It was a frustrating afternoon for the Red & Blacks, as their first home outing of the season ended in defeat to the Jersey Reds.
That frustration came from the fact that, despite tightening up defensively from last weekend’s opening-day defeat at Doncaster, they failed to make much of the possession that they had plenty of throughout the game, with basic errors undermining much of their effort.
Jersey were also full of mistakes on a blustery afternoon, but Hartpury were unable to take advantage. The visitors also, occasionally, showed the composure and the accuracy needed to collect a four-try bonus point.
The Championship Cup competition has provided Hartpury an opportunity to give competitive game-time to a wide number of their squad and they came into the game showing plenty of changes.
Former student Joe Batley and dual-registered Worcester Warriors man, James Scott, formed a new second row, while Jack Preece was making his debut on the open-side of the scrum.
Half backs Luke Carter and Joshua Bragman started together for the first time outside of pre-season, while centres Luke Eves and Jamie Forrester were both included after missing the Knights fixture. George Simpson got his first start at full-back and there was a spot on the bench for another debutant, Worcester’s Nick David.
The opening quarter was a bit of a mess as the two sides took it in turns to make mistakes.
Hartpury almost capitalised on a Jersey fumble when the ball was hacked through for pacy Number 8, Seb Nagle-Taylor to chase. He got another shoe to the ball (pictured) and it looked as though he might have scored, before referee Anthony Woodthorpe ruled that Jersey had got the final touch.
It was one of a number of impressive contributions from the former England Sevens player, who backed up a strong debut last week with a man-of-the-match performance in this game. His signing, from Rotherham Titans, could prove to be one of Hartpury’s most important summer acquisitions.
Hartpury had elected to play with the wind before the break, but they failed to make it count. Far too often they were guilty of trying to over-play, when a kick behind the Reds’ back three would have been a better tactic.
Ultimately, all that Hartpury had to show for their first-quarter efforts was a well-struck 14th minute penalty from Bragman.
Jersey had not seriously threatened in that time, but two tries in six minutes put them in a strong position.
Hartpury were working their way through several phases without really going anywhere until, almost inevitably, they lost control of the ball. Jersey quickly summarised the opportunity and a well-placed kick towards the right fell nicely for winger Tom Williams. He had the wheels to scoot home for the first of his two tries.
Then, just before the 30-minute mark, former Bristol academy player, Auguy Slowick, flat-footed the Hartpury defence with a show and go, stepping through a big gap close to the break-down for an easy 20-metre run in.
Hartpury were 12-3 down, with time running out until the break.
Bragman found himself with another kickable penalty as the half-time whistle loomed. Hartpury wanted more, however, and his touch-finder was a beauty, setting up an attacking lineout within 10 metres of the Jersey line.
This time they got everything right, as the lineout functioned perfectly before the drive produced a first try of the season for hooker Will Tanner.
Bragman could not land the extras from wide out, but a four-point deficit, while less than they would have been hoping for, was not a disastrous situation for the home team.
Hartpury started the second period brightly as both George Simpson and, again, Nagle-Taylor carried impressively.
But still the Red & Blacks contrived not to score and the contrast between the two sides was clear in the 48th minute when a Jersey attack eventually conjured space on the left for Leroy van Dam, who frequently looked lively with the ball in hand, to finish unopposed.
If Hartpury were to get anything from the game they had to be the next to score and it looked as though they might do just that when the forwards drove strongly towards the Reds’ line a few minutes later.
They were held up, but still had a clear-cut opportunity as the referee awarded the five-metre scrum. The set-piece was solid, but as the ball was moved to the left, Jersey winger Williams stepped in to make the interception.
His pace did the rest and, following the conversion, Jersey were 24-8 ahead and with the bonus point safely in their back pocket.
Hartpury did rally towards the end as the bench injected some much needed tempo. Replacement full-back, Nick David, looked good both with and without the ball, while Joe Margetts also produced a good late cameo.
They did have the final word, after David made a strong break into the Reds’ 22. The move carried on and, although Jake Henry was dragged down just short, Will Safe was there to score in the corner.
Hartpury fans are urged to come along and support the team next Saturday when Newcastle Falcons – who were playing in the Heineken Champions Cup just last season – are the visitors in round three of the Championship Cup. It is also our last game before league action starts on October 12th.
Hartpury: Simpson, Goatley, Forrester, Eves, Henry, Bragman (Penalty 14), Carter; Murphy, Tanner (Try 39), Harden, Batley, Scott, Qera, Preece, Nagle-Taylor. Bench: Crane, Owen, Gibson, Everard, Safe (Try 78), Margetts, David, Cochrane
Jersey: Slowik (Try 29), Williams (Tries 23, 58), Newey, Best, Van Dam (Try 48), Dyer (Cons 29, 59), Jones; Morley, Dolly, Clarey, Thompson, Bartle, Joyce, Bainbridge, Argyle. Bench: Harris, Godfrey, Alexis, Hatherall, Upfield, Howley, Cope, Stapley
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe
MOTM: Seb Nagle-Taylor