Hartpury RFC 37 – Plymouth Albion 14

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Having been beaten home and away by Albion last season, there was no way that Hartpury were about to rest on their laurels following last week’s impressive opening day win over Blackheath.

As it transpired, apart from a dodgy 10 minutes before the break, this performance was every bit as good.

The outstanding player from week one, Zac Mercer, had been recalled to make his debut for Bath in the Premiership, one of a number of enforced changes as injury ruled out Steve Leonard, Jonas Mikalcius and Joe Dancer.

Will Safe made his first start of the season at Number 8 and it was great to be able to welcome back powerful forward Joe Batley, following a long absence with a serious leg injury.  Jamie Forrester stepped into the vacant centre berth while the nippy Harry Cochrane, usually seen at half back, proved a more than adequate replacement on the wing.

On a disappointingly autumnal afternoon at the newly-named Gillman Ground, Hartpury quickly eased ahead.

The match was less than a minute old before, following a typically robust charge from Jake Polledri, influential fly-half Adam Hastings saw space on the left.  The ball was moved quickly to full-back Mike Wilcox who made the telling contribution.

Coming into the line, he had the pace and footwork to slice through the Albion back line, before drawing the cover and releasing a perfectly timed pass to Cochrane, who sprinted in untouched from 40 metres.

Hartpury dominated every aspect of the early stages, using all of their big ball-carriers to keep Plymouth pinned deep in their own territory.

It was no great shock when, after twelve minutes, they doubled the lead.   A penalty to touch provided the opportunity and the drive was well-executed, prop forward Wayne Thompson emerging to be credited with a collectors item of a try.

Hastings, son of Scotland and Lions legend Gavin, had converted both scores and ended the first quarter with a simple penalty kick from in front, as the hosts continued to dominate.

It looked as though they might take a good lead into the break, but they lost both their discipline and their shape as the half drew to a close and Albion were good enough to take full advantage.  Flanker Dan Williams was the beneficiary on both occasions as the big Devon pack twice drove over, the second score coming right on the whistle.  Both tries were converted by Matt Shepherd.

If Hartpury were deflated by throwing away so much of their advantage, it did not show as they began the second period much as they had the first.  Hastings was prepared to run when the chance presented itself and on more than one occasion he ghosted through the first-line Albion defence, his long stride disguising a good turn of pace.

The third try came in more prosaic fashion, however, as another attacking line out was driven over.  This time the backs added some extra weight and it was centre Luke Eves who burrowed in to take the ball and apply the final touch.

A second Hastings penalty stretched the lead further and just before the hour he got the try to cap a fine individual performance.  Again his probing run found him in space and this time he had the legs to go the distance in a lung-busting effort from the half-way line (pictured).

With the lead back out to eighteen points, Hartpury continued to play all the rugby and they wrapped things up five minutes later with another well-taken score.

Again it was quick hands in the back division, moving the ball towards the left touch-line, which created a half-yard of space for Harry Cochrane.  He took his chance well, jinking inside a couple of desperate cover tackles before finding himself in clear air 15 metres out.

Hartpury ran down the clock by keeping possession in Albion territory.  The visitors, reduced to 14 for most of the closing stages following a yellow to Rupert Cooper for persistent infringements, defended resolutely and Hartpury had to be happy with the five tries – their second bonus point win in what has been a good start to the season.

The squad appears to have a little more depth than has perhaps been the case in the past two National 1 campaigns and in shrugging off the loss of key players such as Leonard and Mikalcius showed that they are likely to be capable of mounting another challenge this year.

Those aspirations will be tested next week when they visit Esher, the site of a chastening defeat last season, in what will be another test of their promotion credentials.

Hartpury currently sit top of the infant league table, one of only three teams to have won both opening fixtures and the only team with a perfect 10 points.  The other unbeaten sides are Moseley, who won a close encounter with local rivals Coventry (19-14), and Ampthill, who were run even closer at newly promoted Old Albanian (17-18).

Blackheath recovered from last week’s mauling by beating Esher (13-6) and Loughborough Students got their season running by the same score against Ionians.

Three teams have yet to register a win.  Fylde went down heavily at Macclesfield (44-22), while Blaydon lost at the death on their visit to Darlington Mowden Park (15-14).  Cambridge secured a great result by winning on the 3G at Rosslyn Park (19-22).

Hartpury: Wilcox, Boulton, Eves, Forrester, Cochrane, Hastings, Uren; Merrey, Tanner, Thompson, Batley, Oakley, Polledri, Gilbert, Safe

Replacements: Stephenson, Brockett, Quinn, Negri, Perry

 

Albion: Shepherd, Crosscombe, Squire, Powell, Raumakita, Simmonds, Maunder, Norton, Salter, Pullinger-Ham, Dacres, Holmes, Cooper, Williams, Stupple

Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Freestone, Keast, Collier, Wedlake-Millecham

 

Hartpury Scorers

Tries: Cochrane 1, 64, Thompson 12, Eves 48, Hastings 58.

Conversions: Hastings 1, 12, 48

Pens:     Hastings 20, 53

 

Plymouth Albion Scorers

Tries: Williams 33, 40

Conversions: Shepherd 33, 40

 

Referee: Jamie Leahy

Attendance: 372

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