Hartpury’s introduction to the British & Irish Cup has not been a happy one, as they slipped to a second successive defeat when they visited a windswept Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.
This was a game that was high on endeavour but low on artistry as the conditions took over. Swirling gusts and driving rain made handling difficult and, as hard as both teams tried to play some rugby, it was the boot that dominated.
Hartpury had picked another much-changed team after resting a number of first-team regulars in last week’s defeat to the Pirates. Experience returned to the pack in the form of skipper Rhys Oakley, prop Dan Murphy, hooker Will Tanner and former Scarlet, Mat Gilbert.
Jacob Perry was paired with James Williams in a new 10/12 combination, while Mike Wilcox returned at full-back, with last week’s try-scoring debutant, Ed Coulson, moving to the wing.
Scarlets took an early lead with a penalty from Daniel Jones, but it was Hartpury who had the better of possession and territory, the forwards having the upper hand for long stretches. Solid in the scrum and almost faultless at the lineout, they soon had the Scarlets defending a series of powerful drives.
Eventually Scarlets saw the first of what were to be three yellow cards, but despite surviving the 10-minute sanction without conceding, they were behind on the half-hour.
Will Tanner saw the opportunity to peel off the back of a Hartpury drive on half-way as space opened up on the narrow side. Lively scrum half Harry Cochrane popped up in support and he made further ground before off-loading to Coulson.
The winger had little room to play with, but did well to squeeze into the corner for his second try in two games. Jacob Perry added the extras from the touchline – a remarkable effort in the conditions.
It was virtually Perry’s last contribution as he left the field shortly afterward with an ankle niggle, although it is not thought to be serious.
The second half saw Scarlets up their tempo and the third quarter proved to be their best spell of the game as they started to ask questions of the visiting defence.
This is an aspect of Hartpury’s game which normally quite reliable, but they let themselves down in the 46th minute when a week tackle in midfield allowed Scarlets centre, Ioan Nicholas, to scoot over for a try improved by fly-half Jones.
Hartpury were to look suspect again eight minutes later. This time it was the other centre, Steffan Hughes, who spotted the gap and, with the extras added, Scarlets were suddenly into a 10-point lead.
As it has been so often this season, Hartpury’s most potent weapon appeared to be the driving work of their forward pack. On the hour, Hartpury were awarded a penalty try as they were impeded in the act of driving over, prompting a second yellow card for the hosts.
However, any steam was taken out of their recovery when full-back Mike Wilcox was charged down trying to clear from close to his own line and Scarlets’ Morgan Williams was on hand to touch down and restore the margin.
With time running out, Hartpury worked their way back into the game, again through the pack, and a second penalty try was awarded when a dominant scrum was collapsed close to the posts.
With only three points between the sides, there was a glimmer of hope that Hartpury could snatch the game, but time ran out and the visitors had to be content with a losing bonus point.
On reflection, Hartpury will see this as an opportunity missed, but today’s result will be quickly forgotten if they manage to win on their return to Championship action, at London Scottish, next weekend.
Scarlets: Williams (Try 64), Prydie, Nicholas (Try 46), Hughes (Try 54), Conbeer, D Jones (Cons 46, 55, 65. Pen 3), Smith; Fawcett, Yardley, Gardiner, Helps, Price, J Jones, Evans, Condy. Reps: Myhill, Thomas, Sebastian, Davis, Schwarz, McBryde, Lewis.
Hartpury: Wilcox, Coulson (Try 29), Boulton, Williams, Ducker, Perry (Con 30), Cochrane; Murphy, Tanner, Heard, So’oialo-Chan, Oakley, Grieve, Gilbert, Dyer. Reps: Stratford, Flook, Ibuanokpe, Dancer, Langley, Shaw, Caven
(Score includes two penalty tries)
Referee: Jack Makepeace