Hartpury and Nottingham played out a tight game in appalling conditions at the ALPAS Arena on Friday night, writes Jenny Bates.
Under the circumstances, neither team could create a try, Hartpury coming out on top thanks to a strong all-round effort and an impressive performance from fly-half Joshua Bragman, who landed four out of five penalty kicks on a difficult night.
The line out statistics tell the story of the match, with Hartpury losing four of their own and Nottingham faring even worse, barely managing to win half on their own throw (seven out of thirteen).
Hartpury had been upbeat ahead of the game, despite a 45-7 defeat at the Newcastle Falcons in their previous outing, and looking to do better than in their opening home defeat to Doncaster Knights.
Nottingham, in contrast to their hosts, came into the match with two wins from two, having racked up a big win over Championship new-boys, Ampthill, in Week 1, followed up by a far narrower victory over London Scottish last time out.
The Red & Blacks had the rare luxury of naming an unchanged back division, while the four changes in the starting pack were largely a result of rotation. Flanker Kieran Curran made his first start after debuting off the bench at the Falcons.
The first half was largely one-way traffic as Hartpury, their forwards enjoying the upper hand, forced the visitors to concede no fewer than 10 penalties.
Bragman got the scoreboard rolling, seven minutes in, as he slotted his first kick.
Five minutes later, he was given another opportunity and, despite the wind and heavy rain, he was on target again.
Nottingham enjoyed some periods of pressure, but Hartpury’s relentless defence forced them into mistakes and, whenever the ball was turned over, Bragman’s boot was there to clear the danger.
With half-time imminent, Nottingham got a chance to open their account, but Shane O’Leary’s effort went wide.
The second half opened with a kicking duel until, four minutes in, Bragman was given another shot at goal. It was to be his only miss of the night, but he made amends, eight minutes later, to stretch the lead to 9-0.
With the scoring low, Nottingham were always in the game and only some more excellent defence from Will Safe and the other Hartpury forwards kept them at bay.
Finally, the visitors had to settle for a kick at goal and, this time, O’Leary made no mistake.
He repeated the dose with 12 minutes remaining and Hartpury – winless in all competitions before this match – faced a nervy finale.
However, they kept their composure and, in the 73rd minute, Bragman took advantage of another Green and White indiscretion to give his side some breathing space.
The final five minutes were torture for the home support as the visitors mounted a late challenge, including a two attacking lineouts.
The defence against the drive was again solid and, when Nottingham were penalised for the final time, it was Bragman’s boot that sent the ball to safety.
Hartpury’s John Barnes said, “We controlled most of the game, despite a second half blip which gave Nottingham some momentum. I am pleased that the boys held out to get a deserved win in atrocious conditions.”
It was a welcome result for the Red & Blacks, who will feel that they can be a match for most teams at home this season and will be hoping to avoid a repeat of last season’s relegation battle.
They now travel to Ampthill, to face a club that they played several times during the National League seasons, before another ‘Friday Night Lights’ at home to London Scottish on November 8th.
Hartpury: Simpson, David, Powell, Eves, Fricker, Bragman (Pens 7, 11, 52, 70), Carter; Murphy, Crane, Gibson, Batley, Clegg, Curran, Safe, Nagle-Taylor. Bench: Cutting, Merrey, Flook, Everard, Preece, Margetts, Forrester, Cochrane
Nottingham: Scanlon, Williams, Strong, Peters, Foley, O’Leary (Pens 65, 68), McConnell; Sio, Cole, Heffernan, Jones, Qualter, Lewis, Owen, Uru. Bench: Farnworth, Jack, Walker, Jordan, Brownlie, Dolly, Spittle, Bungaroo.
Referee: Simon Harding