This was a highly entertaining game, staged in close to perfect conditions, between two teams who wanted to play rugby.
The tempo was high throughout the match and there was plenty for a good crowd to enjoy. After weeks of ‘wet’ games, it was a pleasure to watch the sides playing with a dry ball on a chilly but clear Bedfordshire afternoon.
Hartpury will reflect that they probably let Bedford get away with too many first half points and, despite controlling possession for much of the later stages, they were always needing to play catch-up.
Despite recent defeats to Pirates and Jersey, the Red and Blacks came into this fixture in good fettle, with a relatively light injury list and a settled squad. Prop Rupert Harden is the only long-term absentee, with backs Jake Henry and Dan Koster the only other regular choices currently on the side-lines.
This match saw the return of former club skipper Simon Linsell – itching to get some game-time during his loan from Gloucester – but otherwise the group has been largely unchanged in recent weeks.
The game started briskly and it was almost three minutes before World Cup referee, Wayne Barnes, had to use his whistle
The first score came in the 8th minute when Dean Adamson found space outside the Hartpury defence. His chip ahead created pressure on the Hartpury try-line and, when the ball was eventually released by the Blues forwards, on loan full-back Pete Lydon spotted a gap in the on-rushing defence, his momentum just about taking him over the line.
Hooley converted to make it 7-0, but the scores were soon level. Mike Wilcox and Sam Goatley combined well on the left-hand side before Hartpury drove close through their forwards. Akapusi Qera made the final, scoring surge and Joshua Bragman was on target for the extras.
With the game going backwards and forwards, Blues were back in front from a successful Hooley kick in the 17th minute, after Hartpury had collapsed a maul on their 22, before the second Bedford try opened up a 10-point gap.
Hartpury got hands to a Hooley cross-field kick, launched from deep and landing on half-way, but it fell very nicely for Blues. Flanker Dan Temm made ground, before his inside ball gave Rich Lane a run-in to score from 35 metres.
Bragman landed a lovely 40 metre kick to narrow things slightly, after Bedford had drifted offside in defence, but further penalties gave Blues the field position for Hooley to restore the 10-point cushion, after another maul had been brought down.
The game could have got away from the visitors at this point, but Hartpury were next to score with a well-worked try.
Hooker Will Tanner popped up as a pivot in midfield, after another charge from Qera, and his well-disguised pass gave centre Robbie Smith (pictured top, courtesy of LNC Images) the opportunity to make a huge break through the middle.
Smith’s off-load found Seb Nagle-Taylor and nobody was going to stop him from scoring under the posts.
The second half started with a yellow card for Hartpury’s George Simpson, who was perhaps unfortunate to collide with his Ealing club-mate Lydon while the latter was off the ground dealing with a Luke Carter box kick – both players are on loan to their respective teams – before another offence at a maul gave Hooley a chance to extend the lead to 23-17.
Bragman pulled it back again with another long range effort in the 57th minute after Blues were penalised for not releasing, at a time when Hartpury were starting to build a head of steam. As often happens, Bragman was 100% with his shots on the day.
At 23-20 and with Hartpury now controlling possession, it was somewhat against the run of play when Blues extended their lead early in the final quarter. Lydon’s deep kick was not well dealt with by Hartpury, under pressure from Adamson, and Blues’ replacement scrum-half, James Lennon, picked up to score.
Hooley was wide with the conversion and there was late consolation for the visitors when another Bragman penalty at least ensured the bonus point. Hartpury felt that Robbie Smith had got a scoring touch to a kick through after more outstanding work from Nagle-Taylor moments earlier, but the officials were unsighted. It’s unlikely that the eventual outcome would have been affected.
So, defeat but no disgrace for Hartpury. The forwards dug deep, Will Safe again getting through a monumental amount of work, while in the backs Luke Eves ran hard and Robbie Smith carried a threat throughout the afternoon. Not for the first time this season, Seb Nagle-Taylor (right, courtesy of LNC Images) looked like the best player on the pitch.
“We gave up way too many points in the first half,” said Hartpury’s Mark Cornwell. “We showed some good energy after the break but we didn’t quite have enough to pull the game back.”
Hartpury now look forward to a televised home fixture with Coventry Rugby next Saturday (2pm).
Bedford Blues: Lydon (Try 8), Hutler, Lane (Try 20), Hirskyj-Douglas, Adamson, Hooley (Cons 9, 21 Pens 16, 29, 44), Hart; McCarthy, Smith, Penny, Onojaife, Curry, Temm, Atkinson, Fa’osiliva. Bench: Clare, Wrafter, Paul, Taylor, Buggea, Lennon (Try 66), Leeming, Worley.
Hartpury: Wilcox, Simpson, Smith, Eves, Goatley, Bragman (Cons 14, 32. Pens 23, 57, 78) Carter; Murphy, Tanner, Flook, Linsell, Safe, Qera (Try 13), Preece, Nagle-Taylor (Try 31). Bench: Crane, Merrey, Gibson, Fuller, Grieve, Cochrane, Margetts, Reeves.
Referee: Wayne Barnes