Hartpury notched a last-gasp win over Coventry Rugby in an exciting match which was shown live on Sky Sports, writes Laura Shana.
On a cold January afternoon, Hartpury fielded a team that showed a number of changes from the side that lost narrowly at Bedford Blues the previous week. In came wingers Jake Henry and Jacob Morris, with George Simpson reverting to full-back. The forwards included John Hawkins at lock, on dual-registration from Bristol, allowing Will Safe to move into his favoured back slot. Will Crane and Alex Gibson were rotated back into the starting front row.
The bench included two further Bears players, flanker Sam Graham and outside half, Tiff Eden, who was to play a dramatic part in the eventual outcome.
The game started brightly with both sides looking to seize the early advantage. Hartpury had the opportunity go ahead after just three minutes, but Joshua Bragman got underneath his penalty attempt, which fell just short.
In the 11th minute Coventry centre, Rory Jennings, had no such issues, successfully converting his kick to take Coventry into the lead.
Frustration was growing on both sides, as neither team could hold on to possession for any length of time. The game was level in the 21st minute when Bragman was on target to punish Coventry, after the visitors were caught offside.
Both teams continued to kick away possession, although Hartpury thought they had scored a good try as the half hour approached.
Promising centre, Robbie Smith (pictured, top, courtesy LNC Images), who has taken his chance well to get a run of games this season, picked a fantastic line through the Coventry defence but, to Hartpury’s dismay, the TMO – a rare presence in Championship rugby – scrubbed it off for crossing in the build-up.
Moments later, Coventry attacked from a scrum on the half-way line. They quickly sent the ball wide to their winger, Rob Knox, who blitzed past the Hartpury defence and dived over in the corner for a good score. Jennings added the extras, putting the Midlanders into a 10-3 lead.
With half-time approaching Hartpury got their first try, with Will Safe powering over the try line from short range. Bragman converted the extras, leaving the scores level at the interval – a fair reflection of the game to that point.
The second half continued in a similar fashion, with possession going back and forth and neither side able to gain control.
Hartpury were next to score, in the 48th minute, with Akapusi Qera finding the line, again from short distance. With Bragman adding the extras, Hartpury were leading for the first time in the match.
Typically, in this see-saw encounter, Coventry winger Robert Knox added his second try in the 66th minute. The conversion from Jennings was wide, leaving Hartpury with their noses just in front at 17-15.
Tiff Eden had replaced Bragman earlier in the half and, with 11 minutes remaining, he took the chance to nudge the home team further ahead, after Coventry’s discipline had again let them down.
In a game like this, a five point lead was always going to be tenuous and Coventry bounced back again when they scored through full-back Dan Lewis after the home defence was caught on its heels. With the conversion again missed, the score was once again level at 20-20 and Hartpury supporters were dreading another late home defeat, having had victory snatched from their grasp by Jersey two weeks ago.
However, those fears were groundless. Another infringement at the breakdown saw Hartpury with the penalty advantage and, when play was brought back, Eden (pictured left, courtesy LNC Images) showed nerves of steel to land the winning kick.
“It’s nice to get the result after narrow losses in the last three games,” said Hartpury’s John Barnes. “Credit to Tiff Eden for nailing that last kick. That’s a good win for us.”
There was no argument from Coventry. “It was very much an end-to-end game,” said their Director of Rugby, Rowland Winter. “Both teams lacked discipline, but Hartpury deserved the win.”
The result leaves Hartpury in the calm waters of mid-table – seventh place – with Ampthill in sixth, four points ahead of them, and a bunch of clubs within striking distance just behind. The next two games are at second-placed Ealing Trailfinders followed by the visit of unbeaten leaders, Newcastle Falcons. Hartpury will do very well to take points from either fixture but, with winless Yorkshire Carnegie seemingly marooned at the foot of the table, clubs like Hartpury and those around them can pay without fear. Who knows what might happen?
Hartpury University RFC: Simpson, Morris, Smith, Eves, Henry, Bragman (PEN 21 CON 39, 48), Carter; Murphy, Crane, Gibson, Hawkins, Linsell, Safe (TRY 39), Qera (TRY 48), Nagle-Taylor. Bench: Tanner, Merrey, Flook, Graham, Grieve, Preece, Eden (PEN 69, 80), Cochrane.
Coventry Rugby: Lewis (TRY 75), Knox (TRY 31, 66), Forsyth, Jennings (PEN 11, Con 31), Trimble, Maisey, White; Gibbons, Tolmie, Denman, Voss, Dacres, Peters, Nutley, Burrow. Bench: Buckle, Jeannot, Boulton, Oram, Nayalo, Wallace, Kessell, Fenner.
Referee: Sarah Cox