Hartpury underlined their credentials at the top of National League 1 with this comprehensive win, their first in Yorkshire since promotion at the beginning of last season.
Wharfedale played with spirit and, particularly in the first half, enjoyed plenty of possession. However, the strength and organisation of the Hartpury defence has become a key factor of their play this season and, when they shifted up a gear after the break, the home side were eventually overwhelmed.
Hartpury gave a start at full-back to Adam Hastings, son of Scottish legend Gavin, while James Neal stepped in on the wing in place of the absent Elliott Creed. The remainder of the back line was the same as had proved so effective against Ampthill the previous week, with Ben Vellacott and Lloyd Evans continuing their partnership at half-back.
Up front, Nathan Taylor was given the hooking duties and the return of Steve Pape at lock saw Tom MacDonald shuffled into a powerful-looking back row. There was an interesting option on the bench, as former Cinderford and county skipper George Evans was named among the replacements.
The day was sunny but bitterly cold, the first snow of the winter dusting the surrounding hills at this unique venue in the Yorkshire Dales. Frozen hands possibly contributed to some errors by both sides in the early exchanges.
One of the major advances that Hartpury have made this season is in their discipline. Wharfedale had plenty of ball before half time and, in the past, the college side would have given up any number of penalties in their haste to effect a turn-over. These days there is more patience and an inclination to have confidence in their defensive structure.
This leads to mistakes by the opposition and so it proved mid-way through the first quarter, when a Wharfedale move broke down in midfield. Hartpury were quick to hack through the loose ball and Dale winger Prell, fielding, was driven back for a 5-metre scrum.
Hartpury got a good squeeze at the resulting set-piece and Ben Vellacott was across the line before the defence could react to open the scoring.
On the half-hour they went further ahead from a traditional source. The line-out has been an area of strength this year and so it was again when Hartpury set up the drive from 15 metres out. Wharfedale were adjudged to have collapsed the maul as it crossed their line and the penalty try gave the visitors a twelve point half time advantage.
The vociferous Wharfedale faithful were encouraged by their first half showing and there was a lot of local optimism during the break, but this was quickly extinguished as Hartpury raised the tempo after the re-start.
The outstanding Jake Polledri is one reason for Hartpury’s improved results this season. Yesterday was no exception as his powerful carries caused Wharfedale problems all afternoon and it was he who crashed over (pictured), after a series of forward drives, to leave Evans with a simple conversion.
Sensing that their moment had arrived, the visitors were quickly back on the attack and minutes later Steve Leonard smashed his way across the line for the bonus point, after some resolute play from centre partner George Boulton.
The game was now over as a contest although Dale still continued to battle. Number eight and skipper Josh Burridge was leading by example, but there was still no hint of a break in the Hartpury defence.
Livewire scrum-half Ben Vellacott, another to have an excellent all-round game, was on hand to finish a good Hartpury attack for his second score with an hour played and the forwards, collectively, got their reward shortly after when another powerful surge was ended, illegally, on the Wharfedale line leading to penalty try number two.
The final whistle was rapidly approaching when George Evans, on his debut, burst powerfully from the base of a dominant Hartpury scrum to batter his way over for the seventh try.
Both sides suffered yellow cards towards the end of the game but, overall, this was a match contested in good spirit and well-refereed by Mr. Sullivan.
Hartpury now look forward to a home fixture with Loughborough Students before December brings two successive away fixtures, at Rosslyn Park and Richmond respectively, that will provide a thorough examination of the progress they have made this season.
There were some interesting results elsewhere, none more surprising than Loughborough’s 10-32 triumph at Rosslyn Park, an outcome that will add some extra fizz to next weekend’s all-university clash. Richmond were too good for Ampthill while Esher slipped up on the road at Blaydon.
Things took a turn for the worse for Cinderford, now bottom of the league, as Coventry finally found some form while Henley slipped into the relegation places after a narrow home defeat to Fylde.
We would like to thank Wharfedale for their excellent hospitality and look forward to their visit to the College in the new year.
Wharfedale: Bullough, Prell, Hudson, Morgan, Fewtrell, James, Skelton; Altham, Stockdale, Steel, Willet, Powell, Hedgley, Howick, Burridge.
Bench: Beesley, Graham, Wade, Allen, Van Sertima.
Hartpury: Hastings, Neal, Leonard (Try 49), Boulton, Mikalcius, L Evans (Cons 31, 45, 59, 66, 80), Vellacott (Tries 14, 58); Flook, Taylor, Brockett, Dancer, Pape, MacDonald, Polledri (Try 44), Oakley.
Bench: Stratford, Barron, W Thompson, G Evans (Try 80), G Thompson.
Referee: Mr J Sullivan