Hartpury won’t be selling out for glory
Can the students of Hartpury be competitive in the Championship next season? Luke Jarmyn talks to CEO Russell Marchant
Five miles as the crow flies from Gloucester, near the Wales border, sits a small group of buildings and plush pitches where there is a rugby revolution taking place.
Thirteen years since Hartpury College RFC lost their first ever fixture in Gloucester Three North, the student-based side are set to enter the Championship to take on some of the big boys of English rugby – most likely including mega-bucks Bristol.
However CEO Russell Marchant is adamant the college will not change its structure in a bid to compete with the promotionchasers, but is confident they will still be a match with the kids they have coming through.
Currently the side contains around 15 players on scholarships receiving match-day fees alongside studying, while there is a crossover from the first team with Hartpury’s top BUCS side, effectively the 2nd XV. Marchant, below, told The Rugby
Paper: “Agents have been ringing and our answer is clear: we are not offering anyone full-time contracts so if you are looking for one, don’t bother with us. We are looking for people who want to study – even if they’re alumni – a salary isn’t on.
“There is a realisation when you see a great club like London Welsh go belly up, how close we are to that. How do we avoid getting into that scenario? Richmond have done a superb job this season, you have to take your hats off to them. They are the complete opposite to us, with over a hundred years of history but have done a great job of nailing their colours to the mast and saying, we are not going to lose what Richmond is about. “We have only seen promotion here, sooner or later we will see the other end and how we handle that and maintain what we do here will be a test when that comes. We are not bomb proof. “We couldn’t say to players and staff this season that we couldn’t go up but all the same they have to accept that if you get relegated, you get relegated, that’s life. “We may look at offering more scholarships but that’s not finalised. What would be a failure for us is if we ever turn a team out that doesn’t have a body of students in it, that’s just not acceptable. “Our BUCS team this year is very young, 13 of them will still be with us next year and step up.” Alongside a sofar unbeaten National One campaign, Hartpury won the first-ever BUCS super league while topping the university tables. Off the pitch a £8.8 million facility is being built, with the university one of 15 signed into a £220,000 RFU–funded development programme.
Ex-Dumfries Saints coach, Marchant adds: “We don’t see ourselves next season at the top end of the Championship with Carnegie or the Pirates, these are professional squads and the danger is it’s almost a two-tier competition. The RFU and Championship face a huge challenge, how do you sustain professional rugby with the huge differences that are going to be in it. You are going to have Bristol with their huge budget and we will be at the other end.
“Scottish have decided to go part-time, so you could have Scottish, Bedford, Richmond and ourselves on a part-time basis, then Rotherham and Nottingham, who may be full-time but are not pushing to go up. We quite like the ‘buddy-up’ idea. If the plan comes to fruition, you could see a really attractive Championship with a lot of young England stars coming through and getting good game time and you might see someone winning it who is ‘buddied-up’ and not get promoted, that would be acceptable.
“For us the Premiership is where we would say No.”
Hartpury have produced 150 internationals, but will things need to change or compromise for them to survive the second tier?
Marchant adds: “The difference between the Championship and U18s tends to be physical. But BUCS top-end games were easily National One standard.
“We have got players focusing on our BUCS team perfectly capable of National One but can’t play two 80 matches in a week.
“Not many 18-year-olds at university are physically ready for National One let alone the Championship. You have to give them that pathway and real success for us is keeping as many 17 or 18 year-olds continuing to play rugby.”
On the up: Hartpury College celebrate beating Exeter to claim the BUCS trophy