Hartpury were left frustrated after another failure to better the men from Jersey on home turf.
Having played a full part in an entertaining match, they were trailing by nine points when the game was called early by referee, Dan Jones, following a medical emergency in the crowd.
The situation was dealt with by the emergency services but, with play having been stopped and the players off the field for significant period of time, the official was quite within his rights to declare the game over.
By this point, the tide had already turned against the home team who, after a bright start to the second half, had seen a combination of injury and the increasing control being exercised by the visiting pack take matters out of their hands.
Jersey are nothing if not efficient and, with Hartpury favouring the open game that has largely served them well this season, this was a real battle of styles.
It made for compelling watching. The first half was evenly poised, 19-19 at the break, before a high-octane start to the second period looked to have given the hosts the initiative. Jersey had other ideas and their pragmatic response was enough to take the five match points.
Hartpury had to settle for one, although five well-taken tries from open play is some consolation and will have pleased another decent crowd.
A dry, if chilly, afternoon created good conditions for running rugby and Hartpury were in business as early as the third minute.
A scrum on half-way was solid before Ben Foley’s kick pinned Jersey back. The clearance was scruffy and ill-directed, allowing winger Sam Smith – who was to have a good game – to run the ball back.
Another big carry, from lock Dale Lemon, continued the momentum before quickly re-cycled ball and a James Williams popped pass created a gap for Number 8, Mitch Eadie.
Eadie is a Premiership-class player, which he showed by muscling his way through and having the pace to finish from half-way, before Williams added another two to his season’s tally
Hartpury continued to play with ambition, but it was to have a cost 10 minutes later.
A penalty just inside Reds territory might have offered an entry into the visiting 22. Instead, scrum half Toby Venner, outstanding recent weeks, opted for the tap but lost the ball in contact (possibly within 10 metres of the mark) presenting Reds with the opportunity to counter.
This they did well, the ball being transferred to winger Ryan Hutler before a further interchange gave Scott Van Breda an open run to the line and a try which he converted himself.
Jersey’s position improved at the end of the first quarter when a front peel at an attacking line-out, after Hartpury were offside in defence, gave skipper Lewis Wynn a too-simple finish.
Happily, Venner had the opportunity to make amends shortly afterwards.
The Hartpury line-out was functioning well and Josh Gray secured possession close to half-way. More good work from Eadie following the breakdown, backed up by a one-handed off-load, gave the Hartpury scrum-half a sniff.
Anybody who has seen Venner play will know that he lacks neither pace nor confidence and his run from 60 metres, mirroring scoring efforts in a number of recent games, cut through the Reds cover with a certain amount of ease. Williams, normally reliable, struck the post with his kick, leaving the score at 12-12.
Hartpury suffered a triple blow just after the half-hour. Harry Short, who had clearly sustained a blow to the ribs earlier in the game, was forced to retire and he was joined by prop Conor Maguire who took – and subsequently failed – a head injury assessment.
At the same time a penalty kicked to within five metres was efficiently processed into seven points by the Jersey drive, Harry Doolan scoring his third try in two games since his first start for the club and Van Breda adding the extras.
The final significant action of the half brought the third home try and it was another good one.
Again, a clean line-out was the platform for the Hartpury pack to launch a series of punishing drives into the heart of the Reds midfield, with both Cameron Jordan and replacement prop, Conran Gleeson, showing up well.
Williams then stepped inside his marker before feeding Sam Smith who was able to finish behind the posts and tie things up at the break.
There was a further opportunity right on the whistle, when both Smith brothers were involved in a long-range attack, but the it eventually went begging.
Hartpury started the second half equally purposefully and were quickly rewarded by another exciting try.
Robbie Smith made a half-break in midfield before Charlie Foley sent a well-weighted kick into the 22. With bother, Ben, and Sam Smith both in hot pursuit, it fell nicely for the former and his inside ball was a return to Charlie, who had a simple finish.
The best try of the match came in the 52nd minute and it was a thing of classic simplicity.
More good line-out ball from the half-way line was quickly transferred into midfield. Charlie Foley’s short pass found Sam Smith, coming off the opposite wing to make the extra man. He gobbled up 40 metres, rooting the cover defence, before feeding Ben Foley for a fine score in the corner.
With three unanswered tries in less than 15 minutes and a 31-19 lead, there was now a real expectation that Hartpury could go on and win well.
That anticipation was slightly deflated when Jersey hit back almost immediately.
Loose-head Roy Godfrey made a big contribution in midfield before the ball was moved to winger Will Brown. There appeared to be plenty of cover, but Brown was not held in the tackle and he bounced up to score – disappointing from a Hartpury perspective but a strong finish nonetheless.
Injuries continued to hamper the hosts. Jordan had been withdrawn at half-time and now Charlie Foley, in his return from a groin strain, went down off the ball and out of the match.
Using the power and organisation of their pack Jersey re-took the lead with 19 minutes of scheduled play remaining, replacement hooker Eoghan Clarke adding to his tries for the season from another lineout drive.
Nine minutes of fairly attritional rugby later, they had another chance after successive penalties allowed them to work the touchline. Although the forward drive was held on this occasion, big centre Jordan Holgate was able to drive under the posts in what subsequently proved to be the final scoring action.
There were good performances across the field from Hartpury who, despite the loss, continue to out-perform their efforts in previous Championship seasons. One concern will obviously be injuries, with a tough trip to new divisional leaders, Doncaster Knights, coming up next Saturday.
Knights are in their position thanks to a 30-33 away win at Richmond and, entirely more surprisingly, a home defeat for Ealing at the hands of Bedford. Hartpury stay fifth and Jersey third. Between us sit the Pirates, who had an apparently workmanlike win over bottom club, London Scottish.
Mark Cornwell, Hartpury Head Coach, said, ”We showed some really good stuff at times, some very good attack shape, and we earned our tries. The frustration was not being able to capitalise on that and the errors and the penalties which crept in eventually cost us. Again, we feel that we’ve gifted them quite a lot today”