Hartpury collected their second win of the season in a wet-weather arm-wrestle with the Championship new-boys.
Ultimately it was a strong performance from the pack and the reliable boot of fly-half Luke Cozens (pictured, courtesy of LNC Images) that sealed the win, although another period of second-half sloppiness had threatened to spoil the afternoon.
Rain fell consistently throughout the game, meaning that neither side could afford to over-play and that the tactical kicking game was always going to be important.
It was not ideal, then, that Hartpury were forced into a late change in their back three, with Jake Henry’s illness providing an unexpected debut for university student and Belgian international, Ervin Muric.
As it happened, there was no cause for concern. Slotting in, alongside the composed figures of the returning Mike Wilcox and fellow winger Ben Foley, Muric looked completely at home with a couple of strong runs and, in particular, a shuddering second half tackle that could be felt in the grandstand.
After a bright opening from the hosts, it was Coventry who had the first opportunity to register on the scoreboard, but Jake Sharp surprisingly dragged his kick wide from a relatively straightforward position.
After that, it became one-way traffic for a while, as Coventry made life difficult for themselves by conceding a rash of penalties. Eventually, with Hartpury attacking though the forwards, referee Neil Chivers lost patience and former Hartpury student, James Voss, was sent to the bin.
It was to prove to be an expensive absence. From the penalty kicked to touch, Hartpury got the drive going against their depleted opposition and, as so often, it was hooker Will Tanner who emerged as the try-scorer. Cozens converted well.
Five minutes later it got worse for the visitors, who again contributed to their own misfortune. A Coventry knock-on led to a scrum penalty for Hartpury and Cozens sent it deep into the 22.
This time, the drive was held up initially, before Mat Gilbert was able to bundle over the line from a couple of yards out.
With Cozens again adding the extras, Hartpury were looking comfortable at 14-0 after 20 minutes.
Coventry did eventually rouse themselves and had a good spell of pressure towards the end of the half, although their forward drive was getting very little change out of a solid home defence.
They did manage to force a 5-metre scrum with the whistle imminent but, when they knocked on at the base, it appeared that Hartpury had weathered the storm. However, the hosts were similarly untidy and, with the ball squirting loose, Coventry scrum half Pete White had the simplest of tasks to gather and slide over the line.
Hartpury had been competitive at half-time in both of their previous two matches, before poor starts to the second half had consigned them to defeat.
It was relief, then, that they managed to navigate the third quarter largely unscathed, with the forwards continuing have the edge, particularly at the scrum.
A relatively simple Cozens penalty in the 51st minute and a longer-range effort in the 57th, had home supporters breathing more easily as the lead stretched out to 13 points.
But it wouldn’t be Hartpury without a second half wobble, which duly arrived as the hour mark approached.
A totally unnecessary penalty was conceded on half-way and, while Hartpury were still appealing to the referee, replacement scrum half Tom Kessell set off at great pace for the visitors. Winger James Stokes was right on his shoulder and comfortably had the gas to finish close to the posts.
Coventry now had a sniff of a result and, with Hartpury suddenly jittery, were back on the attack a few minutes later. With the line beckoning, Hartpury’s Rob Langley saw yellow in some desperate defence, Sharp knocking over the kick to make it a three-point game.
However, rather than disintegrating, as they had done against the Cornish Pirates a week earlier, Hartpury rallied.
The three points were all that Coventry were able to muster in Langley’s absence, as the remaining Hartpury forwards, bolstered by fresh legs off the bench, began to reassert themselves.
Deep into the final 10 minutes, the men in red showed remarkable control in executing more than 20 phases of picking and driving, working ever closer to the Coventry posts. With the coaching staff baying for Cozens to drop for goal, it was the referee who had the final say and the penalty, from in front of the posts, was a formality.
Coventry continued to battle, but Hartpury were not about to let this game slip and there was joy all round when Bolt finally booted the ball into touch to bring the match to a close.
“Obviously, we were delighted to get the result,” said Hartpury head coach, Mark Cornwell. “The last thing we wanted was two home defeats on the trot. I was a little bit disappointed that we didn’t kick on from 14-0, but overall I’m happy.”
“There was a certain way to play today – a lot of kicking, a lot of set-piece – and we got the edge, slightly, up front. The scoreboard tells the story.”
Hartpury: Wilcox, Foley, Eves, Forrester, Muric, Cozens (Cons 16, 21. Pens 51, 57, 75), Bolt; Murphy, Tanner (Try 15), Harden, Fuller, Linsell, Langley, Gilbert (Try 20), Grieve. Bench: Stratford, Merrey, Morris, Pashley, Stephenson, Cochrane, Leeming.
Coventry: Fenner, Know, Bulumakau, Tuitupou, Stokes (Try 59), Sharp (Cons 40, 60. Pen 62), White (Try 39); Gibbons, Tolmie, Beech, Jubb, Voss, Ram, Preece, Peters. Bench: Nilsen, Titchard-Jones, Jeannot, Hutchinson, Adams, Kessell, Stevens.
Referee: Neil Chivers