With a scoreline of 21-14 approaching the halftime interval, Hartpury might have been feeling quietly pleased with a first half effort that had seen them stay in touch with the Ealing points machine, on the scoreboard at least.
But a deluge of second half tries put paid to any hopes of an acceptable outcome and pushed the Red & Blacks to a record defeat. Fourteen months earlier, Ealing had crossed the whitewash nine times in a similarly dominant display – this time they went two better and, amongst all that, there was only one conversion missed.
Despite both being Championship clubs, Ealing currently play at a different level to Hartpury and, in other circumstances, it would have been a pleasure to watch the West Londoners as they went effortlessly through the gears. They have a number of eye-catching players who would certainly not look out of place in the Premiership, chief among them their Number 8 and skipper, Rayn Smid, a product of the Western Province in South Africa, who manages to combine the heavy-duty detail of the set-piece and the breakdown with the ability to pop up in the midfield as an outstanding ball-carrier.
Another South African, Bobby de Wee, has added athleticism to the Ealing pack this season and Simon Uzokwe , a flanker and a player that Hartpury have become very familiar with over a number of seasons now, is a fabulous import from the Newcastle Falcons. Added to this, they have a set of backs that were clinically able to identify every soft shoulder in the Hartpury rearguard.
Despite the scoreline, the game was not a complete horror-show for Hartpury. Few teams will find it easy to score tries against Ealing this season – Hartpury, pragmatically, were looking for four as a means of getting something from a game that they were not expected to win and did not fall too far short of that objective. Although the line-out was frequently a mess, the scrum gave a good account of itself and the discipline, for once, was relatively good given the pressure. Not that Ealing needed a lot of help.
There were also some good individual performances. Lock forward Arthur Clark, who had his 19th birthday just three months ago, put in another good effort on his first start for the club. His high work-rate was exemplified by some big contributions on both sides of the ball, with one particular chase and catch, under a restart, standing out in the memory. Centres, James Williams and Robbie Smith, both worked and ran hard for the full 80 minutes, while replacement back-row forward Morgan Monks, a dual-registration from Worcester Warriors and on his Hartpury debut, made some powerful bursts in the final quarter.
Having opened with a good five minutes, Hartpury’s best spell of the game came in the second quarter. Josh Bragman got them on the scoreboard when he seized on a rare loose pass from Trailfinders fly-half Craig Willis and had the pace to gallop home from 60 metres.
There was nothing fortunate about Hartpury’s second try, one of the best of the match.
Clark took a clean ball at the front of the lineout and Will Flynn launched a long, flat pass into the midfield, allowing Williams to run hard at the defence. Two quick rucks and the ball was back with Williams whose clever inside pass found Robbie Smith, at pace and on a good line.
It looked as though Smith might have the momentum to go the full 30 metres on his own but, as he straightened, he had Will Partington available to his left and the full-back was at full pace to score under the posts – his first Hartpury try.
Sadly, that was it for the men in red until the final minute, although Ben Foley did go close to adding to adding to his five tries for the season when he just failed to hang on to a grubber behind the defence.
The final Hartpury try came from an attacking scrum, under the Ealing posts, after a late period of pressure. Monks broke strongly from the base and was involved again when the ball came back the other way. Calum Waters quickly fed James Williams – who had shifted in to fly half at the interval – before Luke Eves provided the decoy for the ball to be pulled back to Robbie Smith, the centre scoring at Ealing for the second year running.
In between, of course, it was pretty much all Ealing.
An early interception, following the bright Hartpury start, had provided the first for James Cordy Redden. Max Bodilly, Kieran Murphy and Uzokwe had the bonus point wrapped up by the break.
Three more tries came in the third quarter, as David Johnson, Smid and former Hartpury skipper, Simon Linsell, all crossed.
In the final quarter, replacement scrum half Jordan Burns helped himself to a couple, either side of a line-out drive finished by Shaun Malton. The final score came in the last seconds as Hartpury, looking for a fourth try and running from their own 22, threw an interception for Max Bodilly to add his second.
There is a break in the competition next weekend, before Hartpury will be looking to restore their fortunes with a home fixture in which we welcome Nottingham Rugby.