Any pretensions that Hartpury might have had of being a Championship club next season all but disappeared on a cold, but otherwise fine, Bedfordshire afternoon.
Three late tries were enough to produce a single losing bonus point, but not sufficient to overturn the deficit arising from an inept first half performance.
In fact, it is hard to remember a poorer 40 minutes than that produced by the College before the break and Ampthill were in no mood to miss out.
The hosts started the game five points behind Hartpury and were lying fourth in the table. This represents a fine first season for them in National League One, having been pipped for promotion by Hartpury in the 2013/14 season.
Two or three of their players, particularly their Tongan contingent which includes former Gloucester hooker Aleki Lutui, might be very much at the veteran stage, but they had more than enough in their armoury to deal with a lacklustre College.
Hartpury had changed little from the side that won so well against Blackheath last time out, although the absence of powerful centre Steve Leonard saw George Boulton move in from wing to centre, James Neal taking the vacant spot outside.
The hosts were ahead after only three minutes. A midfield penalty was kicked to touch and the subsequent drive was allowed to travel a very long distance to the try line. One or two of the Ampthill backs added their weight and it was centre Will Goodge who got the final touch.
The lead was doubled after eight minutes and this time Hartpury only had themselves to blame. Ampthill’s scrum half Gavin Williams launched a speculative midfield bomb that looked destined for the arms of Jacob Perry on his ten metre line.
But the young fly-half, perhaps with half an eye on the on-rushing forwards, made a mess of his fielding and the loose ball was hacked towards the Hartpury line. Ampthill flanker Darryl Dyer showed the most pace and was first there for the score.
14-0 down and Hartpury had barely strung two phases together. They did briefly rally and appeared to be working their way into the game, but a Gareth Thompson penalty, his only successful kick from five attempts, was their sole reward.
Even some of the College’s traditional strengths at the set-piece were letting them down. Starting hooker James Stephenson was off inside the first quarter after failing to hit his jumpers repeatedly, although his replacement, Nathan Taylor, had his own difficulties in this regard later in the game.
The scrum was also creaking badly, making life difficult at the base for half-back Harry Cochrane.
The hosts stretched further ahead before the half hour when their forwards established position on the visiting try-line and Lutui was exactly the man to drive over. Elliot Clements-Hill, kicking for the home team, missed very little all day and a penalty on the stroke of half-time made it 24-3.
Hartpury did improve after the break with the gentle slope in their favour, but not to the extent required. They controlled more of the ball but, too many times, promising positions were squandered through a combination of inaccuracy and poor decision making.
Ampthill, under more pressure, were starting to infringe but one penalty in a good attacking position failed to find touch and on two similar occasions the line-outs were both lost.
Cochrane, darting off the back of a rolling maul, did grab a try with 20 minutes remaining (pictured) and when the ever-busy Dan Thomas forced his way over a few minutes later there was an outside chance of a comeback.
Now playing with far more urgency, Hartpury at last had Ampthill stretched but, to their credit, they defended well and a late try for the returned James Stephenson, always powerful in the loose, brought only the consolation of a bonus point.
Even that looked like being snatched away from them, but a last-minute Ampthill penalty drifted wide of the posts.
Hartpury, possibly showing the effects of the midweek Universities competition – they face a semi-final at Loughborough on Wednesday – now need to regather and take maximum points from their final six games, four of which are at home. But only an implosion on the part of leaders – and one of the up-coming visitors – Richmond will give them any hope of further advancement this year.
Ampthill: Lynch, Clements-Hill (Cons 4, 9, 29; Pen 40), Reeder, Goodge (Try 3), Elliott, Tarrant, Williams; Culverhouse, Ma’asi, Lutui (Try 28), Gulliver, O’Neill, Dyer (Try 8), Burke, Molitika
Bench: Wilkinson, Collins, Evans, Weir, Maisey
Hartpury: Thompson (Pen 22), Neal, Eves, Boulton, Mikalcius, Perry, Cochrane (Try 57); Flook, Stephenson (Try 75), Brockett, Oakley, Dancer, Polledri, Thomas (Try 65), Safe
Bench: Taylor, Barron, Evans (Gareth), Evans (George), Forrester
Referee: James Sullivan