A penalty kick by the unflappable Rob Kirby – the last action of an intense but ultimately unsatisfying encounter – was the difference between these two evenly-matched teams on a wet and gloomy Gloucestershire afternoon.
In truth, this was not a game that will linger long in the memory, although that will not concern Richmond, who battled to their fifth Championship win of what is becoming a very encouraging season.
Hartpury, meanwhile, will reflect on a performance that contained simply too many errors and which, once again, saw them fail to create anything of note in attack. It is hard to remember any periods of sustained home pressure from the game and at no time was the Richmond try-line under threat.
In part, this was due to some resolute and physical defending from the visitors, who demonstrated many of the qualities that have seen them win five of their last seven games in all competitions.
However, even on the rare occasions that the hosts were able to establish a position in the Richmond 22, there was always a fumble ready to hand the ball back to the opposition.
A-League action meant that Hartpury were unable to call on support from Gloucester Rugby for this fixture, Charlie Chapman – a full-time Hartpury student – being the Cherry & Whites only contribution to the match-day squad.
He and James Williams (pictured) were the starting combination at half-back, while Ian Grieve and Joe Dancer both lined up in the pack. BJ Edwards made a welcome return from injury on the bench.
Rain fell throughout the game, often heavily, and although the surface stood up well, a greasy ball made life difficult for both teams.
Unsurprisingly, both sides opted to kick the ball consistently which, whilst being the smart play, did little to entertain the crowd.
When the ball was not in the air, it was being driven up by the forwards. In this regard, Richmond had the edge as they were less prone to handling errors while Hartpury, the admirable Grieve excepted, had no players who showed the physicality needed to get across the gain-line.
Hartpury had started marginally the brighter, with Grieve carrying well and making yards. It was no surprise that penalties started to come and, in Williams, Hartpury had a kicker who was ready to take advantage.
He comfortably slotted kicks in the 6th, 16th and 22nd minutes to ease Hartpury into a 9-0 lead and, one Luc Jones break aside – which was somewhat wasted by a wild pass – there was little threat from Richmond.
Everything changed just before the half-hour. A promising box kick was chased by Hartpury winger Ed Coulson, but he inexplicably missed his man and Richmond launched a counter.
This led to a penalty which was kicked to the corner and, although the resulting drive was held up, Hartpury’s reprieve was temporary, Jones scooting over after being fed from the base of the 5-metre scrum. Hartpury also lost prop Rupert Harden to injury in the action leading up to the score.
The second half was more of the same. Richmond took the lead, again from an error, when Ed Sheldon was unnecessarily charged down deep in his own 22, forcing Hartpury to scramble the ball into touch.
From the lineout, the Richmond pack drove hard through multiple phases before hooker Ross Grimstone finally crossed the whitewash.
Kirby converted before he and Williams, twice, exchanged further penalties to leave the score at 15-15 going into the dying seconds. Kirby left a kick for the match just short, but Hartpury’s clearance was poor and, after another penalty award for not rolling away, Kirby made no mistake with an easier opportunity.
Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes, was understandably frustrated by his side’s performance.
“Obviously the weather played a big part,” he said, “but we were pretty poor from start to finish.”
“Two errors gifted them field position which led to both tries and then, when we got into position to go for the lineout drive ourselves, we were unable to execute.”
“We know that we’ve lost one or two potent attackers from last season and a couple more to injury from the current squad, but we’ve still got to be able to find ways to score tries. Richmond did that today and we didn’t, which was very disappointing.”
Hartpury RFC: Wilcox, Coulson, Boulton, Eves, Sheldon, Williams (Pens 6, 16, 22, 48, 70), Chapman; Murphy, Tanner, Harden, Dancer, Oakley, Langley, Gilbert, Grieve. Subs: Crane, Flook, Gibson, Edwards, Dyer, Perry, Cochrane.
Richmond Rugby: Kirby (Con 45, Pens 65, 80), Woodward, Mitchell, MacLean-Dents, Simpson-Hefft, Gabbitas, Jones (Try 29); Cunnew, Grimstone (Try 44), Trenier, Warden, Davies, Liston, Allcock, Parke. Subs: Phipps, Goodrick-Clarke, Crawford, Adamson, Swan, Saysell, Tarrant.
Referee: Michael Hudson