Nottingham’s Gearoid Lyons failed with a last minute touchline conversion, leaving the Hartpury to enjoy a dramatic one-point victory in round 17 of the Greene King IPA Championship, writes Jenny Bates.
The home team had looked in control when they led 21-15 with less than five-minutes remaining, but the East Midlanders put together a rousing final effort, Billy Robinson eventually forcing himself over in the 79th minute.
The next few moments were agonising for the home support as, not for the first time this season, it seemed as though they would see victory snatches a way late in a game.
However, on this occasion their luck held and as Lyons’s kick drifted past the uprights, the Gillman’s Ground was filled with sheer delight as the home team collected four vital points.
Clear and dry conditions at the Gillman’s ground were custom-built for Hartpury to produce another win under the “Friday Night Lights”, following their last home game against Richmond.
They came into the game on the back of another promising display, at Ealing last week, where they lost to a late flurry of points from the Trailfinders.
There were a number of enforced changes. Winger Jake Henry is injured, resulting in a start for young Bristol prospect, Aaron Chapman.
Chapman’s club colleague, Tiff Eden, was needed by the Bears, meaning that Sam Leeming started at fly-half. Luke Eves and Ben Vellacott, who had both made an impact in Ealing, were in the starting line-up, while Rob Langley returned for the full 80 minutes. He was joined in the back row by Worcester’s Tom Dodd.
Hartpury started brightly with good work from the forwards which produced the opportunity for fly half Sam Leeming to kick to the corner.
The resulting lineout drive saw Fijian international, Akapusi Qera (pictured), crash over for an unconverted try with just three minutes on the clock.
Both teams earned the disapproval of referee Hamish Smales as the half progressed. A penalty from O’Leary narrowed the gap, before Leeming restored the margin and then improved it eight minutes before the break.
However, Nottingham, despite a rash of first half injuries, were right back in it when winger Sam Spinks won the chase to a kick ahead in the 37th minute.
On the half time whistle, Leeming landed his third penalty kick, from the half way line, to put Hartpury into a 14-8 lead.
Nottingham were fired up after the restart and established some dominance as Hartpury began to lose their composure. But the visitors were unable to turn pressure into points, despite some near misses.
However, they were finally rewarded with a try to flanker Will Owen, shortly after Leeming had missed a kick for the hosts. Lyons, who had come on as an early replacement, slotted the conversion to make it 14-15.
Their Nottingham lead was temporary, as Hartpury were awarded a penalty try when the visitors collapsed a driving maul.
Both teams were soon down to 14 players. Nottingham lost Llewellyn Jones, to the bin, in the penalty try incident, but he was shortly followed by Hartpury’s Des Merrey, for offside amid Nottingham pressure.
Robinson’s try produced the final drama, but Hartpury were victorious and achieved their fourth win in front of a home crowd this season.
Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes was happy with the outcome and with his team’s performance.
“There have been a lot of occasions where we’ve lost late in the game, so it was nice to see it go our way for a change. We dug deep, particularly in closing minutes, and it was collectively a strong performance from the whole squad.”
Hartpury still have some very important matches to come but this win could be vital for their Championship survival.
Next, they travel to Jersey in a fortnight, to face a strong club who currently sit third in the table. They have two remaining home games, against the Bedford Blues and London Scottish.
Hartpury: Wilcox, Chapman, Tovey, Eves, Foley, Leeming (Pen,15,32,40) Vellacott, Murphy, Tanner, Harden, Craig, Linsell, Quera (Try, 3), Langley, Dodd, Merrey, Stratford, Edevbalo-Ehizode, Grieve
Nottingham: Scanlon, Spink (Try 37), Millet, Peters, Robinson (Try 80), O’Leary (Pen 10), McConnell, Jack, Cole, Heffernan, Holmes, Jones, Buckley, Owen (Try 61), Coghlan. Bench: Brownlie, Thornton, Walker, Cox, Poullett, Veenendaal, Lyons (Con 62)
Referee: Mr Hamish Smales
Thanks to LNC Images