This was – to nobody’s great surprise – an opening day defeat to Championship favourites Ealing, but while the score-line might suggest a thumping, it was a little harsh on a Hartpury team who competed for a large part of the game and, in the second half, had a long spell where they enjoyed a clear advantage in possession, territory, and scoring.
As Ealing’s Director of Rugby, Ben Ward said, “It was a tough, competitive game.”
“Hartpury let us take the initiative early on, but for twenty minutes in the second half they were in complete control of the match.”
“In fact, they never really let us get going even in the first half, despite the score-line. I think both sides will take positives from the match, but we’ve both got some work-ons as well.”
Trailfinders were quickly into their stride, on the scoreboard at least, with five first-half tries against a single try and a penalty from their opponents.
Hartpury were often fronting well in phase play and denying Ealing the chance to launch their normal onslaught of attacking rugby, but indiscipline and errors gave field position to the home team, from which they took full advantage.
In the 8th minute the first line-out drive of the day saw virtually the entire home fifteen pile in to drive South African hooker, Jan Henning Campher, over for his first Championship try.
They repeated the dose in both the 14th and 20th minute, both scores coming from penalty tries as a result of both Oli Robinson and early replacement, Josh Gray, illegally halting the drive – both saw yellow cards as a result.
Rayn Smid and Simon Uzokwe also crossed for scores in similar fashion, battering their way through after phases in the visiting 22.
Hartpury’s reply – arguably the best try of the half – came from the generally excellent Ben Foley, getting on the end of a clever dab through from JB Bruzulier, after the scrum half’s tap and go.
With the score at 35-8 at the break, Hartpury followers may have been fearing a repeat of last season’s capitulation on this ground, but this new squad came out after the interval – delayed by some difficulties with the referees comms equipment – with a very different mind-set.
Suddenly, it was Ealing who were conceding penalties and making mistakes and, while Hartpury were not as incisive with the ball as the coaching staff might have liked, they gradually worked their way back into the ascendancy.
Again it was the drive that did the business, with co-captain Will Crane scoring in the 50th minute, before debutant Ethan Hunt added his name to the list on the hour.
At 35-20, with Hartpury continuing to enjoy the balance of play and looking for at least one bonus point, it wasn’t until the final 12 minutes that Ealing put the gloss on their victory.
Two charge-downs in quick succession by Hartpury old boys, Simon Linsell and Harry Casson, had Hartpury finally pinned back in their own 22 and it was another driven line-out, finished by Al-Jiboori, which broke the visitors’ momentum.
Winger Angus Kernohan scored out wide following a break from Ealing replacement hooker, Shaun Malton, through the middle of a ruck. Jordan Burns added insult to injury seven minutes from the whistle, showing his electric pace to finish proceedings with a solo effort from half-way.
Hartpury were left frustrated that they hadn’t taken more from the game and with the final score-line, but happy with the second half recovery in particular. With 15 minutes to go there had been a definite sense that Hartpury may not come away empty-handed.
There were plenty of good performances. The set-piece, a couple of creaky scrums and the odd line-out mis-fire excepted, looked pretty solid and lost nothing when young tight-head Jonathan Benz-Salomon came on for his debut in the second half.
The back five were industrious throughout, with Joe Howard and Oli Robinson both putting in big shifts, irrespective of the latter’s early card. The outside backs did not see a great amount of ball, but both Sam Goatley and, later, Luke Eves ran straight and hard at every opportunity.
John Barnes of Hartpury said, ”After a poor first half, when we gave up too many penalties and dropped a lot of ball, we were disappointed not to get a bonus point in the end.“
“Early on, we made it too easy for them to get into our 22. Ealing, along with Pirates, have got the best drive in the league so we can’t give up opportunities like that.”
“I was much happier with the way we came out and played in the second half – the boys showed a lot of heart and character and also that we can score tries when we keep the ball.”
“It was a shame to give up those late tries, but that’s what Ealing are like – they only need half a chance to take advantage.”
Hartpury’s next game is at the Alpas Arena against another of the fancied ‘runners’ in this year’s Championship, Cornish Pirates, who had a 33-18 win in their opening day fixture against Richmond.