Esher secured their first away win of the season last weekend and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the men from Moseley Road. The Surrey-based side beat Cambridge 36-22 to move 11 points clear of the bottom two and now it looks as though they will be safe from relegation this term.

The reason why Esher have not dropped further down the table for a sustained amount of time this season is because of their home record. They have won seven of their 12 matches at Moseley Road and have looked like a completely different proposition on their own turf. They will be hoping another positive home performance can seal them a second successive victory as they continue to move away from trouble in National One.

Blackheath v Darlington Mowden Park

Blackheath return to Well Hall this weekend where they host Darlington Mowden Park as they look to put a halt to their wretched run of form. As things stand, ‘Club’ currently lie seventh in the table, but a season which promised so much at the end of last year is now in danger of fading out miserably.

The London-based side have won just one of their last seven matches as they prepare for the visit of DMP which is certainly below-par for Blackheath. Last weekend, they fell to a loss against Old Albanian, but ‘Club’ will be determined to end this recent dip in form as they look to finish this season in a positive fashion.

In contrast, Darlington Mowden Park are enjoying their best spell of the season. The north-east side take the long trip south having won seven of their last 10 matches which has seen them move away from the relegation battle and up into ninth place in the table.

Last weekend’s convincing win over Macclesfield continued their impressive recent run which stretches back to December. They will feel confident about maintaining their positive results this weekend against a struggling Blackheath side as DMP have won their last four away fixtures.

Macclesfield v Loughborough Students

Unfortunately, it looks as though the end is nigh for Macclesfield in National One. Following an excellent championship winning campaign last season in National Two North, the Blues have once again found life tough at this level and with six games left to play, the Cheshire sides’ fate is almost sealed.

As things stand, Macc sit 20 points adrift of safety with six games left to play and they welcome Loughborough Students to Priory Park this weekend having lost their last 14 games. Adding to their uphill battle is the fact that the two teams directly above Macclesfield – Hull Ionians and Blaydon – go head to head this weekend which means at least one of those sides will be picking up points. Macc know that they are on borrowed time, but they will keep fighting until they are mathematically relegated.

Other than Macclesfield, Loughborough Students currently have the worst form in the division heading into the final six games of the campaign. Students have lost their last five games which is their poorest run of results this term and a top-half finish is now slowly slipping away from the Midlands side.

In truth, their last five games have all come against sides above them in the table, but now Loughborough sit six points outside the top eight. They head to Cheshire this weekend having won on just three occasions away from home, but against a side fighting desperately to avoid the drop, Students may fancy securing their first win on the road since November.

Fylde v Cambridge

This week, Fylde announced that club stalwart Evan Stewart will be leaving Woodlands at the end of the season. The backrow has been with the Lancashire club for six years and will be taking on the role of Director of Rugby at Vale of Lune at the beginning of the next campaign.

Stewart has played 134 times for Fylde and has been involved in the club’s recent turn around in fortunes which has seen Paul Arnold’s men move away from the relegation battle. Three wins in their last five games as well as a valiant performance against Ampthill last Saturday means Fylde are now 15 points clear of the bottom two as they prepare to host Cambridge this weekend.

Fylde have been superb at Woodlands this term as they have racked up eight wins from their 12 games played on home soil, which is something that Cambridge won’t want to hear ahead of their clash tomorrow. Ross Stewart’s men travel to Lancashire having won just one of their last 10 matches which still leaves them looking nervously over their shoulders.

The Blood and Sand have done well this term. They were promoted from National Two South last May and also had to change their Director of Rugby, but now they will be keen to secure a couple more wins in order to confirm their status in this division. Cambridge  are 11 points clear of the bottom two which should be enough to stay at this level, but a win at Woodlands tomorrow would certainly ease any nerves which they may have.

Hull Ionians v Blaydon

At this stage of the season, games like this can only be described as ‘must win’. Two of the relegation candidates clash in Yorkshire this weekend with both sides fully aware that a defeat could be fatal to their chances of avoiding the drop.

The hosts Hull Ionians are currently in the bottom two as things stand. The I’s are two points adrift of safety and have been able to stay in the hunt for survival following a crucial victory over bottom of the table Macclesfield two weeks ago. The men from Brantingham Park have won six times this season and five of those victories have come at home. They will be hoping home advantage plays its part this Saturday otherwise their fight for safety will be dealt a serious blow.

Their opponents Blaydon are currently the side directly above them. Mickey Ward’s men are in 14th place and following the demise of London Welsh from the Championship, that position in the division this season will be enough for Blaydon to stay at this level for another campaign.

If Blaydon are to achieve that feat, then they fully deserve to be playing National One rugby next term. They are currently going through a revival which has seen the north-east side pick up four wins from their last seven games which has propelled them out of the bottom two. They know that another victory tomorrow could be the key result if they are to avoid the drop and due to the run of form Blaydon are on, they will feel confident about claiming their second away win of the campaign.

 

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