Hartpury RFC 14 – London Scottish 11

This win, coupled with Rotherham Titan’s last-gasp defeat at Ealing, ensures that Hartpury will be playing Championship rugby again next season.

There is now no mathematical chance of the Yorkshiremen overhauling Hartpury’s current points total, which means that Hartpury can use the remaining five games of this campaign to look for a finishing position closer to the untroubled waters of mid-table, as well as preparing the squad for next season.

As significant as this result was, the game itself was certainly no classic.  Heavy overnight rain and morning showers had produced a greasy surface and both teams defended resolutely when the need arose.

Hartpury dominated possession and territory for the first 40 minutes, without ever finding the extra gear that they needed to put daylight between themselves and their visitors, and they almost paid the price after the break when the pendulum swung the other way and Scottish had the upper hand.

In the end, with one try apiece, it was the quality and the discipline of Hartpury’s defence – statistically, one of the best in the league – that proved to be the difference between the teams.

There was plenty of good news on the teamsheet, with the return from injury of livewire scrum-half Harry Randall and powerful lock forward Alex Craig (pictured), both of whom had seen promising starts to the season ended by serious injury.

One big beak from Randall in the first half caught the eye – his subsequent kick ahead just eluding on-rushing winger George Perkins – while ‘man of the match’ Craig produced the kind of performance that reminded Hartpury fans what they had been missing for the past five months.

Hartpury were on the scoreboard early.  Scottish were turned over in contact from their initial kick-off return and the Red & Blacks went to work.  Eventually the visitors were penalised at the breakdown around 30 metres from their own line and Jacob Perry’s boot did the rest.

Hartpury continued to dominate and soon had Scottish pinned in their 22.  Frustratingly, simple errors undermined their efforts, either in the drive or in open play, and they were pegged back when a rare Scottish attack provided Jacob Atkins with a shot to level the scores.

Still Hartpury pressed and, still, promising positions were wasted.  They received a boost in the 26th minute, when visiting flanker Matt Eliet was called for a tip tackle defending a Hartpury lineout.  He went to the sin-bin, while Perry’s kick restored the home advantage.

Again, however, the lead was short-lived as a second Atkins penalty punished Hartpury for stepping offside in defence.

There appeared to be a real chance that Hartpury’s first-half dominance would go unrewarded until, in the final play of the half, a series of phases deep in Exiles territory eventually produced the space for full-back Mike Wilcox to swoop into the corner.  11-6 at the break.

When a third Perry penalty finally put some daylight between the teams eight minutes into the second half, following another spell of Hartpury pressure, there appeared to be a chance that the Red & Blacks might pull away.

Instead the opposite was true and it was not until the dying moments that Hartpury were able to launch another significant attack.

Scottish dominated possession in the final half-hour, although the number of clear-cut chances were few as the ‘red wall’ of Hartpury defence stood firm.

That Hartpury only conceded four penalties, in a match in which they subsequently had to defend to such an extent, is a testimony to both the coaches and the players.  At the same time as maintaining their composure, they were able to deny the visitors the quick ball that they were seeking.

Scottish did finally manage to work an overload, wide on the left, for flanker Llewellyn Jones to go over, but with only five minutes left on the clock they had no time to follow up.

Indeed, it was the home team who finished the game on the front foot with flanker Iain Grieve, an early replacement for the injured Will Safe, going close just before the final whistle.

“We were pleased to get the win,” said Hartpury DoR John Barnes. “Conditions dictated that it wasn’t going to be pretty.  We controlled the first half well without being able to turn that into points and the second half was pretty much the opposite. Our defence and discipline when Scottish had the ball was exceptional.

Alex Craig had a very good game, considering how long he has been out, and Darrel Dyer also did very well for us. I was happy with the way we performed as a squad, including the replacements who all made a contribution.”

Hartpury are at home again next week – a 1pm kick-off to allow viewing of England vs Ireland later in the afternoon – when we welcome Cornish Pirates back to the Gillman’s Ground.  With three defeats to the Pirates so far this season, Hartpury will be keen to collect a ‘W’ before a trip to Richmond the following week.

Hartpury: Wilcox (Try 40), Perkins, Bedlow, Eves, Hudson, Perry (Pens 2, 26, 48), Randall; Murphy, Dawidiuk, Daniels, Craig, Quinn, Langley, Safe, Dyer.  Bench: Stratford, Flook, Knight, Oakley, Grieve, Cochrane, Boulton

London Scottish: Holland, Williams, Neal, Mosses, Ingall, Atkins (Pens 12, 29), Walker; Harris, Miller, McQuillin, Tyas, Curry, Jones (Try 75), Eliet, Atkinson.  Bench: George, Christie, Cringle, Marley, Hoadley, Sharp, Smith.

Referee:  Jack Makepeace

Attendance:  677


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