In a fixture that provided rich entertainment for the spectator, but occasional frustration for the coaching staff, Hartpury duly completed their ninth bonus point win in succession in this breathless encounter with a committed and energetic Cambridge team.
In absolutely perfect conditions, there was pre-match anticipation among visiting supporters that Hartpury’s exciting-looking back division could, potentially, have a field day against a team that had already amassed a significant entry in the ‘points against’ column this season.
A trio of Under-20 internationals, in Harry Randall, Mat Protheroe and Adam Hastings, is a line-up of inside backs that many teams at this level can only dream of. Add to them the pace and power of winger Jonas Mikalcius and you have potential points in abundance.
Up front, rotation in the forwards did nothing to diminish the ball-winning capability of the Hartpury eight, with Ben So’oialo-Chan and Sebastian Negri – two further players with international experience – stepping in for Rhys Oakley and Will Safe respectively.
Overall, aside from the result, there were plenty of positives to be taken from the Hartpury display, but it will be the short-comings, including handling errors, turnovers, spurned chances and occasional defensive lapses, that might pre-occupy the management ahead of next week’s visit by a resurgent Rosslyn Park.
Seven tries, some of them very well taken, was ultimately a satisfactory reflection of Hartpury’s attacking intent, whereas the concession of four will be the area of concern, notwithstanding the effort and enterprise shown by the hosts.
Cambridge it was who took the lead with an early try from Dan Lewis, producing a good finish after they had dealt better with a loose ball in midfield. Fly half Jack Green added the conversion.
Hartpury were quick to respond when Jake Polledri was driven over from a lineout, but transgressions at the breakdown allowed the reliable boot of Green to keep the hosts in front until well into the second quarter.
Having enjoyed the bulk of the possession, Hartpury first closed things up, and then took the lead, through two of their young play-makers. First, Randall spotted a gap from the base of a ruck and was able to skip through the defence before running 25 metres to dot down.
Four minutes later, Protheroe, having already made a couple of eye-catching breaks, did well to gather his own chip ahead to gain a lead that was never surrendered.
Two Mikalcius tries, quickly after the break, put Hartpury firmly on the road to their fourth away win of the season. The first came from a good carry from centre Jamie Forrester, who fielded a kick deep in his half and made good ground before giving the winger the chance to finish well.
The second was put on a plate by Randall, his break leaving Mikalcius with a simpler finish, to give Hartpury the two-score cushion that they needed.
However, Cambridge were nothing if not brave and they traded tries with Hartpury through the remainder of the half.
A fly-hack from Hartpury, in defence, fell kindly for Cambridge Number 8 Tom Nutley shortly after Mikalcius’ second, before a long period of pressure saw replacement Jake McCloud go over to pull the scoreline back to 27-37, both efforts having been improved by Green.
In between the two Cambridge tries Protheroe had slotted a penalty, and another kicked just past the hour restored some of the breathing space.
He then added his own second try with 10 minutes to play, again out-pacing the defence to collect his kick ahead, and Hartpury topped the half-century when skipper-for-the-day, Mat Gilbert, capped a fine personal performance by driving over to capitalise on another period of pressure.
Tom Trotter produced the final points of the game in the last minute to give the home team the bonus point that their spirit deserved. Hartpury were good value for the win, but know that they will need to be more clinical in the matches to come for this amazing run to continue.
Hartpury extended their lead in the table, fractionally, when Moseley’s win at DMP did not yield a bonus point for the victors, while Blackheath, now 12 points adrift in third, got nothing from a 28-3 reversal at next week’s opponents, Rosslyn Park.
Plymouth Albion were convincing winners over Loughborough Students and Ampthill edged home against Esher.
Blaydon finally registered their first win, at home to Fylde, and lift themselves off the bottom, to be replaced by Macclesfield, well beaten at Albanian. Those two are joined in the bottom three by Ionians, who went down 21-40 at home to Coventry.
Next Saturday’s game against Rosslyn Park kicks off at 2.30pm.
Cambridge: Lewis (Try 3), Hutchinson, Hema, Ayrton, Leatham, Green (Cons 3, 46, 59, 80; Pens 11, 22), Liebenberg; Reeves, Griffiths, Jones, Moon, Breitag-Norris, Laxton, Johnson, Nutley (Try 46). Replacements: Ruddock, Naqisma, McCloud (Try 58), Trotter (Try 80), Furbank.
Hartpury: Wilcox, Boulton, Forrester, Hastings, Mikalcius (Tries 41, 44), Protheroe (Tries 30, 70; Cons 26, 30, 41, 70, 77; Pens 36, 51, 61), Randall (Try 26); Merrey, Taylor, Thompson, So’oialo-Chan, Dancer, Polledri (Try 8), Gilbert (Try 77), Negri. Replacements: Tanner, Flook, Gibson, Quinn, Shaw.
Referee: Mr V Boscawen