Hartpury continued their very encouraging start to the new season with a hard-fought but deserved win, in front of another good crowd at the Alpas Arena.
It was no try-fest, but it was always riveting viewing, particularly in the first half when both sides attacked with pace at every opportunity.
Coventry had their chances but eventually left with nothing, due to a mixture of wastefulness and some top-quality home defence.
“What a performance from the boys,” said a positively beaming Mark Cornwell. “I didn’t think we would top our display against Pirates, but I was wrong.”
“We didn’t get the bonus-point, which we probably should have based on the first half, but the hunger, the desire and the organisation to just get off the line and hit people was immense.”
“Coventry played some very good rugby. They were direct and physical, but the boys just said ‘you’re not coming through’ and, as a coach, you can’t ask for more.”
“It’s not always easy to find, but they’ve got a fantastic team spirit. After a couple of seasons of watching the team mistaking mistakes and conceding some soft scores, it’s a joy to see a group of players who are putting into practice what we work on in training.”
“Now, we need to make sure that it continues.“
Coventry started at a high tempo, launching multiple phases in attack, which the Hartpury defence was more then equal to, in terms of both effort and organisation.
As they started to achieve parity in possession, Hartpury were able to create chances of their own. It appeared that they must score after 12 minutes, when a Robbie Smith break led to a series of surges towards the line, but the final pass went astray.
Further chances came and went as Smith continued to test the Coventry rear-guard. Ben Foley was, perhaps, unlucky to have been adjudged to have pushed a defender in chasing his own kick through for a score, while recent try-machine Harry Short also went close.
Eventually the pressure told, James Williams landed two penalties to give the home team some reward, but not before Coventry’s Tony Fenner ignored an overlap which would have given Rob Stevenson a walk-in, as Coventry reminded the home team of their presence.
Slightly against the run of play, it was Coventry who picked up their first and only score. Good interplay between Adam Peters and Tom Howe allowed the latter’s inside ball to give Josh Barton a clear run in. Barton was a constant bright spark in the Coventry attack and deserved his try.
But the half wasn’t over. The Hartpury forwards, Mitch Eadie prominent, made 40 metres up the middle before Charlie Foley’s floated pass found Sam Smith on the wing. The winger, looking more confident and assertive with every game, had plenty to do but produced an excellent finish, standing up Stevenson before going outside Fenner and in at the corner.
11-7 at the break, became 18-7 in the 50th minute, through Deago Bailey, who had already announced himself with one powerful run, bursting through would-be tackles.
Again the basis was some great carrying from the Hartpury forwards, which finally allowed Williams and the Foley brothers to combine in midfield, Ben’s final pass giving Bailey to opportunity to step inside the cover and score from 20 metres.
As the game progressed, so the pace dropped a little and the big Coventry forwards saw more of ball. But Hartpury’s defence stayed solid and they saw out the remainder of the match.
There were great individual efforts across the squad. Mitch Eadie was singled out as ‘the Lock-Keeper’ Man of the Match for a superb debut, but there few reasons to criticise, apart from a couple of untidy line-outs at key times.
The front row deserve special mention. Hooker Will Crane lead from the front, while starting props Ciaran Knight and Conor Maguire – the latter going almost the full 80 – continued the impressive form that they have shown all season, carrying and tackling with aggressive intent and rock solid at the set-piece.
Coventry’s Rowland Winter had no complaints about the result, although he did rue his teams lack of accuracy at critical moments.
“Hartpury controlled the game. They were quick and efficient in most things they did,” he said.
“If we’d have made the most of our opportunities it might have been a different story, but Hartpury brought the work-rate and the physicality that they needed.”
Hartpury now get the chance to lick a few wounds and bring back some of the players that have picked up knocks in the opening weeks, as The Championship takes a one-week break. The next action is on the road at London Scottish, while the next home game will be against Bedford on Saturday, 30 October.