Hartpury produced one of their better performances of the season to see off the challenge of Nottingham on a cold and gloomy Gloucestershire afternoon.
In doing so, they picked up their first ever five-try haul in the Championship and did enough to overcome a wobble, immediately after the interval, which briefly saw the visitors draw level on the scoreboard.
After last week’s hugely disappointing B&I Cup display versus the Pirates, the home side were considerably strengthened by the return of several key players and the arrival of Gloucester-based reinforcements in the shape of Tom Hudson (pictured), Henry Purdy, Callum Braley and Will Safe.
It was obvious from the off that Hartpury would be a different proposition this time out and it was the hosts who took the lead through an early James Williams penalty after pressure at the scum.
Both he and Nottingham’s Tiff Eden then missed shots at goal, in difficult kicking conditions.
Unfortunately, Hartpury suffered a double blow early in the game when both Williams and wing Purdy were forced off with injury within a minute of each other. The Gloucester man looked to have picked up a nasty shoulder injury, while Williams was limping heavily as he left the field
Almost immediately, on the quarter, Nottingham grabbed a try when a penalty was kicked to the corner and, from the lineout, Eden threaded a precise kick behind the defence for Viliami Hakalo to touch down. Eden converted into the wind to put his side ahead.
Hartpury needed to respond and they quickly got themselves back on the front foot. Heavy pressure brought a yellow card for visiting skipper, Matt Everard, before a driven lineout saw hooker Will Tanner touch down in the 27th minute.
Replacement Jacob Perry’s conversion made it 10-7 and the home team turned up the heat for the remainder of the half.
Close to the break, phase after phase of punishing drives, with Will Safe, Rob Langley and Dan Murphy all prominent, looked likely to crack some battling Nottingham defence, but the ball was eventually spread to the right where Perry popped up as the extra man to finish, before converting his own try from wide out.
The second half began badly for Hartpury as they made a hash of the re-start. Gifted possession, Eden carved through the midfield to create an unconverted score for Will Millett and the fly-half’s subsequent penalty had the gap closed, to just two points, moments later.
Perry landed a three-pointer to nudge Hartpury back to a five point lead, but a well-worked try by Josh Poullett for the visitors drew the scores level.
This represented a serious challenge to Hartpury but, to their credit, the team regathered and were able to dominate the remainder of the game.
George Boulton, the early replacement for Purdy, regained the lead when he was able to hold on to Tom Seabrook’s cross-field kick and shrug off a tackler to give himself a comfortable run in with 55 minutes on the clock.
Five minutes later, full-back Tom Hudson scored his first try for the club. He superbly judged the bounce of a chip ahead and powered through the cover tackling, before finishing at full-stretch.
With a twelve point lead and the clock running down, Hartpury were as comfortable as they had been at any stage of the match. Callum Braley kept things ticking, expertly marshalling his forwards as they retained possession for long stretches.
The result was put beyond doubt shortly before time, when Braley’s chip behind the defence was kicked through for Boulton to win the race and pick up his second try of the match. Added to some resolute defending, this was enough for him to earn the sponsors’ man of the match award.
This was a good team effort and, although the coaches will want to look closer at one or two individual errors, the squad should travel to Doncaster next week in good spirits.
Hartpury: Hudson (Try 60), Perkins, Seabrook, Eves, Purdy, Williams (Pen 2), Braley; Murphy, Tanner (Try 27), Harden, Edwards, Quinn, Langley, Safe, Dyer. Reps: Crane, Flook, Daniels, So’oialo-Chan, Boulton (Tries 55, 78), Cochrane, Perry (Try 38, Cons 28, 39, 61,79, Pen 47)
Nottingham: Scanlon, Millett (Try 41), Hakalo 6 (Try 19), Lyons, Robinson, Eden (Con 20, Pen 45), Veenendaal; West, Stevens, Burke, Moon, Qualter, Morris, Everard, Buckley. Reps: Brownlie, Penman, Hooper, Poullett (Try 50), Coghlan, McConnell, Furbank.
Referee: Matthew O’Grady