National League One table-toppers Hartpury RFC sent out the clearest signal yet of their Championship credentials as they delivered an 11-try masterclass against Darlington Mowden Park to claim their 12th successive bonus point win of the season.
They outgunned and outmanoeuvred their visitors in all areas but were quite superlative in the scrum. With the set piece so superior and the back row wreaking havoc all over the park, the bonus point was sewn up before the interval.
That set the platform for the back division to show flashes of brilliance in the second half but the handling from the forwards was just as dazzling at times.
Hartpury dominated the early stages but it took eight minutes before the scoreboard was troubled with fly-half Jacob Perry slotting a penalty.
It was already looking ominous for Park, who were conceding penalties as the pressure mounted and it was no surprise when hooker Ignas Darkintis was sinbinned on 11 minutes.
With Hartpury having the clear advantage at the set piece, Park were having to commit a lot of men to halting their driving mauls and it proved their undoing on 17 minutes when impressive number eight Will Safe comfortably claimed a penalty line-out.
Hartpury got the shove on and worked the ball round for centre Luke Eves to touch down. Perry slotted the conversion from out wide for a 10-0 lead.
As Park saw another man yellow carded, flanker Luca Petillo, Hartpury fashioned a cracking score as blindside Jake Polledri stormed out of his own half to carry strongly into the ruck. Scrum-half Harry Randall fired quick ball out to second row Joe Quinn, whose perfectly timed offload saw pace man Elias Caven profit from the overlap to accelerate in with the Park rearguard rooted to the spot. The extras missed.
The visitors were struggling to find any answers to Hartpury’s superior pace and power and when they were pinged for holding on, the home side ran over them at the scrum. Safe then broke clear before flummoxing the defence with a show and go and hooker Will Tanner went on a strong break to within metres of the line after the ball was recycled rapidly out of the ruck.
The penalty was won and it was no surprise when Hartpury opted for the scrum with Safe driven over effortlessly for a try beautifully converted by Perry for a 22-0 advantage.
Celebrations were muted, however, as the score immediately followed Randall being taken off on a board with a leg injury, although he was up and about on crutches later.
The visitors were seriously rocking now and, penalised at the scrum and then the line-out, Hartpury capitalised as replacement scrum-half Robbie Shaw spotted space to peel off the penalty scrum to dot down the bonus point try. Perry converted for a 29-0 half-time advantage.
With pack power having already made the game safe, it was time for the backs to turn on the style in the second half and sublime handling was at the heart of two quickfire tries.
Perry went over first but it was centre Steve Leonard’s vision as he accelerated into space that was the catalyst for the score, along with a quite stunning offload on the line.
Quinn powered into the 22 to kick-start the next offensive with flanker James Stephenson following up to score. Perry converted both.
Hartpury brought up the half-century on 52 minutes with a pushover try grounded by replacement Nathan Taylor. Perry converted.
As the game entered the final quarter, Mowden Park crafted their best chance as a lovely step by the full-back, Joshua Bragman, opened up the defence and the ball was moved through the hands of winger Benjamin Frankland and number eight Rory Duff to breach the 22.
Dominic Shaw, centre Christopher Auld and fly-half Warren Seals carried on but they failed to keep their composure and Hartpury survived the brief scare.
The visitors continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession but it was largely within their own half and the home defence was up to the task.
Their good work was undone when Joseph Luke Sproston was sinbinned on 71 minutes and Hartpury were soon back into their groove with Safe showing lovely hands before Wilcox danced over. The extras missed.
It was Safe’s powerful charge off the back of the next scrum that unlocked the defence for the next try too and as the ball was shipped out left, Leonard showed pace and strength to cross the whitewash for an unconverted try.
And with Hartpury now cutting loose with some champagne rugby, there was still time for two more tries.
Deft hands worked the overlap for Caven to dance past the last man to score and he was in again in injury-time to rub salt in the Park wounds with an interception try. Perry converted both for a victory by a magnificent margin that inflicted Mowden Park’s biggest defeat in 15 years.