Hartpury produced an encouraging second half performance to see off the spirited challenge of beleaguered Rotherham.
This was an important game against the Championship’s bottom club which, had it gone the other way, could have left Hartpury contemplating a serious relegation fight.
As it is, Titans now have a very large mountain to climb and will require at least five or six wins from their remaining nine fixtures in order to avoid the drop into National League 1.
Two very late Rotherham break-out tries made the final scoreline appear closer than it might have been, but the failure of Titans to land all but one of their kicks at goal had undermined their earlier efforts, particularly during a first half in which they were the better side.
Hartpury, in contrast, were poor before the break, although they managed to wrestle a 10-3 half-time lead, courtesy of a powerful driving finish by loose-head Dan Murphy (pictured) and the flawless boot of James Williams.
Hartpury had made relatively few changes from the previous outing at Jersey, with Mike Daniels stepping up to a starting slot at tight-head, after two good performances off the bench. In the backs, Harry Cochrane returned for Callum Braley, needed by Gloucester, and Maliq Holden made his first Championship start on the wing.
Conditions were once again a credit to Hartpury’s groundstaff with a well-grassed and relatively firm playing surface, although there was a strong wind blowing which should have assisted Hartpury in the first half – an advantage that was largely wasted.
Titans took an early lead with a Caolan Ryan kick after Hartpury, not for the last time in the half, had been penalised at the breakdown, but that was the end of any Rotherham scoring until deep into the second half.
Neither side had the artistry needed to open up the opposing defence but it was Hartpury, despite some early problems at the scrum, who had the grunt to get the job done when the chance arose.
Those early set-piece difficulties were rectified when Rupert Harden made an early entry to the game in the 18th minute and, by the second half, it was the Titans scrum that was under serious pressure.
Murphy’s opener for Hartpury had come in the 7th minute, during a rare period of first-half cohesion, when he finished a series of pick and goes to touch down by the posts. Williams converted with ease and was on-target again, on the stroke of half time, after Titans had illegally disrupted a Hartpury attack in their own 22.
The second half was a different game, as the hosts came out with all guns blazing and finally started to string some phases together.
Although they still lacked a clinical cutting edge, the handling and decision making were much improved as forwards and backs combined in a series of sustained, if somewhat lateral, attacks.
Pressure brought another penalty, which Williams landed to inch them further ahead, and it got better for the home team in the 54th minute.
Rotherham were fortunate to keep fifteen men on the pitch after conceding a string of penalties close to their own line and from one of these, kicked for a lineout in the visitors’ 22, Murphy was able to bundle over for his second.
Titans struck back as Ben Foley grabbed an unconverted try, after penalties had taken them downfield, but Hartpury put the game out of sight when Will Tanner, absent for the past four weeks, again finished a driven lineout to make it 27-8 with 15 minutes to go. Thoughts of a bonus point began to form.
But the Titans rallied in the closing minutes. Drew Cheshire and Rhodri Davies grabbed late scores for the visitors, but it was too little, too late, and the Titans left without a bonus point.
“We were very disappointed with our first half performance, in which we lacked discipline, wasted first use of the wind and pretty much threw our game-plan out of the window,” said Hartpury DoR, John Barnes.
“Things were much better after the break and for twenty or thirty minutes we were back to playing some decent rugby, although we still need to be more clinical in attack.
It was good to get Rupert Harden and Will Tanner back into the side and I thought our midfield of Luke Eves and Nick Carpenter put in a great shift. Our all-round defence was good again today.”
Hartpury: Wilcox, Holden, Carpenter, Eves, Sheldon, Williams (Cons 8, 55, 71. Pens 40, 47), Cochrane; Murphy (Tries 7, 54), Stratford, Daniels, Edwards, Oakley, Dancer, Gilbert, Dyer. Bench: Tanner (Try 70), Flook, Harden, So’oialo-Chan, Chapman, Perry
Rotherham: Thomas, Henry, Odogwu, Barker, Foley (Try 62), Ryan , Davies (Try 78); Williams, Murphy, Nixon, Louw, Postlethwaite, Peters, Maddison, Calladine. Bench: Cole, Foster, Palmer, Grange, Burns, Millar, Cheshire (Try 76)
Referee Mr John Meredith