After recent improved performances, Hartpury slipped to an untidy defeat against a more efficient and enterprising Bedford side on Friday night.
Coming soon after a league game at the same venue which Hartpury could – perhaps should – have won, this was a disappointment from the men in red, although this was a hastily assembled squad, with changes being made up until the afternoon of the match.
The game was played in a persistent drizzle, but otherwise there was little in the conditions to worry the sides on a relatively windless evening, with Hartpury getting first use of the noticeable Goldington Road slope.
Ultimately, however, the visitors performed like a makeshift side. Penalties came steadily, yellow cards were costly – as were missed tackles – and attacks frequently broke down as cohesion was lacking.
Bedford were quickly into their stride and a lineout drive looked destined to produce five points with seven minutes showing. Hartpury pulled it down, a penalty try was awarded by referee George Selwood – whose displeasure Hartpury frequently earned, particularly in the first half – and Harry Holland was off to the bin on his debut.
Hartpury were level shortly afterwards, as Luke Cozens latched onto a loose Bedford pass on half-way and just made it to the line, finishing off with a well-judged slide on the greasy surface.
It was an encouraging response and gave some hope that we were about to see another good showing from the Gloucestershire team, but from that point on the half was dominated by Bedford.
A missed tackle in midfield resulted in a comfortable finish for winger Pat Tapley, before the home pack enjoyed a series of rumbles – perhaps gaining a measure of revenge for having been outplayed here in the recent league match – leading to tries for front row forwards, Jacob Fields and Alex Penny, the second coming after Hartpury’s Luke Stratford had become another player sentenced to 10 minutes, for a late hit.
Hartpury were better at the start of the second half and for 10 minutes or so looked to be making a better fist of things. But a ‘relapse’ saw two Bedford tries in quick succession.
First, full-back Harry Davies was on the end of a sweeping move off an attacking line-out, before flanker Justin Blanchett got the finishing touch after his side had again made huge inroads through the middle of Hartpury’s faltering defence. By this stage, the hosts were firmly out of sight.
To Hartpury’s credit, that was the end of the Bedford scoring and the final quarter was largely played in the home 22. There was some attempt to get the back division moving, but it was largely lateral as untested combinations struggled to find their rhythm.
In the end, it was back to the forwards as Mat Gilbert drove over for a further consolation for the visitors. There were further opportunities before the final whistle but continued errors, including a couple of stolen line-outs in promising positions, denied them any further scores.
Hartpury now face ‘home and away’ Cup fixtures against Cornish Pirates – against whom they have struggled since promotion in 2017 – starting with the long trip to Penzance next Sunday.
Bedford Blues: Davies (Try 49), Tapley (Try 14), Lane, Czekaz, Adamson, Robling (Cons 15, 24, 35, 53. Pen 40), Lennon; Trinder, Fields (Try 23), Penny (Try 34), Taylor, Flanagan, Blanchett (Try 52), Buggea, Williams. Bench: Clare, King, Cooper, Carrick-Smith, Rae, Gliksten, Coulson. *Penalty Try, 7
Hartpury: Foley, Smith, J Forrester, Leeming, Sheldon, Cozens (Try 11, Cons 12, 74), Cochrane; Flook, Stratford, Harden, Southon, Linsell, Stephenson, Gilbert (Try 73), Holland. Bench: Clementson, Merrey, Gibson, Everard, Tomasi, Bolt, A Forrester.
Referee George Selwood