Hartpury ensured the best possible start to the new Championship season with this 5-try, bonus point win over returning Richmond.
If not a complete performance, this was certainly among the better efforts from the Red & Blacks since promotion from National 1, four years ago. If anything, the final score-line does not quite reflect the dominance in almost every aspect of the match – the final quarter becoming a little scrappy as the 1-year enforced absence took its toll on players from both sides.
For Richmond, this was an early reminder – if needed – of the difference in standard between National 1 – where they spent the 2019-20 season – and the Greene King IPA Championship. We wish them well for the remaining games.
Hartpury had made significant personnel changes since last season. On a perfect, if chilly, day the home side gave league debuts to no fewer than 10 players. A further two – Ben Foley and James Williams – were both returning to club having been here previously, while lock Ehize Ehizode had played a smattering of games while on dual-registration from Bristol Bears.
Also in the match-day 23 were Joe Howard and Olly Adkins, both age-group internationals – part of the healthy contingent currently on loan from near neighbours Gloucester Rugby – and both products of the Hartpury rugby programme.
There is general feeling that the current squad is potentially the best in the club’s short, but illustrious, history and optimism coming into the new season was high. Was it justified?
Certainly, on the basis of yesterday’s first half display, the answer is ‘yes’.
Hartpury’s control of the opening 40 minutes was almost total. There was a setback in the 27th minute, when Max Trimble helped himself to 50 metres before feeding winger Alex Goble for a Richmond try, but otherwise it was largely one-way traffic.
After a high-energy opening, in which the home team found themselves with lots of possession but faced by some solid Richmond defending, Hartpury took the lead after 13 minutes.
A Richmond attack was halted on the Hartpury 22 and lock forward Ehizode snaffled the turnover ball before a powerful 20 metre surge. On the next phase, still from inside the Hartpury half, the ball was spun wide to winger Foley who showed great pace, before his chip over the cover sat up nicely for him to re-gather and score behind the posts.
Tom Hodgson opened the Richmond account when Hartpury were caught for not rolling away, but it was not long before the Red and Blacks were back in business.
A big nudge at a Richmond scrum led to penalty which Joshua Bragman drilled into touch on the 5m line. The first catch and drive of the season was finished by debutant Aled Ward, before Bragman converted wonderfully from wide out.
After Trimble’s intervention, Hartpury extended their advantage three minutes before the break – and what a lovely try it was.
Richmond indiscipline allowed Bragman to take his team close to the visiting 22. From the lineout, Hartpury used five or six phases to launch their big ball-carriers, at pace, into the Richmond line. The breakthrough came when Bragman created some room with a delightful step before a back-of-the-hand offload gave centre James Williams the opportunity to put in some more impressive footwork and power under the posts from 15 metres out.
21-10 at half-time might have been an acceptable lead as it was, but more was come before the interval.
Richmond were the architects of their own misfortune as, with the clock in the red, a defensive line out should clearly have been booted into touch. But the ball stayed infield, allowing Hartpury Number 8, Harry Wilson, to make a big break down the middle of the pitch.
The ball came back to Bragman, whose kick bounced awkwardly in the visiting 22. Goble fumbled, allowing the razor-sharp Foley to pounce and double his tally. Again Bragman converted from the touchline, to upgrade the score to 28-10 at the break.
Whatever was said in the Richmond dressing room at half time clearly fell on deaf ears, as a penalty for holding on allowed Bragman, again, to set up a 5m lineout. The initial drive was well-defended, forcing Hartpury to move the ball in-field.
Aled Ward, having a fine game, made a few metres and from the breakdown the play was reversed back towards the left touchline. Quick hands, from both Will Safe and Williams, left Foley with the simplest of finishes for his hat-trick.
Again Bragman kicked beautifully from a wide angle.
Hartpury continued to press and Bragman slotted a simple kick on 51 minutes, after another concerted attack, to conclude their scoring.
The home team then had another good 10 to 15 minutes, when they could have driven a few more nails into the Richmond coffin, but the final passes were no longer quite going to hand. Unsurprisingly, after a year out, the final stages of the game became a little untidy, as players started to tire and replacements took a little time to bed in. For the record, all 23 got game time.
The final word went to the visitors. There appeared to be little danger when Hartpury were penalised at the breakdown just 15 metres from the Richmond line, but replacement scrum half, Callum Watson, had other ideas.
A quick tap caught Hartpury sleeping and some cracking footwork saw him into space. From there, it was all about pace, although he still needed to produce a good hand-off before completing an excellent individual try.
Richmond did manage to establish some field position in the closing minutes, but by then it was too little, too late, for the Londoners.
Hartpury DoR, John Barnes, was delighted with his team’s effort, saying, “The first game – particularly after a year out – is always a bit of unknown territory, so I was really happy with the energy and control that we showed, particularly in the first half. That was the first time in our Championship history that we’ve ever wrapped up a bonus point by half time.
Later on, the legs got a bit tired and errors started to creep in, but it was still very pleasing to see the way that we defended in those final minutes.”
Hartpury’s next fixture is at Bedford Blues on Friday evening and supporters are reminded that you can watch the whole game live via the live stream.
Hartpury: Simpson, Johnson, Smith, Williams (Try 37), Foley (Tries 13, 40, 43), Bragman (Cons 14, 20, 38, 40, 44. Pen 51), Waters; Challenger, Stratford, Knight, Lemon, Ehizode, Ward (Try 19), Safe, Wilson. Bench: Selway, Adkins, Holenstein, Russell, Howard, Flinn, Eves, Partington.
Richmond: Graham, Goble (Try 27), Mitchell, Evans, Trimble, Hodgson (Con 28. Pen 16), Gowling; Harris, Torpey, Litchfield, Hodge, Hosking, Allcock, Saysell, Liston. Bench: Gibbings, Byrne, Schonert, Crawford, Barton, Watson (Try 71), Cook, Kelly
Referee: Christophe Ridley