IT MAY have been first versus second in National League One, but runaway summit side Hartpury RFC did enough to show why they are such a long way clear of the rest as they despatched Ampthill 51-25 on their own turf.
The coaches will be disappointed they were not a little tighter in defence – Ampthill did after all secure a four-try bonus point of their own in defeat – but in attack, they were a class apart from their nearest challengers.
Ampthill stood up well in defence at times but a poor line-out made life all too easy for Hartpury, who were ruthless in converting their opportunities with the pack and backs marauding all over the excellent home surface.
Hartpury quickly exerted pressure in the home 22 as they fired the ball through a series of rucks but the Ampthill rearguard was aggressive and effective, forcing the turnover.
The hosts showed their attack-minded approach though as they shunned a kickable penalty to opt for the line-out but the set piece was poorly executed – a feature of their afternoon.
And it was the visitors who were first to strike as fly-half Jacob Perry and scrum-half Ben Vellacott combined to unleash centre Steve Leonard. He scythed through on a sublime line and his perfectly-timed offload found winger Jonas Mikalcius, who outclassed his opposite number for pace and strength to glide effortlessly in. Perry converted on 11 minutes.
But it was honours even only three minutes later as Ampthill’s lively backs picked holes to leave Hartpury’s disorganised defence standing and centre Will Goode came through on an angled run to finish off a great team try. Fly-half Jacob Tarrant converted.
Hartpury’s response was swift though with Mikalcius cutting loose with an electrifying break and feeding Perry, who sweetly found the supporting second row, Joe Dancer, and his pacy break and deft hands secured the try.
The extras missed but, after a lovely break from James Stephenson – a 19th minute replacement for flanker Mat Gilbert with a split lip – Perry did extend the lead to 15-7 thanks to Hartpury winning a penalty at an impressive scrum; the visitors’ front row playing a starring role throughout.
As Hartpury looked to build their lead, captain and number eight Rhys Oakley carried deep into the heart of the home 22, but it was Ampthill who threatened the line next with prop Aleki Lutui and powerhouse second row, Paino Hehea, to the fore and scrum-half Ben Calden keeping the momentum going with quick ball out of the rucks.
The attack stalled thanks to a potentially try-saving intervention from prop Mike Flook and although Tarrant was then almost able to profit from a loose, long pass from Vellacott, Perry was able to scramble back.
Tarrant did slot the penalty though to peg Hartpury back to 15-10 and although Perry was unable to restore the advantage as his drop-goal attempt failed, he made amends with an excellent pass to incoming flyer, Mikalcius, who cut a great line to open up the defence.
The ball was swiftly moved out along the line to flanker Polledri for the ever-present blindside to exploit the overlap and score on 32 minutes. Perry converted for 22-10.
A penalty line-out almost set the platform for another just before half-time as quick ball from Vellacott found Levi Davis, who spun out of the tackle to get within inches of the line.
Ampthill did well to secure the turnover at the ruck that followed and they stymied further attacks from Davis and Leonard in a committed and disciplined defensive display heading into the interval.
That was rewarded only two minutes into the second half as Tarrant sold the dummy and sprinted over for an unconverted try but they undid their good work as prop Matt Beesley was sinbinned on 50 minutes; Perry slotting the resultant penalty for 25-15.
With a man advantage, Hartpury started to stamp their authority and an attack that started with Davis in his own 22 was also finished off by the winger.
Leonard, Flook, tighthead Alec Clarey, second row Joe Batley all made the crucial hard yards in between though before a great step and offload from Leonard almost sent Mikalcius in at the corner.
Ampthill competed fearlessly as Hartpury used the pick and go through Oakley and Stephenson to make progress before a delicate floated pass allowed centre Luke Eves to put Davis over for the try on 57 minutes.
Leonard carried powerfully deep into the Ampthill 22 again only three minutes later to win a penalty that was quickly taken by Vellacott, who sniped over for a trademark try. Perry’s conversion made it 37-15.
Davis then showed phenomenal strength to score a superb solo try, standing up to barge through three tackles, but it was the earlier good work in midfield by Tanner, Polledri and Leonard that had set the platform. Perry converted.
Ampthill could find no answer to outstanding play by both Batley and Polledri, and with Vellacott’s quick hands keeping Hartpury going forward in between their carries, Perry’s pass finally found elusive full-back Mike Wilcox to dive through a wall of bodies for the try. Perry converted on 69 minutes for 51-15.
With the seventh try and the half-century secured through, Hartpury stood back and Ampthill came at them, dominating the final 10 minutes.
First flanker Will Allman barged his way over after concerted pressure on the Hartpury line, although it initially looked held up, and, soon after, a touchline break by winger Sam Baker looked to signal danger.
Winning a penalty, Ampthill opted for the line-out and Lutui peeled off on a powerful charge. Hartpury defended magnificently as Hehea and Lutui both made surges at the line but they were finally undone by the second powerful drive from former Hartpury student, impact replacement Loti Molitika.
He looked to be short but the touch judge decreed he’d grounded the ball on the line for the hosts to wrap up their own try bonus point and cut the final deficit to 51-25.
AMPTHILL RUFC: S. Jones, K. Lynch, S. Hanks, W. Goodge, S. Baker, J. Tarrant, B. Calder; M. Beesley, R. Marshall, A. Lutui, P. Hehea, M. Howard, M. Burke, W. Allman, M. Molitika (c). Reps: B. Sturgess, M. Collins, B. Gulliver, L. Molitika, M. Wilson.
HARTPURY RFC: M. Wilcox, L. Davis, S. Leonard, L. Eves, J. Mikalcius, J. Perry, B. Vellacott (20); M. Flook, W. Tanner, A. Clarey, J. Batley, J. Dancer, J. Polledri, M. Gilbert, R. Oakley (c). Reps: J. Stephenson, D. Merrey, T. Brockett, B. Chan, R. Shaw.
REFEREE: Veryan Boscawen.
STAR MAN: Jake Polledri (Hartpury)
FT: AMPTHILL 25, HARTPURY RFC 51