Ampthill RUFC 24 – Hartpury University 39

Five tries and five points was an excellent return for Hartpury, in a game that was played in difficult conditions and at the home of traditionally difficult opponents.

After three successive defeats it was a result that was needed.  Hartpury had played well, in patches, in each of those games – versus Bedford, Jersey and Doncaster – but, equally, there had been periods that they would prefer to forget.

With players returning from injury and good availability from the various loans and DRs, the Red & Blacks were able to name a strong squad.  Even the absence of co-captain, scrum half JB Bruzulier, was compensated for by the re-appearance in the starting XV of the fit-again Toby Venner.

Ampthill, like Hartpury, had experienced mixed results in the season so far, but had won their last three Championship fixtures against the University side.

The main talking point before the game was the weather.  An overnight storm had brought plunging temperatures and howling gales.  By kick off, the winds had dropped a little but, blowing the length of the field, were always going to play a significant part in the outcome.

Hartpury had ‘first use’ and the results were not long in coming.

An Ampthill box kick held up nicely for Ben Foley to gather, before Dale Lemon carried the ball into contact.  Flanker Harry Short decided on the ‘pick and go’ from close to his own 10 metre line and, assisted by some flimsy fringe defence, made it as far as the opposition 22.

Venner was in support and his pace was enough to see him past the cover defence for the first try, converted by James Williams.

Intelligent kicking by Williams and a solid Hartpury lineout were keeping Ampthill pinned back in the early stages and the Red & Blacks were able to profit again in the 12th minute.

Lemon took a lineout on the Amps 10 metre line and the ball was spread to the middle of the field.  Mitch Eadie’s popped pass was perfect for Robbie Smith and the centre was able to burst through the tackle for a trademark finish from close to half way.  Again, Williams was able to curl the conversion in with the wind.

Looking for more, Hartpury were back into attack straight from the restart.  Playing with width and running from their own 22, the Foley brothers combined wide on the left, with Charlie carrying deep into Ampthill territory.  His inside ball found Venner again, but the scrum half was dragged down 10 metres short and Ampthill managed to scramble clear.

The respite was short-lived, however.  The lineout ball was clean and the drive started to get going.  Will Crane peeled off and fed the industrious Oli Robinson, on his first start since September due to injury, to crash over powerfully for 0-19.

After a surprisingly cohesive start – given the conditions – the game started to break up a little and Ampthill had an opportunity to work their way back into proceedings.  They were particularly enjoying the scrums and were frequently rewarded by the whistle of referee, Michael Hudson.

In the 30th minute they made it count, hooker Billy Harding finishing a lineout drive.

Fourteen points was unlikely to be a big enough lead and it was important that Hartpury got something more by the interval.

Williams landed a 35-metre penalty in the 33rd minute, but a kick from a similar position shortly afterwards was drilled into touch.  After Robinson took the lineout ball the initial drive went close, before Cameron Jordan was on hand to drive over for the bonus point try.

With Williams again slotting the kick, Hartpury went to half-time with a 29-5 advantage.  Would it be enough?

For the first 15 minutes of the second half, it did not look anything like it, as Amps roared back on the scoreboard.  For a period, they continued to enjoy the favour of the referee and they had the forward power to take advantage.

Hartpury’s goal-line defence was strong on the first visit to their 22, but they could not prevent prop Harry Seward rumbling over in the 46th minute.

Amps’ scrum-half Kevin Barrett was the next to benefit minutes later, scampering over from 5 metres off the back of another forward drive, and when Billy Harding added his second, also from a drive, in the 54th minute, the Hartpury lead had all but disappeared, at 24-29.

Hartpury had given up a big advantage in the corresponding fixture last season and it looked as they were about to do it again but, to their credit, that was the end of the Ampthill scoring.

The tide started to turn as the replacement front row of Conor Maguire, Luke Stratford and Shaun Knight began to assert themselves at the scrummage, but it was a mature performance across the squad to re-establish control.

Replacement James Dun drove inches short after a tapped penalty in the 60th minute, before Cam Jordan was successful on the next phase, picking up his second try of the day and capping a man-of-the-match performance.

Hartpury remained composed for the rest of the match.  At 24-36 Amps were certainly not out of it, but they rarely got a chance in the face of some aggressive defence.

Another powerful surge up the middle from Jordan drew a penalty in the in the 78th minute and Williams drilled the kick into the wind to apply the finishing touch.

Next week we welcome Richmond to the Alpas Arena – another team with whom we have plenty of recent history – and with the two teams separated by just one point in the table it should be another good, competitive game.

Unfortunately we were unable to have our usual photographer with us yesterday. Many thanks to Ampthill RUFC for the image.

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