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JOHN BUTLER COLUMN Another stiff Championship road trip challenge

Cov Rugby will face yet another serious challenge when they visit the rural Gloucestershire surroundings of the Gillman’s Ground this Saturday, home of Hartpury RFC.

Put simply, it has not been a particularly memorable venue for previous Coventry squads, with just one win achieved there in four previous visits.

The one success came came just about as late as it could have done on an autumn afternoon in season 2014.

Having the lead, but then losing it, with the very last kick of the game and Cov down by just a point, Welsh fly half Matt Jones stepped up to claim a penalty and secure a 23-21 victory, with regular goalkicker that day, Cliffie Hodgson, lying injured.

For the current squad there is much then to aim for, with Hartpury leading 6-2 in victories in the eight league games played so far.

The first six fixtures played were all in National League One, with Hartpury gaining promotion to the Greene King IPA Championship a year earlier than Cov at the end of the 2016/17 season.

Last season, with both clubs by now in the second tier, Cov lost the opening game in Gloucestershire by 23-17, with many believing they should have won even though the performance was rated as poor at the time.

Come the later return at the Butts Park, Hartpury had become involved in a great deal of controversy and discussion.

Seemingly marooned at the bottom of the Championship, a significant number of loan players arrived from Premiership outfits Bristol and Gloucester, the ultimate outcome being Hartpury surviving with Richmond relegated.

Cov won that second game at the BPA 24 -17, all part of the successful process which brought an eighth-place finish.

Under Head Coach John Barnes, Hartpury have within their ranks a number of very seasoned players and several with links to Cov Rugby. Centre Luke Eves is the son of Derek, Head Coach at Coundon Road just before the millennium, while two players linked up with Hartpury during the last close season.

Flanker Jack Preece has been named in the match squads through the season, having seen 2018/19 very much depleted through injury and subsequently sent out on loan to Cinderford in National One. The second player, utility forward Tom Jubb, has barely featured in the named line ups at Hartpury so far.

By far the most experienced player Cov are likely to find opposing them this weekend is Fijian International and World Cup back row forward Akapusi Qera.

A favourite with the crowds for many seasons at Gloucester, some Cov Rugby fans may also recall Qera also featured much earlier in his career at Birmingham Solihull.

Currently lying eighth in the Championship table, Hartpury’s previous three wins have all come at home against Nottingham, Yorkshire Carnegie and London Scottish.

They have lost their last three league fixtures, away to Bedford Blues last weekend and Cornish Pirates just before Christmas, and at home to Jersey Reds. However all three of these have been very close, with the Reds only winning with a late penalty and both the other two losses both being within the bonus point margin. The closeness of these results alone though should act as a measure to the extent of the challenge facing Cov on Saturday.

Coventry supporters have a number of options open to them.

Bookings for the Supporters’ Club coach, leaving the Butts Park at 11.30am for the scheduled 2.00pm kick off can be made via CRSC1874@gmail.com up to 1pm on Friday, while Sky are also showing the match live on television.

Match commentary will be available from BBC CWR via the BBC Sport web site.

Or if you are on the move then you can follow score and sub updates as they happen at twitter.com/CoventryRugby.

Posted in News.