Hartpury will reflect on a game that threw up a handful of pre-season positives against a lively, disciplined and well-drilled Ospreys at The Gnoll, Neath, on Friday night.
Ultimately, the Welsh franchise ran away with things in the second half as both squads introduced large numbers of replacements, but there was enough, in the first half in particular, to suggest that Hartpury can look to the season ahead with some optimism.
Conditions were good on a mild dry evening. Personnel-wise, Hartpury were almost unrecognisable from the team that finished last season, with more than half of the starting fifteen making their first appearances in the Red & Black.
Ospreys, of course, were without their Welsh Rugby World Cup contingent, but still had plenty of quality on display.
Hartpury started the game well, with the forwards driving impressively straight from the kick-off return. The set piece looked pretty solid throughout and on more than one occasion the ball was worked crisply into space, particularly on the left where new signing Sam Goatley made a couple of powerful runs.
He also looked strong when tested by the high ball, in what was a pleasing first outing.
Inevitably, there were elements of rustiness and occasional lapses in understanding, which is to be expected from a new team in its first proper run-out.
Less forgivable was the tendency to give up cheap penalties at the breakdown, where the count against the visitors was high, particularly in contrast to the superior control of the hosts. The frustration would come when six, seven or more well-executed phases were undermined by an isolated ball-carrier or an ill-judged hand.
It was Ospreys who opened the scoring with 13 minutes played. Penalties allowed them the attacking position and, despite some scrambling Hartpury defence, lock forward Jay Williams was able to drive over. James Hook surprisingly struck the post with the conversion on what was, for him, an indifferent night with the boot.
10 minutes later they extended the advantage. There appeared to be little danger as full-back Mike Wilcox shaped to launch a downfield kick, but former Hartpury student and Wales U20 forward, Morgan Morris, not only made the charge-down, but then had the power to collect the bouncing ball and finish the job himself.
That was all of the Osprey scoring in the first half as Hartpury continued to play a full part in the proceedings. New scrum-half, Luke Carter (pictured), looked tidy behind his pack who, despite the odd lapse, were working hard.
Ospreys did have further good chances, with young scrum half Harri Morgan constantly asking questions of the visiting defence, but were unable to find the finishing touch, allowing Hartpury to stay in contact on the scoreboard.
As the half drew to a close, Carter launched a towering, well-judged box kick, the ball arriving with Ospreys winger Luke Morgan a split second ahead of the Hartpury chase, led by flanker Seb Nagle-Taylor. Ospreys were forced to transgress, giving Hartpury the field position they were looking for.
Eventually, it came down to the line-out drive and it was no great shock to see centre Luke Eves emerge as the scorer.
New fly-half Josh Bragman was wide with the kick, but at 12-5 it was a one-score game at the break.
The third quarter of the match proved to be Hartpury’s undoing as, amid a welter of changes, the Ospreys finally established control.
Winger Dewi Cross scored in the 43rd minute, as Hartpury paid the price for not clearing their lines in the opening phases of the half.
Three minutes later, his opposite winger, Luke Morgan, produced a dazzling individual try reminiscent of former local hero Shane Williams, as he first used his pace to go outside the Hartpury defence before his footwork allowed him to knife back in towards the posts.
Approaching the hour mark, Hartpury were penalised in front of their posts attempting to run phases out of defence and, with the hosts electing to scrum, Number 8 Guido Volpi had the strength to drive over from the base.
Nine minutes remained when Chay Smith scored the game’s final try, improved by full-back Cai Evans.
A number of Hartpury’s younger players enjoyed getting a run later in the game. Harry Cochrane was a lively replacement at scrum-half and it was good to see BUCS players like Robbie Smith and Ervin Muric stretching their legs.
Hartpury now go into a full-contact training session with Bristol Bears next week, although there are no further pre-season fixtures planned. With the focus firmly on league performances, Hartpury will effectively use their three opening Championship Cup matches as preparation.
Ospreys: Evans, D Cross, T Williams, K Williams, L Morgan, Hook, H Morgan; R Jones, Otten, Gajion, Dodd, J Williams, Morris, S Cross, Volpi. Bench: Phillips, G Thomas, Walters, Botha, Smallman, Strong W Jones, Morgan-Williams, Aubrey, J Thomas, Cambriani, Smith.
Scorers: Tries: J Williams, Morris, D Cross, L Morgan, Volpi, Smith. Cons: Hook (2), Evans
Hartpury: Wilcox, Simpson, Koster, Eves, Goatley, Bragman, Carter; Merrey, Crane, Flook, Scott, Jubb, Nagle-Taylor, Preece, Safe. Stretch, Owen, English, Harden, Gibson, Challenger, Thompson, Southon, Qera, Clementson, Wilson, Cochrane, Chamberlain, Margetts, Smith, Forrester, Hearle, Muric.
Scorer: Try: Eves
Referee: Craig Evans