Three second half tries produced a bonus point for the Red & Blacks, who were ultimately rewarded for fighting right until the final whistle – James Williams’ conversion of a very well-taken Sam Goatley try was the final act of the match.
Unfortunately, the damage had all been done before the break, when Hartpury, after a lively and productive opening five minutes, had been completely out-muscled – particularly at the scrum – by a dominant Cornish pack.
For once on our travels to Cornwall, the game was played largely in spring sunshine – a stark contrast to our last, soggy visit in December 2019 – and on a well-grassed pitch.
Hartpury were much-changed from the home defeat Coventry, with first-year undergraduate Oscar Lennon making his club debut and Mitch Walsh getting his first Championship start after some good performances off the bench.
It all started so well. Right from the off Hartpury looked energised and hungry, with the pay-back coming almost instantly. With Lennon making an early impression, a series of quickly executed phases ended with leading scorer Ben Foley stepping his way over.
Hartpury’s troubles started at the first scrum and pattern was soon set, as the Pirates, getting the measure of their opponents, quickly took advantage of their additional bulk. Within a few minutes they had chalked off the visitors’ early advantage, courtesy of a penalty try – only a transgression preventing a push-over from a five-metre scrum.
Hartpury’s positivity continued with some good defensive sets, but a little air went out of the balloon when old boy Alex O’Meara picked off an interception and had an open field run to the posts.
Four further tries came in a tortuous 20 minutes before the break. Pirates, knowing they would be rewarded promptly at every turn by the referee, Alex Thomas, kept it simple – force the penalty, kick to the corner, rumble over.
Dan Frost, an early replacement for Will Cowan-Dickie and the outstanding player on the pitch, benefited to the tune of two first half scores and was matched by skipper and number 8, Tom Duncan, as the hosts remorselessly racked up a 40-5 interval lead.
The introduction of Gloucester dual-registered tight-head, Ciaran Knight, seemed to steady the Hartpury scrummage after the break, although the high penalty count at the breakdown continued to keep the visitors under pressure for long periods.
Hartpury did have a good spell 10 minutes into the half when their effort was rewarded with a score from Josh Bragman, but normal service was resumed as both Frost and Duncan completed their hat-tricks, everything happening from very close range.
With the game long over as a contest, Pirates did finally attempt to run the ball for a few phases, but a combination of some staunch Hartpury tackling and their own lack of accuracy undermined their efforts.
With the match opening up, some of Hartpury’s talented runners were able to find space.
James Williams executed a precise chip-and-chase before feeding Robbie Smith for a try under the posts in the 71st minute and another spell of pressure led to Goatley’s good finish at the death.
With two games of the season remaining, Hartpury currently sit at eighth in the Championship table. Although the final-day visit to Saracens does not promise a massive points haul, the Red & Blacks could still produce a higher finish with a victory, in front of a home crowd, over Jersey at the Alpas Arena next weekend.
Pirates: Wyatt, O’Meara (Try 17), Paratha, Butler, Holden, Robson (Cons 18, 27, 30, 40, 64), Bruzulier; King, Cowan-Dickie, Tyack, Caulfield, Cutmore, Bolwell, Kiri Kiri, Duncan (Tries 26, 39, 63). Bench: Frost (Tries 29, 34, 53), Walker, Rodman, Lemalu, Ryan, Davies, Cargill, Elderkin (Plus Penalty Try 12)
Hartpury: Simpson, Goatley (Try 80), Smith (Try 71), Williams (Con 80), Foley (Try 2), Bragman (Try 49, Cons 50, 72), Lennon; Adkins, Crane, Walsh, Lemon, Clark, Howard, Safe, Grieve. Bench: Stratford, Challenger, Knight, Ehizode, Monks, Jones, Eves, Muric