Cornish Pirates came into this fixture with a maximum 10-point haul from their opening two matches and, ultimately, had too much in the tank for a slightly off-colour Hartpury.
After one and half good performances in their opening two games, Hartpury arrived looking to change the record from last season, when they lost four times to the Cornishmen.
Yet, after the brightest of starts, it was ‘business as usual’ by the time the final whistle blew.
Hartpury were very much in the game at the half time interval but, as in last week’s defeat at Doncaster, they were sunk by a poor third quarter in which they conceded three tries and barely troubled the visiting defence.
Hartpury were lifted by the return of centre, Steve Leonard (pictured). The big ball-carrier, who has been with the Red & Blacks since the National League Two days, barely appeared in the Championship last season due to injury, but had given glimpses that suggested he would continue to be a potent attacking threat.
And so it was in this game, as he quickly reminded the Pirates defence that he was back. A couple of typically robust early charges were topped off by a try in just the 4th minute. Hartpury drove hard up the field before the ball was moved right to where Leonard was waiting to strike with his first real chance of the season.
Luke Cozens converted nicely and was involved again when Hartpury stretched their lead, seven minutes later. Enjoying good field position, won by an energetic effort from the pack, Hartpury were given a ‘free ball’ when referee Michael Hudson indicated that he was playing a penalty advantage.
Quickly summarising the situation, Cozens floated a beautiful kick into the left hand corner, where summer-signing, winger Jake Henry, was on hand to win the contest for the ball and open his account for the club.
Given their previous experiences with the Pirates, this start was everything that Hartpury could have hoped for, but it was not to last.
A penalty conceded gave Pirates the chance to establish good field position and, eventually, they got points on the board, Robin Wedlake coming off his right wing berth to score in the opposite corner with 17 minutes played.
Three minutes later, the Cornishmen were ahead. Full-back Kyle Moyle broke well out of his own half, taking advantage of some uncharacteristically hesitant Hartpury defence. His run was eventually ended, but centre Callum Patterson was on hand in support to finish under the posts.
Prompted by excellent scrum-half, Alex Day, Pirates were starting to justify their top-of-the-table billing. The next score was, however, something of a gift as – for the second week running – Hartpury threw an interception to the opposition’s fastest player and Wedlake had the gas to double his tally with a 60 metre finish.
To their credit, Hartpury did respond, although the loss of Leonard in the 35th minute – to a cramping hamstring – and a successful Will Cargill penalty for the Pirates, were both further setbacks.
With the break approaching, the home team managed to create some sustained pressure in the Pirates’ half and, when a penalty was kicked into the 22 by Cozens, the forwards had the opportunity to set up the drive.
Returning hooker Will Tanner got his hands on the ball, around 10 metres out from the line, and he was still holding on to it when the Pirates defence finally cracked.
For the second week running, Hartpury finished the half on a high – albeit, in this instance, behind on the scoreboard.
However, much like last week, they made a mess of the restart, immediately putting themselves on the back foot. They defended doggedly for some time until, with penalty advantage being played, Cornish fly-half Cargill was able to break a tackle to score from close range.
From then on it was one-way traffic. With Hartpury failing to create anything with the ball – and looking fragile without it – Wedlake was able to add two further tries, either side of the hour mark, to take his personal tally to four.
The final quarter saw the home team mount some sort of rally, but without the composure and accuracy needed to turn pressure into points. Pirates, in contrast, appeared able to cut through at will, with off-loads seemingly always finding support runners.
The game, long over as a contest, was tied up in the closing minutes as another well-supported Pirates attack led to replacement fly-half, Harvey Skinner, having an open run to the posts from 30 metres out.
Hartpury now have seven days to re-group, before the visit of a newly-promoted Coventry team which has won two of its three opening fixtures. They will be hoping that the latest injury to Leonard is nothing serious, as they appear to be a different proposition when he is in the field.
Hartpury: Foley, Sheldon, Leonard (Try 4), Eves, Henry (Try 11), Cozens (Con 5), Bolt; Flook, Tanner (Try 39), Harden, Craig, Linsell, Langley, Gilbert, Safe. Subs: Stratford, Murphy, Morris, Scott, Stephenson, Cochrane, Forrester.
Pirates: Moyle, Wedlake (Tries 17, 32, 57, 62), Parata, Patterson (Try 20), Strong, Cargill (Try 46, Cons 18, 21, 33, Pen 35), Day; Judge, Matavesi, Andrew, Freeman, Beukeboom, Caulfield, Bolwell, Duncan. Subs: Frost, Gendall, Cutmore, Stevens, Schwarz, Skinner (Try 78, Con 79), Evans.
Referee: Michael Hudson