Hartpury produced an encouraging performance at the home of one the Championship’s stronger sides, the Cornish Pirates, who were somewhat flattered by the final margin in this entertaining match.
After sub-par performances in defeat to London Scottish and Doncaster Knights, this was a much improved Hartpury effort, although they once again found themselves undone by errors at critical moments and a, now customary, half-time wobble.
The match was played in a fresh blustery wind which blew diagonally across the pitch. The surface was a little heavy, but overall conditions were good.
Hartpury had made several changes from the home defeat to Knights. Harry Cochrane, who had a good game, got a start at half-back, where he was partnered by the returning Sam Leeming. Jack Reeves came in for the injured Luke Eves in the centre and Ed Sheldon was picked on the wing.
Mike Flook and Joe Morris formed the front row alongside regular hooker Will Tanner. Ehize Ehizode, on dual registration from Bristol Rugby, stepped up from the bench which, this week, featured 17-year old scrum half, Stephen Varney.
Hartpury started brightly but, not surprisingly, most of the early territory and possession belonged to the Pirates. However, the visitors were keeping their defensive shape well and got some reward for that effort in the 12th minute.
The Red & Black scrum looked rock solid and were starting to get an edge. Scrum penalties took them downfield and when the Pirates were caught on the wrong side in front of their posts, it was a simple task for Leeming to nudge the visitors ahead.
Pirates wasted no time in turning things around on the scoreboard. It was good try from former Hartpury player, Alex O’Meara, who prodded the ball behind the home defence and had the pace to score in the corner for 5-3.
But Hartpury were playing a full part in proceedings. Jake Henry was carrying powerfully, while Ehizode and another dual-registered player, Tom Dodd of Worcester Warriors on his second appearance, were showing up extremely well in the loose.
They took the lead with 28 minutes on the clock. Pirates failed to deal with a long kick out of defence and, in contrast to last week, the Hartpury chase was good. Regathering possession, they launched themselves towards the posts and the ball was eventually worked to Mat Gilbert, via a superb off-load from Dodd.
The former Scarlets and Bath flanker had the power to finish well, under the sticks (pictured), leaving Leeming with another simple kick.
Six minutes later the game was back to all square, when an arcing run from Pirates winger Robin Wedlake out-stripped the Hartpury defence. He almost made it on his own, but his well-timed pass meant that O’Meara simply had to fall over the line for his second. Again, Pirates missed the conversion.
An unwelcome Hartpury habit this season has been the concession of tries either side of half time. This game was to be no exception, as the Pirates were able to score in virtually consecutive plays, albeit separated by the interval.
Ironically, it was Hartpury who were looking more likely to take the lead into the break. Another penalty gave them an attacking line-out with two minutes to play but, not for the only time in the game, the throw was easily picked off by the hosts.
A few short phases later saw Hartpury penalised in a very kickable position for the Pirates. Instead, they chose to scrum and, after keeping it close in the forwards, flanker Dan Lee eventually snuck over. This time the kick was simple for Rojas Alvarez and, rather than leading, Hartpury found themselves 17-10 behind.
It got worse immediately after the restart. Another former Hartpury man, winger Matt Evans – on as a half-time replacement – made good ground on his first touch and his inside ball gave full-back Kyle Moyle a simple run-in.
Pirates had picked up 17 unanswered points in the space of eight minutes and another game appeared to be slipping away.
However, there was a sharper edge about Hartpury in this game and they produced a try of their own a few minutes later.
A strong attack down the left stretched the home defence and, when the ball was worked infield, there was skipper Simon Linsell to shrug off some would-be tacklers to score under the posts.
In a difficult season, Linsell – a frequently used ball-carrier – has never given less than 100% and the try was nothing less than he deserved for another committed performance here.
Ten points adrift and with plenty of time on the clock, there was a chance that Hartpury could still grab something from the game.
But it was the Pirates who stepped on the gas and three further tries put paid to any hopes that Hartpury may have harboured. Marlen Walker, Alex Day and Toby Freeman all scored from close range as the Pirates forwards used their muscle.
Luke Stratford did pick up a late consolation for Hartpury at the back of a line out drive, but there was no opportunity to grab the fourth try for what would have been a deserved point.
Hartpury now get a week off, before another difficult trip, to Coventry, on February 9th.
Pirates: Moyle (Try 41), O’Meara (Tries 14, 34), Parata, Patterson, Wedlake, Rojas Alvarez (Cons 40, 62, 74), Day (Try 61); Walker (Try 50), Matavesi, Concu, Cutmore, Beukeboom, Lee (Try 40), Bolwell, McRae. Bench: Frost, Andrew, Freeman (Try 74), Clemson, Schwarz, Koster, Evans
Hartpury: Wilcox, Sheldon, Reeves, Forrester, Henry, Leeming (Cons 28, 47, 78. Pen 12), Cochrane; Flook, Tanner, Morris, Ehizode, Linsell (Try 46), Qera, Gilbert (Try 28), Dodd. Bench: Stratford (Try 78), Murphy, Gibson, Quinn, Stephenson, Varney, Foley.
Referee: Tom Foley