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

The Rugby Paper - - Feature -

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

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