EIGHTEEN have tried, including Coventry, and 18 have failed to beat them. Those are the plain facts which show why high-flying Hartpury College are the runaway leaders and already champions elect of National League One.
With 18 straight wins, 17 of them with a four-try bonus point, and well over 800 points scored following the latest 57 they tucked away at Fylde last Saturday, the Gloucestershire side have rarely been challenged this season – Cov and Plymouth Albion, both at home, being the only sides to come close to ending their run as both had chances to clinch a win.
Coventry for their part, following the big win over Blackheath, have overtaken Loughborough Students as the second-highest points scorers in the division.
The task on Saturday will be immense, but Cov can make the journey in the knowledge that they are in confident form, unbeaten in five matches and with a greatly improved defensive record over recent games. That will be a very key area against Hartpury.
There is absolutely no doubting the quality and experience in the Hartpury squad, whatever views one has on the subject of funding. In several positions they have any number of key performers, meaning their strength in depth for level 3 rugby is immense.
This season saw John Barnes take on the role of director of rugby, and whilst a good number of last season’s squad remained, the incomers boosted the squad even further.
Top try scorer with 19 is the highly-dangerous Lithuanian winger Jonas Micalcius, a player already with Harlequins but back on a season’s loan. Amongst a highly-rated back division with vast experience, centres Luke Eves, son of Derek, and his partner Steve Leonard have already run in 22 tries between them.
Top points scorer, although not playing every match, is fly-half Jacob Perry on 120, and Hartpury’s overall strength is illustrated by the fact that the latest scrum-half incumbent, Ben Vellacott ran in four tries at Fylde and he has not been a regular starter!
The forwards are also known to be a powerful and experienced unit, amongst them being flanker Jake Polledri, son of the former Bath and England forward.
No question, Coventry face a daunting task, but they travel in the knowledge that the 27-23 reverse they suffered back in September could easily have been reversed had the chances been taken.
They should also be buoyed by recent results as the squad continues to build together. And they will be backed again by their superb away following, who will also be able to play a big part hopefully. Hartpury may top the division, but their crowd size is not large and here is an area where the travelling faithful can really help.
Confidence high after the fine win gained over Blackheath, Cov can travel in the knowledge there will be so much to gain and not a lot to lose. A solid, positive start will surely be essential as Hartpury have steamed away with big early leads in any number of their games. Cov will need to nullify that.
Recent weeks have seen the points gap between Cov, in sixth, and the second and third-placed teams in the table close considerably; only six points now being the difference.
What a story it would be if Coventry proved to be the ones to lower Hartpury’s colours. A major challenge, yes, but hopefully one which the squad will really relish. Kick off time at the College is 2.30pm.