HARTPURY put their Rosslyn Park demons to rest as they claimed their 10th successive bonus point win in National League One, emerging 37-27 victors from a tense, physical encounter.
Having lost three of their last four encounters with the London club, league leaders’ Hartpury’s confidence was tinged with caution heading into this home clash, and they had to battle back from a 10-0 deficit and survive a late Park rally to take the spoils.
There were some moments of magic though, not least a well-taken hat-trick from Harlequins’ man Jonas Mikalcius, and some quite dazzling play from the centre partnership of Luke Eves and birthday boy Steve Leonard.
Hartpury struggled to get to grips with Rosslyn Park’s physicality in the early stages, needing to commit too many men at the breakdowns and tackle area as they came under cosh.
The visitors took the lead with a penalty inside the first minute slotted by fly-half Scott Sneddon and only five minutes later – after Hartpury were penalised at a scrum to put themselves back under heavy pressure – Sneddon stepped up to add the extras to a try from number eight and skipper Hugo Ellis.
After a strong touchline break by winger Mark Kohler, Park moved the ball quickly through a series of rucks and through the hands of centre Andrew Henderson to work the overlap for Ellis to barge over. Sneddon’s conversion made it 10-0.
Hartpury were now starting to win the lion’s share of possession as they got the measure of their opponents but they made heavy weather of making progress into the 22 and with Park up in their faces at the breakdown, they were eventually turned over.
The breakthrough finally came though as a beautiful offload from centre Steve Leonard, who along with centre partner Luke Eves was at the heart of almost everything Hartpury created offensively, unleashed livewire scrum-half Harry Randall. He fired out quick ball to winger Jonas Mikalcius, who showed off his finishing prowess to score. Perry missed the conversion.
Hartpury were not executing as effectively as they have done of late though, particularly at the set piece, and they were not helped by the referee taking a dim view of their scrums.
A solid line-out take from lock Ben Chan proved the catalyst for another score though as the half-backs combined to feed Eves and then a superb break and offload from winger Elias Caven sent Mikalcius in for his second try, showing a nice step and great strength on this way to the line. Perry’s conversion edged the hosts 12-10 ahead.
When Hartpury were again penalised at the scrum, Sneddon restored Park’s advantage with a penalty, but it was short-lived as Perry then put one over after lovely running from Leonard and Eves.
Two minutes later and Leonard stole the show after Randall’s initial break, spotting a gap from the breakdown and scything through the Park midfield as he cut a great line to score. Perry converted for a 22-13 half-time advantage, Sneddon missing a punt at posts just before the interval.
Hartpury started the second half with purpose, prop Wayne Thompson going on a charging run before hooker Will Tanner showed lovely hands – not for the first time – to release Randall.
While that attack ran aground, some Eves’ magic then opened up the Park defence and second row Joe Dancer handed off to power over for the try.
Perry missed with the conversion but only two minutes later, he was able to add the extras to Mikalcius’ hat-trick try, the winger on the shoulder of Leonard, who had broken out of his own half to light up proceedings once again.
Park then started to ground their way back into the game and it took a fine turnover from prop Mike Flook to get Hartpury back on top, Eves and Leonard combining again to get within a metre of the line.
Park prop Stewart Maguire was forced to infringe to prevent a score and he was sent to the sinbin, Perry popping over the resultant penalty for a 37-13 advantage after 59 minutes.
Park had not given up on this game though and they showed real ambition, shunning kickable penalties, and with the visitors continuing to get the rub of the green at the scrum, Hartpury were now on the back foot.
Back row Matt Gilbert suffered the consequences, seeing yellow on 67 minutes after Park’s Henderson had almost danced through after a quickly taken penalty.
Some poor decision-making coupled with excellent Hartpury defence meant Park could not profit from their increased possession for a time but then replacement James Harries jinked through to put the visitors in the shadow of the posts.
Quick ruck ball saw the ball moved through the half-backs and out wide to full-back Henry Robinson to score. Sneddon converted for 37-20.
An excellent turnover by Dancer was undone by another penalty conceded by Hartpury at the scrum and it was Park who had the final word, Richard Boyle with a fine line-out take before Sneddon and James Harries combined for the former to cruise in and convert his own score in injury-time.
HARTPURY: M. Wilcox, E. Caven, S. Leonard, L. Eves (c), J. Mikalcius, J. Perry, H. Randall (R. Shaw 66); M. Flook (D. Merrey 66), W. Tanner, W. Thompson (T. Brockett 58), B. Chan (M. Gilbert 63), J. Dancer, J. Polledri, M. Gilbert (J. Stephenson 58), R. Oakley (c) (J. Quinn 63).
ROSSLYN PARK: H. Robinson, M. Kohler, A. Henderson, H. Leonard, A. Field, S. Sneddon, R. Weir (J. Gash 58); M. Lilley (A. Wade 54), A. Bellamy (T. Vaughan-Edwards 58), S. Maguire, A. Frampton (P. Spivey 75), P. Spivey (R. Boyle 56), E. Milne (J. Harries 71), J. Ovens. H. Ellis (c).
REFEREE: Mr A. Leal
STAR MAN: Jonas Mikalcius