It would be churlish to blame the players on a day when handling was a challenge and fluency and continuity were all but impossible as a heavy, wet pitch – allied to a blustery wind – dictated that conservatism was always going to be the best policy.
The match was subject to a mid-morning pitch inspection, but further heavy showers, in the hours prior to kickoff, fell onto an already saturated surface, with the result that there was plenty of standing water visible when the referee’s whistle started proceedings.
Ultimately, Hartpury will be left to reflect that, irrespective of the conditions, this was their most competitive showing in nine outings against the Cornishmen – certainly in a league fixture – and that, despite failing to register on the scoreboard, taking a bonus point back up the M5 is also a sign of improvement.
The visitors came into the match largely unchanged from last weekend’s convincing win over Doncaster Knights. The exceptions were in the second row, where Tom Everard stepped up from the bench to replace the Tigers-bound Joe Batley, and on the wing where an injury to George Simpson allowed Harry Cochrane to step into his second-favourite position. Will Tanner and Luke Eves returned to the bench after missing recent matches.
The highlight of the day, from a Hartpury perspective, was the defensive effort. The Pirates, with a visibly bigger pack of forwards, controlled possession for long periods but rarely created any real try-scoring opportunities. There was a prime example in the opening minutes as the hosts, showing admirable control of a greasy ball, went through more than 20 phases in Hartpury territory, before eventually being forced to cough up possession 10 metres short of the line.
Both sides had trouble with their lineout, although Hartpury did tighten up in this department as the game went on while Will Safe, Tom Everard and Seb Nagle-Taylor all put pressure on the Pirates throw.
The bulky Pirates pack occasionally got a nudge in the scrum, although the frequent whistle of referee Dean Richards did seem to favour both sides equally.
Hartpury scoring opportunities are difficult to remember. There were times when the boot of Joshua Bragman put them into the Pirates 22, but the Red & Blacks were generally unable to sustain that pressure to the extent that the line came under threat.
From a scoring perspective, therefore, the game boiled down to two successful penalty kicks, both from fairly straightforward positions. In the ninth minute, Will Cargill punished an infringement at the breakdown while, midway through the second half, his replacement, Javier Rojas Alvarez, repeated the dose after a far more questionable decision.
Cargill had left the field before half-time after a head clash under a high ball with Hartpury winger, Jake Henry. The Hartpury man looked decidedly groggy as he left the field.
In between these events, there was plenty to admire about the way that Hartpury shut down their hosts. Only once did a Pirates drive, swollen to about 12 men as the three-quarters piled in, look to produce results, but eventually the ball was turned over. Indeed, Hartpury’s work at the breakdown, if anything, out-matched their highly-placed opponents – today’s result sees Pirates sitting second in the Championship as we depart 2019.
Hartpury now have one further point to add to their tally and extend the gap between themselves and bottom club Yorkshire Carnegie – they went down 40-19 at home to Doncaster on Sunday – and can almost certainly look forward to a less stressful second half of the season than was the case in 2018-19. Jersey are the first visitors of 2020, on January 11th, as part of a series of matches in which Hartpury will be fully tested by some of the strongest sides in the Championship.
Pirates: Holden, O’Meara, Parata, Patterson, Wedlake, Cargill (Pen 9), Bruzulier; Andrew, Cowan-Dickie, Rodman, Beukeboom, Cutmore, McRae, Kiri Kiri, Duncan. Bench: Frost, Walker, Tyack, Clemson, Stevens, Schwarz, Rojas Alvarez (Pen 60), Moyle.
Hartpury: Wilcox, Cochrane, Koster, Margetts, Henry, Bragman, Carter; Murphy, Crane, Gibson, Everard, Safe, Qera, Preece, Nagle-Taylor. Bench: Tanner, Merrey, Challenger, Fuller, Grieve, Clementson, Eves, Smith.
Referee: Dean Richards