by Glyn Barlow
While Birmingham Moseley have already faced some tough challenges in their first season back in National One, without a doubt Saturday’s encounter will be possibly the hardest of the season.
A trip down to Gloucestershire will see the team take on league leaders Hartpury College, who currently hold a perfect record with a maximum 65 points, fourteen ahead of Birmingham Moseley.
Hartpury’s history is relatively short, effectively coming into being in 2004 following a collaboration in 2000 between the college and Gloucester RFC to develop a rugby academy structure.
He relationship with the cherry and whites remains strong with a number of current Gloucester players having developed through the college ranks including Jonny May, Charlie Sharples and Henry Trinder, all very well known to Moseley in past seasons.
Hartpury have achieved an unprecedented rise through league rugby. Starting in Gloucester Three North in 2005 and enjoying eight promotions in nine seasons, a remarkable achievement for student rugby. During their first season in National One in 2014/15 Hartpury finished fifth, winning nearly two thirds of their fixtures.
Last season they found themselves runners up behind Richmond. Clearly this season the powers that be in Gloucestershire have decided it’s time to taste Championship rugby as they power through opposition amassing thirteen try bonus points from thirteen games.
During the summer Hartpury College have recruited (or should that be “enrolled”?) players to strengthen their squad including vastly experienced back row Matt Gilbert who moves down the M5 from Worcester Warriors, England Counties fly half Mike Wilcox from Cinderford, and second row Joe Quinn from Clifton.
An interesting “new” loan signing is wing Jonas Mikalcius who was signed from Hartpury by Harlequins in the summer only to be returned as part of a loan agreement to aid his development. Currently top of the National One try scoring table with twelve, other clubs could be forgiven for wishing Quins had kept him!
As well as containing the flying Lithuanian Mikalcius centres Luke Eves (nine tries) and Steve Leonard (seven tries) plus former Bristol back row Jake Polledri (seven tries) all feature in the league’s top twelve of touchdown collectors. Birmingham Moseley supporters will remember Eves from his time at Bristol, although Hartpury signed him last season after his contract at Northampton Saints ended. With a 70:30 split of try scoring between backs and forwards it’s not hard to figure out how Hartpury likes to play the game.
That said backs cannot score without the ball and Hartpury have a number of impressive players in their pack including Italy A number eight Sebastian Negri, Welsh International back row Rhys Oakley and dual registered Bristol hooker James Stephenson.
The close relationship with West Country Premiership clubs also sees Gloucester England U20 scrum half Harry Randall, Bath fly half Adam Hastings (son of Gavin) and Bristol Wing Elias Craven all feature prominently for the team this season.
Over the last few weeks the Students have secured wins over Loughborough (25-47), Darlington Mowden Park (74-0) Old Albanian (0-32), Rosslyn Park (37-27), Cambridge (32-54) and Ampthill (49-14) amassing forty-one tries in the process. Indeed their try scoring average this season is running at over six a game. If ever Birmingham Moseley’s defence needs to operate at its optimum it is on Saturday.
Within the Birmingham Moseley ranks we have players who are no strangers to Hartpury rugby as Mark Harrison and Greg King have both played for the team, with Mark having been part of last season’s promotion chasing side.
Last weekend Birmingham Moseley returned to winning ways with a 22-12 win over fourth place Blackheath. The team’s ability to remain composed while trailing until the fourth quarter of the match will have pleased the coaching staff as tries from Jack Preece and Chris Brightwell finally secured the win. Impressive performances from Will Stuart and George Oram in addition to Preece and Brightwell underlined a good forward effort that could be the key to containing Hartpury.
If Birmingham Moseley are to keep up the push for promotion it’s probably not unreasonable to consider the two fixtures against Hartpury as must win games. With the relatively short travelling distance let’s get down to Gloucester on mass this Saturday and make the lads feel like this is a home game.
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