Ampthill welcome Loughborough Students to Dillingham Park this weekend for their first home fixture of 2017 in National One.
The A’s currently sit fifth in the table and could climb to second if results go their way on Saturday as director of rugby Mark Lavery said: “Loughborough are a complete contrast to us.
“They play an open, wide, quick game; but I will say our defence has moved on exponentially from where it was a year ago.
“We are far more difficult to break down where we used to be somewhat static and reasonably easy to move around and pick holes in.
“Let’s be clear – we’re fifth, Is it a disaster? No, not really. We’re getting better in defence, the forward pack is going well, though the back line does need a bit more accuracy.
“Loughborough bring a contrast, we’ll want to bring them into our game. It’s our house, I’m pretty sure they’ll want to do precisely the opposite – that contrast will lead to an exciting game for spectators. Whatever happens it will certainly be compelling viewing.”
Ampthill start with the same front row that dominated the Mowden Park pack last weekend, Brett Sturgess (loosehead) and Matt Collins (tighthead) either side of former Tongan international hooker Aleki Lutui; Ben Gulliver and Josh Walker remain at lock, with Joe Bercis (openside) and Ben Earl (blindside) on either flank with another former Tongan international, Maama Molitika, at Number 8.
Lavery continued: “We did not get rewarded for our scrum dominance last weekend. Gully and Walker in the second row brought honesty and hard work, and with Bercis and Earle in the back row we’ve got the mobility to go with that strong tight five
“I expect our forwards to have a significant influence on the game”
Alex Mitchell (scrum half) and Joe Tarrant (fly half) remain at half back, Will Goodge returns at (inside) centre with Sam Hanks outside him; Jonny Morgan (right) and Sam Baker (left) start on either wing with Steff Jones (full back) completing the starting XV.
Lavery added: “Did our half-back pairing cover themselves in glory last weekend? No. We need more from our half backs, more control, discipline, and accuracy played in the right areas. The boys in the centre will give us a little more solidity and gas.
“The contrast between these teams will make for a fascinating game, we’ve a huge amount of respect for them – we played very well for 70 minutes the last time we met and we won 37-29.
“However, when we unloaded our bench we caused ourselves a bit of a headache. We’ve got some incredibly talented individuals we’ll be bringing on and we expect all of our match day 20 to contribute to Saturdays contest.”
Reece Marshall, Chris Muncaster and Matt Burke offer forward cover from the bench; Ben Calder and Oris Nawaqalive are Ampthill’s replacement backs and kick off at Dillingham Park is at 2-15pm.