Hartpury’s Championship Cup campaign kicked off on Saturday with the visitors from London Irish taking a 35-7 win, writes Jenny Bates. However, the final score was somewhat harsh on Hartpury, who applied themselves well in the sodden conditions.
The young squad contained 15 current or recent students, with several players stepping up from the BUCS Super Rugby Squad.
Jack Johnson made his first RFC start at full back, alongside Robbie Smith (pictured) on the wing and Harry Wilson in the back row.
Jack Reeves made his second start of the season at centre, where he was joined by Newport Gwent Dragons loanee, Connor Edwards. Reeves’ Gloucester Academy colleague, Harry Butler, another Hartpury student, was also involved against his boyhood club.
The BUCS half-back combination of Toby Venner – another debutant – and Nathan Chamberlain were on the bench.
It was also uplifting to see Joe Batley back in a Hartpury shirt for the first time since the 2016-17 season, having dealt with a serious illness earlier in the year. He was joined by Bristol Bears team-mates John Hawkins and Sam Graham.
The rain started to lash down on the Gillman’s Ground soon as play commenced on Saturday afternoon. It only cleared up in the second half when the sun was able to creep through the crowds.
As a result, he first half was a test for both teams, who struggled to control the ball. However, the Irish were quickly on the scoreboard when Saina Fainga’a finished a lineout drive after Edwards had been sin-binned for a late tackle.
Early in the second quarter, Hartpury were rewarded for their positive approach when a long kick from Sam Leeming produced a foot-race between Hartpury’s Harry Cochrane and winger Napolioni Nalaga.
Cochrane reached the ball first and an additional touch gave him the chance to finish under the posts. Leeming converted for 7-7, bringing Hartpury square with their opposition.
With play going from end to end, despite the weather, Irish were able to nudge ahead. The second try was a copy of the first, with another lineout drive resulting in a second score for Fainga’a, Stephen Myler again adding the extras.
As half time approached, Exiles scrum-half Brendan McKibbin highlighted his strong overall performance when he nipped through the home defence to leave Hartpury with a mountain to climb after the break, at 7-21 down.
The second half began with the Red & Blacks working hard in an effort to re-establish themselves in the match. Despite good possession and territory, those efforts went unrewarded as the visitors were able to come up with turnovers at critical times.
On 59 minutes, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi tied up the bonus point for the Irish, crashing through Hartpury’s rear-guard and sliding over. Again Hartpury responded positively, but good defence saw the visitors’ line stay intact.
Irish centre Tom Fowlie scored the final try of the game, in the 79th minute, after a penalty for a high tackle from Hartpury’s Butler saw them take full advantage of another attacking lineout. Myler’s fifth successful conversion brought up the final score.
Hartpury’s next game is away at Bedford, on Friday the 16th November.
Hartpury RFC: Johnson, Smith, Reeves, Edwards, Sheldon, Leeming (Con 22), Cochrane (Try 21); Flook, Stratford, Harden, Hawkins, Linsell, Batley, Pashley, Wilson. Bench: Crane, Merrey, Gibson, Butler, Graham, Venner, Chamberlain.
London Irish: Tonks, Hassell-Collins, Fowlie (Try 80), Brophy-Clewes, Nalaga, Myler, McKibbin (Try 39); Hobbs-Awoyemi (Try 59), Fainga’a (Tries 3, 31), Chawatama, Maddison, De Chaves, Gilsenan, Northcote-Green, Rogerson. Bench: Porecki, Hoskins, Schatz, Cooke, Steele, Atkins, Williams).
Referee: Mr Neil Chivers