Hartpury’s first Championship home game ended in disappointment, as a strong second half from the Jersey Reds was enough to edge this tight encounter.
Players and coaches were inevitably deflated with the outcome, as the opportunity for a first Championship win went begging but, in reality, this was another example of the learning curve that many of this squad will experience this season.
Hartpury made two changes to the starting line up from the Bristol match. An injury to Steve Leonard meant a first start for centre Nick Carpenter, while Alex Craig was promoted to the fifteen after a strong showing through pre-season.
Jersey were ultimately without old boy James Voss, an infection keeping him at home, but Rory Bartle – formerly of AASE, BUCS and RFC at Hartpury – did have a seat on the bench, alongside Ellis Abrahams who made a handful of RFC appearances last season.
After a fine morning, the heavens broke as the teams emerged at the start of the game and the first half was played in, occasionally torrential, rain. Both sides did well to keep handling errors to a minimum.
It was Hartpury hands that were working the better early on, as they took the lead in the third minute. Carpenter was the scorer after Elias Caven had made the critical break. Jacob Perry added the extras to put the home side into a 7-0 lead.
Things got even better for the hosts before the end of the opening quarter. Harry Randall threaded an inch-perfect grubber behind the Jersey defence and flanker Mat Gilbert was first to ball, sliding over on the wet pitch (pictured).
Perry was unable to improve the score, having earlier drifted a penalty inches wide, and it was then Jersey’s turn to apply pressure. The Hartpury defence was well-organised and firm, however, and Reds were still scoreless at the half-time whistle.
The second period was, mercifully, drier and it was the visitors who took the initiative. Impressive scrum half Kieran Hardy opened their account after good interplay with Scott van Breda, Brendan Cope adding the conversion.
Jersey may be much-changed from last season but the evidence is that they have recruited well and, having only narrowly lost to a strong Doncaster Knights in the opening round, they were clinical in capitalising on Hartpury errors as the game progressed.
Cope was again on target four minutes later with a well-struck penalty, as Jersey settled into their work. The turnaround was complete in the 58th minute as Randall looked to release his winger on the narrow side. Jersey’s Tom Pincus was wise to the play and he intercepted the pass before finishing well in the corner.
Cole’s conversion and another penalty, added with six minutes to go, appeared to have wrapped things up for the visitors, but Hartpury set-up a tight finish almost immediately following Cole’s three-pointer. Randall, lively as ever, made good ground down the right and drew the last man before feeding Caven to finsh well in the corner.
An excellent touchline conversion from replacement James Williams set up an exciting finale, but it was Jersey who had the final chance, as a Cope penalty went marginally wide.
A bonus point was some consolation for the men in Red & Black, although they will regret, for the second time in a week, that a drop in standards in the second half has them a result. Next week’s visit to Rotherham, bottom of the table having lost heavily in both of their opening fixtures, now assumes greater significance as both clubs look to get the show on the road.
Hartpury: Wilcox, Caven (Try 76), Carpenter (Try 3), Eves, Cochrane, Perry (Con 4), Randall; Murphy, Tanner, Harden, Craig 6, Edwards, Langley, Gilbert (Try 18), Oakley. Replacements: Stratford, Flook, Heard, Dyer, Grieve, Williams (Con 77), Boulton.
Jersey: Van Breda, Pincus (Try 58), Best, Maafu, Worrall, Cope (Cons 53, 59 Pens 56, 74), Hardy (Try 52); Woolmore, Saunders, Atalifo, McKern, Sexton, Rogerson, Joyce, Pitman. Replacements: Selway, Godfrey, Armstrong, Bartle, Argyle, Dudley, Abrahams.
Referee: John Meredith