There was a proverbial “game of two halves” when Hartpury and Bath met in the latest instalment of this year’s captivating BUCS Super Rugby tournament.
Having established a useful half-time lead, which they extended shortly after the break, Hartpury then had to withstand a determined Bath fight-back, which left them a relieved side at the final whistle.
Hartpury are currently top of the inaugural Super Rugby table, last week’s win at Leeds Beckett being their ninth out of the ten games played. Bath, meanwhile, were locked in mid-table, some good away form being undermined by indifferent results at home.
Coming into the game with a largely settled side, Hartpury were clearly fired up for this match although this translated into a string of early penalties for the visitors. Bath were able to use this possession to move themselves up the pitch and it gave them an opportunity with six minutes on the clock.
An attacking line was won deep in the Hartpury 22. The ball was driven infield for a couple of phases and, with defenders getting sucked in, there was plenty of space for winger Darren Atkins to score near the posts, leaving an easy conversion for Hugo Stiles.
Despite this setback, it was the home team who were making all of the early running, showing an intensity that Bath were finding it hard to cope with.
Some dazzling footwork from Lewis Dennett (pictured) produced the first breakthrough. Stepping his way past the first-up tacklers he showed good pace over 10 metres before his off-load gave scrum-half Harry Cochrane a run-in to the posts. Leeming, who had earlier drifted a penalty just wide, did the honours to tie things up.
It was pretty much all Hartpury for the remainder of the half. Runners were constantly challenging the Bath defence, whilst any ball that the visitors did enjoy quickly went nowhere in the face of some fierce tackling.
Luke Stratford, prominent in much of what Hartpury did well, bundled over to increase the lead before the quarter and then it was the turn of another to have a very good game, number 8 Harry Wilson, who got the final touch from a well-controlled lineout drive.
The try-scoring bonus point came before the break. More Hartpury pressure had Bath on the back foot and this time it was the skipper, Seb Negri, who battered his way over from seven metres out.
It was 28-7 at the interval and early in the second half it seemed as though the floodgates might be about to open.
The Bath pack worked hard to produce good ball close to their own line, but some slightly lethargic play behind gave Hartpury centre Jamie Cooke the opportunity to charge down the kick and follow up to score.
Seemingly out of sight, and perhaps aided by a bit of a ‘job done’ approach from the home team, Bath started to work their way back into the match. They have a strong pack and in Number 8 Alex Weighton, they had one of the stand-out players on the field.
Territorial advantage was all theirs for the remainder of the game and, aided by a yellow card to home hooker Stratford during which they crossed twice, they started to make it count.
Two successful lineout drives, finished by hooker Tom Doughty, were separated by a try scored in open play by Dan Rowland after the Hartpury midfield defence had finally been breached.
Having made changes, they critically missed two conversions, both from relatively simple positions, which would otherwise have put them very much within striking distance.
As it was, Hartpury managed to re-group and spent the final minutes of the game sensibly running down the clock with some controlled forward play.
Winning skipper Negri was generally pleased with his side’s performance, but not without reservations. “We played 35 minutes of really good quality rugby and it was pleasing to see such a positive response to the training that we have done this week.”
“There’s still lots to work on. In the second half there was a lack of concentration and that gives a team like Bath, who are very physical, a way back into the game. Overall though, we’ve got to be pleased with the win and the bonus point.”
Hartpury: Leeming (Cons 12, 19, 28, 37), Tudor, Cooke (Try 43), Forrester, Little, Dennett, Cochrane (Try 12); Barron, Stratford (Try 18), Gibson, Harper, Negri (Try 36), Pashley, Bowden, Wilson. Replacements: Wrafter, Grinsell, Hill, Upton, Agnew, Cox, Forbes
Bath: Stiles (Cons 6, 60), Rowland (Try 63), Duncan, Hopkinson, Atkins (Try 6), Humphreys, Flynn; McGrath, Doughty (Tries 59, 74), Wood, Britton, Russell, Davies, McCarthy, Weighton. Replacements: TBA