The Jerseyman, who was this week named Hartpury University’s co-captain for the upcoming Championship campaign, was hoping to return to his former club for the first time in over two years this spring – but the Islanders are due to travel to Gloucestershire instead.
The 11 second-tier sides who have committed to the 2020/21 season will play each other just once as a result of Covid-induced delays, with home and away ties being drawn at random.
‘I am fuming,’ he laughed. ‘The boys always love a trip to Jersey and I would have loved to have got back to see my family. And Jersey will probably be the first to have a crowd as well. I am pretty gutted, but at the end of the day I am just happy to be playing.’
Stratford came off the bench in Hartpury’s 10-7 victory at St Peter in March 2019, before he dropped down two divisions to play for National Two South side Clifton RFC. His performances there earned him a recall in May 2020 and he will lead Hartpury out at home to Richmond this afternoon.
‘I was relieved to get back into semi-pro rugby last June,’ he explained. ‘Hartpury reminds me a lot of Jersey. It’s kind of in its own bubble and everyone jokes that it’s a hard place to leave once you’re here. If I stay here for the next couple of years I’ll be pretty happy but for now I just want to enjoy these ten games back on the field.
‘We were one of the teams who cracked on straight away so we’ve just finished our 37th week of pre-season training. Like everyone at every club, we’re keen to give it a go now, especially the lads who have been here eight months but haven’t played a game for their new club yet.’
Discussing the captaincy, and the make-up of the non-studying ‘University’ squad, he added: ‘Years ago when Hartpury first formed they did just use students, but now they’re in the Championship it is basically a normal club. They get boys in and they use the uni lads as back up.
‘Playing in the later months of a normal season will be good for us, because we are hoping to play fast rugby. Even though we’re not a university team we do have some young lads – I’m one of the older ones now and I’m only 26. We have a lot of young lads willing to chuck the ball around and play but hopefully we will have a better season and not just be a “uni team”, which is what a lot of people see us as. We want to kick on this year and get mid-table.
‘I’ve been away from Jersey for seven years now and Hartpury has become a home away from home, so the co-captaincy is obviously a massive honour. I’m really chuffed with it.