During Hartpury’s relatively short Championship existence they have already been involved in three closely fought encounters with the men from Bedford, the latest of which came on Saturday at the Gillman’s Ground.
Having lost 24-26 in the reverse fixture back in October, courtesy of a late Bedford try and a missed penalty kick of their own, there was more than a hint of poetic justice in this outcome.
Hartpury, having led – albeit narrowly – since the 32nd minute, were moments away from a vital bonus point victory. However, a failure to find touch allowed the Blues one last chance, when they launched a drop at goal that would have snatched the points away from the home side.
To the relief of the home players and support, the attempt drifted wide, and Hartpury had wrapped up their fourth win in five matches to keep alive their chances of avoiding the drop back to National 1.
On a perfect spring afternoon, Hartpury managed to retain the core of the side that had performed so well in winning away at Jersey the previous week.
They were boosted by the return of Wasps-bound scrum half, Ben Vellacott, who had missed the Jersey trip, while the forward pack benefited from an appearance from former Hartpury AASE-winning skipper, Joe Batley, who had this season made his Premiership debut with Bristol Bears.
There was also no shortage of talent on the bench, where many of the more usual faces were joined by Gloucester Rugby winger, Henry Purdy, making his second Championship appearance for the Red & Blacks.
The game itself was a thriller. Four times Hartpury scored tries to edge themselves ahead and four times the Blues responded with scores of their own. Only a single missed conversion, late in the first half from the otherwise reliable Will Hooley, accounted for the two-point difference in the final score-line.
Neither side could force a break-through in the opening half an hour, but Hartpury eventually drew ahead in the 32nd minute. Home pressure resulted in a yellow card for Blues prop Toby Trinder, who was ‘professionally’ offside at the breakdown.
The resulting penalty was kicked to the corner and after the drive – the first of many to succeed in the game – it was Hartpury hooker Will Tanner (pictured) who emerged with the ball.
However, the pattern of the game was set as half-time approached. Another yellow card was brandished – this time to Batley for collapsing the maul – and Bedford’s lineout was equally effective, hooker Charlie Clare the scorer, to make it 7-5 at the break.
The second half was still young when Hartpury scored again. This time it was the lightning feet of Vellacott that did the damage, creating a try for impressive back row forward Sam Graham. Leeming added his second conversion of the day to make it 14-5.
Just four further minutes passed before Bedford were back snapping at their heels. Will Hooley was the creator for Number 8 Jarad Williams to get the try. Hooley converted.
Next it was the turn of veteran Fijian flanker, Alapusi Qera, to add to his growing list of Hartpury tries. Once more, it was the driven lineout that did the work, after Hartpury pressure had created the field position.
Again, it was only a matter of minutes before Blues responded and it was Clare, doubling his tally, who finished a series of powerful drives.
Not to be outscored by his opposite number, Hartpury’s Will Tanner also completed his brace, again going over at the back of a forward drive with nine minutes to play, after a penalty had been kicked to within metres of the Bedford line.
28-19. Was that it?
“No” was the answer as Bedford grabbed their own bonus point with four minutes remaining. Winger Dean Adamson – a thorn in Hartpury’s side on more than one occasion this season – got the finish, to leave Hartpury fans praying for the final whistle.
It eventually came, but not before the drama of Holley’s final effort.
Hartpury’s win, for once, did not provoke a positive response from fellow relegation candidates, Richmond, who were beaten 17-38 at home by Jersey.
Richmond next travel to Bedford in a fortnight, while Hartpury face the daunting task of trying to pick up something at the Madejski Stadium, home of champions-in-waiting, London Irish.
London Scottish also lost on Saturday, meaning that Hartpury could have an outside chance of over-hauling them before the end of the season, were results to go their way. Scottish are also the next and final visitors to the Gillman’s Ground in the current season, on Saturday, April 20th.
Saturday’s results mean that Hartpury are off the bottom of the table, but with the gap between themselves and Richmond only three points, there is still everything to play for over the final three match-days.
Hartpury RFC: Wilcox, Foley, Powell, Tovey, Seabrook, Leeming (Cons 32, 42, 50, 72) Vellacott; Murphy, Tanner (Tries 32, 72), Harden, Batley, Linsell, Craig, Qera (Try 50), Graham (Try 42). Bench: Stratford, Merrey, Gibson, Langley, Grieve, Purdy, Cochrane.
Bedford: Lane, Hutler, Coulson, Morris, Adamson, Hooley (Cons 45, 55, 74), Dickson, Trinder, Clare (Tries 40, 55), Cooper, Carrick-Smith, Flanagan, Blanchet, Buggea, Williams (Try 45). Bench: McCarthy, King, Curry, Worthington, Fields, Kennon, Shepherd.
Referee: Adam Leal