Hartpury endured a difficult Sunday afternoon at the Madejski Stadium, as London Irish had things pretty much their own way for the majority of this Championship Cup clash.
Having put in a decent effort against the Irish a month ago – and with a good showing against Cornish Pirates last time out – there was some hope that the Red & Blacks could give a strong account of themselves against a club that was in the Premiership last season, with few betting against their immediate return.
That prospect quickly disappeared, as Irish raced into an early lead before tries came regularly for the men in green until the game became scrappy in the final quarter.
Hartpury were encouraged by the return of two long-term absentees, as Rob Langley and Steve Leonard were both named in the starting fifteen.
On paper, it was decent Hartpury selection. Dan Murphy and Iain Grieve remained unavailable, while hooker Will Tanner was a late withdrawal due to sickness, but there were options available in all positions as the club’s recent injury crisis appeared to be easing.
Indeed, both Langley and Leonard made some good contributions in the first half, before Langley was forced off on the half hour with what looked like a rib injury. Leonard did not re-appear after the half time break, but his withdrawal was pre-planned and no cause for further concern.
By that time, the outcome of the contest was already well beyond doubt, as Irish went into the changing rooms with a 38-0 lead.
Having been reasonably competitive at the set-piece in the reverse fixture, Hartpury found themselves heavily out-gunned on this occasion. Irish dominated the line-outs – particularly in the opening quarter – irrespective of who was throwing in, while the visitors frequently found themselves back-pedalling at scrum-time.
Irish were also more street-wise at the breakdown, often emerging with the ball after Hartpury had carried into contact.
Two line-out drives opened the scoring – one for hooker Dave Porecki and the next for his front row colleague, Ollie Haskins – before the Irish backs decided to get in on the act.
Another lost Hartpury lineout led to a try for scrum-half Scott Steele, before the experienced Topsy Ojo came across the field to create an overlap for fellow winger, Luke McLean, who was able to to jog over untouched.
Matt Williams was next to score, following a steal at the breakdown by Ofisa Treviranus and some flimsy Hartpury tackling, before Porecki added his second – this time in a wider channel as the visiting defence was stretched.
Irish had rarely been troubled in return. Leonard had made a couple of positive carries, but the best contribution of the half had come from Tom Seabrook, whose run and chip ahead had promised more, only for the ball to eventually get bundled into touch.
The opening phases of the second half were not quite as ‘one-way’, but a yellow card for Seabrook’s dangerous tackle gave Irish a numerical advantage, that they barely needed, with 50 minutes played.
McLean added to his tally with a second simple finish, before Porecki completed his personal hat-trick, again from the catch and drive, to bring up the half-century.
The pick of the Irish tries was their last of the afternoon, when some snappy handling created space for replacement Bryce Campbell to race home.
Despite the weight of the pressure against them, there were one or two brighter aspects for Hartpury. Aaron Hinkley worked hard throughout, while Langley’s first half replacement, James Stephenson, also carried tirelessly.
There was some late consolation for the visitors. Replacement Sam Leeming looked to have made a scoring break (pictured), only to be scragged under the posts, but the Irish, for once, made a mess of their exit and Mike Wilcox found himself with enough space to score in the corner.
Hartpury have one Cup fixture remaining, at home to Bedford Blues next weekend, and then have a short break before meeting Irish again, at the Gillman’s Ground, on Friday 28th, December.
London Irish: Tonks, Ojo, Williams, Mulchrone, McLean, Atkins, Steele; Hobbs-Awoyemi, Porecki, Hoskins, Maddison, De Chaves, Gilsenan, Curtis-Harris, Treviranus. Bench: Fainga’a, Chawatama, McNally, Van der Merwe, Campbell, Meehan, Myler
Hartpury: Wilcox, Seabrook, Leonard, Edwards, Foley, Scully, Bolt; Merrey, Stratford, Harden, Quinn, Linsell, Langley, Hinkley, Gilbert. Bench: Liney, Flook, Thompson, Kelland, Stephenson, Cochrane, Leeming.
Tries: Porecki (5), (37), (55), Hoskins (10), Steele (17), McLean (22), (50), Williams (25), Campbell (59)
Cons: Atkins (11), (18), (26), (38), (52), (56), (60)
Try: Wilcox (66)