Hartpury stumbled to their sixth successive Championship Cup defeat at the Gillman’s Ground on Saturday, as Bedford’s second half revival was aided by a high error count from the Red & Blacks.
There were clearly mitigating factors, as this was a messy game played in atrocious conditions. However, the result will be a disappointment, particularly as the home team were ahead at the break, in a game which appeared win-able for long stretches.
The rain was persistent and, for much of the game, torrential. A strong, blustery wind also made life difficult for both sets of players.
With handling tricky, expansive rugby was rarely the correct option and both teams were largely limited to driving through the forwards, or putting boot to ball in order to draw mistakes from the opposition.
Hartpury were giving a debut to their high-profile new signing, Fijian international and former Gloucester star, Akapusi Qera, but this was a not a day for his usual barn-storming style. He did, however, make his presence felt with a number of forceful and important tackles and will clearly be an asset for the remainder of the season.
Bedford were the first to exert pressure, but they found themselves faced by a well-organised and determined Hartpury defence. Once their early efforts came to nothing, it was the home team who enjoyed the better of the half.
Steve Leonard (pictured), in the second game of his come-back from a long injury lay-off, showed a couple of glimpses of his power and pace in the centre, while his midfield partner, Connor Edwards – on loan from the Newport Gwent Dragons – also had a good game.
Hartpury were looking solid in the set-piece and enjoying a good deal of possession, despite playing the first half into the elements.
Unsurprisingly, it was a lineout drive that created Hartpury’s opening try in the 24th minute. The initial shove ended in collapse, but Edwards was alert to the opportunity and took the recycled ball to dart around the narrow side and touch down. Luke Cozens’ conversion was held up in the wind.
With a half-time advantage and the wind at their backs to come, there was a genuine hope among the home crowd that Hartpury could go on and pick up their first win in the competition. However, Bedford had other ideas and were much the better side after the break.
Winger Dean Adamson scored his team’s first try in the 45th minute, after the visitors had benefitted from some ineffectual Hartpury tackling.
Cozens was able to nudge his side back in front with a well-struck penalty, ten minutes later, but that was about as good as it got for the home team as the rain intensified further and the error count mounted.
Despite having lost their earlier edge, it looked as though the hosts might be able to hold out, before Bedford finally took the lead with eleven minutes remaining. Electing to scrum a penalty under the Hartpury posts, they showed good hands, in the conditions, for Jarad Williams to cross.
That was about it for Hartpury. Although they did mount a couple of late attacks, they were undermined by mistakes as conditions worsened further.
The final Bedford try, in the last minute of the match, was a comedy of errors by Hartpury, who twice failed to gather the wet ball, allowing Adamson to gather a rather fortunate second.
John Barnes, Hartpury’s Director of Rugby, said, “We were disappointed not to get the win after a strong first half. After the break, we struggled to gain territory and possession, but at least this was an improvement on last week’s performance.”
That previous display was against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium, and it will be the Exiles up next for Hartpury, at home, when Championship rugby returns three days after Christmas.
Hartpury: Wilcox, Foley, Leonard, Edwards (Try 24), Cochrane, Cozens (Pen 56), Bolt; Merrey, Tanner, Morris, Quinn, Linsell, Qera, Stephenson, Pashley. Bench: Stratford, Murphy, Flook, Southon, Gilbert, Varney, Leeming.
Bedford: Coulson, Hutler, Robling, Czekaj, Adamson (Tries 45, 80), Hooley (Con 69), Lennon; McCarthy, Clare, Cooper, Taylor, Carrick-Smith, Curry, Buggea, Williams (Try 69). Bench: Fields, King, Culverhouse, Flanagan, Blanchet-Dufresne, Gliksten, Green.
Referee Michael Hudson