Hartpury’s remarkable form continued, as they achieved win number fifteen in a run that has stretched since the start of the season and which has brought a bonus point win against each and every team in National League 1.
It is a remarkable achievement of which the players and the coaching staff can be immensely proud. Hartpury now sit a full 20 points clear of their nearest challengers and their fifteen wins have seen them accumulate 696 points, almost 500 more than they have conceded.
Of course, titles are not won at Christmas and Hartpury still have plenty of tough challenges ahead, but they have given themselves an excellent chance of continuing another amazing record, that of improving their final standing in each of the seasons since their formation, in 2004.
Saturday’s visit to the division’s bottom club, Macclesfield Blues, could well have been a banana skin, but there is an assurance about this Hartpury side which has grown as the campaign has progressed.
Besides a number of rotational changes, Hartpury gave a debut to winger Levi Davis who showed up well in a number of attacking moves throughout the game.
Not that the hosts were prepared to roll over quietly, scoring a seventh minute try to match Ben Vellacott’s early opener, but being permanently reduced to 14 men mid-way through the first half is not a good idea in any game, let alone against the run-away league leaders.
That misfortune occurred as George Boulton, Hartpury’s centre, was carrying out of defence following a re-start. Blues winger Max Van Sertima flew into a full body check, leaving both players flat out in the mud and in need of attention.
Boulton was taken rather groggily from the field, to be replaced by Jacob Perry, while Van Sertima’s reward for getting back to his feet was a red card from referee Matt Turvey. The tackle, with no obvious attempt to use the arms, was clearly dangerous and the official had no option.
It was an unfortunate end to the game for Boulton, who had earlier extended Hartpury’s lead by scoring in the corner, after bursting through some contrastingly weak Blues tackling.
It is highly likely that Hartpury would have gone on to win this match anyway, but the man advantage only made that outcome even more certain. They continued to turn up the pressure and got their reward when, after a series of punishing forward drives, the ball was moved wide and Jonas Mikalcius had a comfortable finish in the corner.
That made it 22-5 to the visitors, and the game was over as a contest soon after the break when Hartpury ran in four quick-fire tries in the third quarter.
Hooker Nathan Taylor was the first to cross, getting the ball down from a powerfully driven line-out. Two minutes later it was Luke Eves’ turn, after some devastating handling skills shredded the Blues defence to leave him with a simple trot in.
The Hartpury forwards were beginning to take full control of proceedings and, shortly after shattering a Macclesfield scrum, they set up a series of powerful drives which was finished off when flanker Mat Gilbert smashed his way over close to the posts.
Ex-Premiership forward Gilbert has been a model of consistency for Hartpury this season and this game was no exception. On Saturday he was joined in the back row by influential skipper Rhys Oakley (pictured) and the outstanding James Stephenson, whose powerful running and defensive play was a feature of the match.
Replacement scrum-half Robbie Shaw was next to benefit. An attacking line-out was thrown to the tail where Oakley’s clever tap down left Shaw with a yawning gap in the middle of the set piece through which to run and score.
Hartpury were looking dangerous with every possession. Another driving maul was making its way into the Blues 22 and sucking in defenders when the ball was released and moved to the blindside for Mikalcius to pick up his second try.
Jacob Perry was the final scorer, slicing through the Blues midfield for a fine individual try. There was no conversion, but as fly half Callum Sheedy had already landed eight successful kicks, including a first half penalty, it didn’t really matter.
A late Martin Kent try for the hosts was not enough to take the gloss off another Hartpury win, ahead of a very tough trip to Plymouth Albion with which to conclude 2016.
Albion, third in the league, themselves had a good home win over fourth-placed Blackheath, while Birmingham Moseley were winners at home to Esher. Significantly, though, neither side was able to take a bonus point.
Macclesfield: Broster, Hall, Winterbottom, Max Smith, Van-Sertima, Lomax (Con 80), Allsop; Kent (Try 80), Millea, Robinson, Marwick, Finnemore, Redfern, Ingall (Try 7), Barker. Replacements: Langdon, Millar-Mills, M Smith, Parkinson, Brierley
Hartpury: Wilcox, Davis, Boulton (Try 12), Eves, Mikalcius (Tries 36, 64), Sheedy (Cons 3, 36, 43, 45, 52, 56, 65; Pen 25), Vellacott (Try 2); Merrey, Taylor (Try 43), Clarey, Chan, Dancer, Gilbert (Try 51), Stephenson, Oakley. Replacements: Flook, Brockett, Quinn, Shaw (Try 55), Perry (Try 70)
Referee: Matt Turvey