By Jenny Bates
A late Bedford Blues try was just enough to snatch a much-needed victory away from the visitors, after a gripping display of rugby from both teams, with Hartpury pushing the hosts right up to the final whistle.
Due to injuries and unavailability, Hartpury were forced to reshuffle extensively and the team included former student, lock forward Harry Casson, on a short term loan from Ealing Trailfinders.
Luke Eves (centre) and Mat Gilbert (back row) both passed late fitness tests to ease some of the worries, but the squad still featured a number of students who were ‘doubling up’ from a successful BUCS Super Rugby fixture, on Wednesday evening, at Durham University.
The weather for the game was poor throughout and it was a credit to both teams that they produced such a compelling afternoon of entertainment.
Hartpury made an excellent start, following a coughed-up ball by the Blues which led to a penalty and then a lineout. The driving maul did its job and James Stephenson was able to force the ball down.
Bad luck followed when Luke Cozens’ conversion bounced off the cross bar and fell on the wrong side of the posts.
Bedford responded by securing their first try of the game in the 10th minute, by Dean Adamson, who blocked a kick from Hartpury and sent the ball to Rich Lane.
He made good ground up the pitch and, from the breakdown, the ball was moved back to Adamson who scored in the corner. A successful conversion from Will Hooley followed.
Five minutes later, Hartpury were back in front. After Bedford’s Huw Worthington was yellow carded, the Red & Blacks kicked the penalty to the corner.
The lineout functioned well, and prop Dan Murphy (pictured, LNC Images) touched down at the back of the drive. Cozens kick was good this time and Hartpury were 12-7 up.
In a ding-dong encounter, Adamson added his second try when, after a series of Bedford attacks, he was found in plenty of space to score. Hooley’s kick was wide and the game was level.
The weather continued to worsen, and the greasy ball made play difficult, but Hartpury were defending well as Bedford struggled to turn possession into points.
Much to Hartpury relief, what looked to be a hat-trick for Adamson was disallowed by referee, Mathew Carley, due to a forward pass in the build-up. Then, prop Rupert Harden received a yellow card for an infringement at a lineout and Bedford surged again.
A third Blues try followed shortly afterwards, when Hartpury old-boy, Josh Buggea, crashed over after sustained Bedford pressure, to make it 19-12 at the break.
There was another momentum shift after the re-start, as Hartpury began the better. They were rewarded in the 52nd minute when Richard Bolt and Mike Wilcox combined to thread a ball behind the Blues defence for Ed Sheldon to grab his first Championship try of the season.
Things got even better for the visitors early in the third quarter. A second try for Stephenson arrived as another line out drive resulted from a penalty given up by the Blues. Sam Leeming converted to return Hartpury to the lead, 24-19.
With the clock ticking down, Hartpury appeared to be heading for a famous victory. Those hopes were crushed as the game ended in dramatic style.
First, Bedford scored through a line-out drive of their own, replacement prop Tadgh McElory getting the plaudits and Hooley, again, adding the extras.
Then, with the game in overtime, a Leeming penalty, which would have won the game, floated wide of the posts and the chance was gone.
Despite the disappointment, four tries and two points from this fixture against one of the Championship’s consistently stronger sides, is nothing to be ashamed of, particularly with bottom club Yorkshire Carnegie losing away at Coventry.
More importantly, the performance suggested that there is still everything to play for, from a Hartpury perspective, once the league calendar resumes after Christmas with the visit of former Premiership giants, London Irish.
Irish are also the visitors in Hartpury’s next game on November 10th, when the clubs will play their first fixtures in the newly-created Championship Cup, a competition which will also see Hartpury returning to Bedford in the following round.
Bedford Blues: Lane, Hutler, Coulson, Robling, Adamson (Tries 10,23), Hooley (Cons, 11, 34,78), Dickson; McCarthy, Fields, Cooper, Carrick-Smith, Flanagan, Worthington, Buggea (Try, 33), Williams. Bench: McElory (Try, 76) Ellis, Penny, Taylor, Curry, Gliksten, Davies.
Hartpury: Wilcox, Foley, Eves, Leeming (Con, 66), Sheldon (Try, 52), Cozens(Con, 15), Bolt, Murphy (Try, 15), Tanner, Harden, Casson, Linsell, Stephenson (Tries 3, 64), Gilbert, Pashley. Bench: Stratford, Flook, Morris, Southon, Wilson, Smith, Cochrane.
Referee: Mathew Carley