Hartpury RFC 50 – Coventry 19

The pre-match noises coming out of Coventry suggested that the Midlanders had a game plan to stop the unbeaten league leaders in their tracks.

Eighty minutes and seven Hartpury tries later, those predictions were looking somewhat hollow as the home side continued their seemingly inexorable progress towards the title and the Championship.

This was an excellent Hartpury performance, full of power and pace, in which a number of players stood out.  The watching Gloucester Rugby coaching team might have made more than one mental note over the course of the afternoon.

Coventry managed to stay in touch until half time, largely through the reliable boot of Will Maisey and the clever prompting of outside half Tony Fenner, but the situation changed dramatically after the break as the hosts put together some devastating passages of play.

The visitors arrived in good form, unbeaten in five and with a big win over then second-placed Blackheath under their belt.  In particular, their pack, who had dominated against the Londoners, had been the subject of much recent praise.

However, Hartpury, somewhat in contrast to their recent post-Christmas performances, were fully switched on.  Noticeably, the early scrums were even, as the hard-working front row of Mike Flook, Will Tanner and Alec Clarey warmed to their task.

Before half-time however, the Coventry eight were being driven back on their own ball as Hartpury went on to win a number of scrum-time penalties.

It did not stop there, as the lineout also became a happy hunting ground for the hosts.  More than one promising position for Coventry was undermined by stolen ball and the trickle became something more in the second half, as the under-pressure visitors lost shape and cohesion.

The Hartpury loose trio were not to be outdone by the front five.  Mat Gilbert and Rhys Oakley both showed power to collect first half tries and their colleague, Jake Polledri, took the man-of-the-match plaudits with yet another outstanding performance.

Polledri can be seemingly unstoppable with the ball in hand and, although not a scorer himself, his individual contribution was immense.

The back division, given tempo by Ben Vellacott at scrum half, shook off the pre-match loss of centre Steve Leonard to injury and took the opportunities that came their way.

The back three of Levi Davis, Jonas Mikalcius and Mike Wilcox all posed a threat going forward, while the revised midfield partnership of the excellent Luke Eves and the incoming Jamie Forrester were asking plenty of questions offensively, while staying generally strong in defence.

The teams traded early penalties before Gilbert made the first breakthrough, shrugging off tacklers as he finished strongly from 15 metres.

Coventry, behind in possession and territory statistics, were in close contact on the scoreboard until Rhys Oakley finished a series of punishing drives shortly before the break, stretching out a long arm to finish from close range.  This, despite Hartpury being down to 14 men, with Vellacott in the bin for a deliberate knock-on.

Everything changed in the second half.  Perry had landed another penalty, before Polledri had one of his star moments.  Receiving the ball in his own 22, he slipped his tackler and showed good pace as he made his way up field.

Deep into the Coventry half he appeared to be collared, but sheer strength and determination saw him regain momentum and head toward the corner.  He did not quite make it, but ‘Mr Reliable’, Luke Eves, was in support to finish the job.

Eves doubled his tally seven minutes later, adding his weight to a lineout drive and claiming the final touch.

Coventry, by this stage, were temporarily down to 13 as indiscipline cost them the services of both Tom Poole and Darrell Dyer in quick succession.

Mat Gilbert had a big hand in the next score, driving deep towards the Coventry posts and his pack-mates took over, before Vellacott fed winger Davis whose footwork stood up his marker, allowing him to dive over for his third try in three matches.

Polledri was at it again on the hour, his big break through the midfield allowing him to find supporting lock forward Joe Dancer.  Dancer is not built like a typical second row and he had the pace to go outside the cover from 40 metres out and finish like a winger (pictured).

It was a real winger who completed the Hartpury scoring in the 72nd minute, Mikalcius being first to get to Jacob Perry’s perfectly weighted dab.  Perry converted to bring his personal tally to fifteen points.

Coventry did snatch a late try, very well finished by full back James Stokes, but it was an afterthought on a day when they were outplayed in all areas of the pitch.

Hartpury, now 27 points clear at the top of the table following a home defeat for Birmingham Moseley, next go to Hull Ionians in search of win number 20.

Hartpury: Wilcox, Davis (Try 58), Forrester, Eves (Tries 47, 53), Mikalcius (Try 72), Perry (Cons 8, 39, 61.  Pens 3, 27, 44), Vellacott; Flook, Tanner, Clarey, Batley, Dancer (Try 60), Polledri, Gilbert (Try 7), Oakley (Try 38).  Replacements: Stephenson, Merrey, Thompson, Chan, Shaw

Coventry: Stokes (Try 75), Hircock , Hodgson, Maisey (Con 76.  Pens 5, 21, 31, 34), Owain, Fenner, White; Litchfield, Tolmie, Boulton, Poole, Peters, Daynes, Grace, Dyer.  Replacements: Price, Brown, Jubb, Adamson, Trimble

Referee:  Mr Dean Richards

Attendance: 677

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