Hartpury erased the memory of ten straight defeats to the Pirates – many of them painfully ugly – with this comprehensive victory over one of the favourites to challenge Ealing for promotion.
Head Coach, Mark Cornwell, was understandably delighted with his team’s performance.
“I said to boys before kick-off ‘I believe in you, I believe you’re a good side, now you’ve got to believe in yourselves and take it to the Pirates. We’ve been beaten by them year after year and, on many occasions, we’ve let them run all over us and I’ve had enough of it’,” he said.
“Wow, what a response we got from the lads. I thought we were superb in every aspect of the game and, having spoken to them, I know that the Pirates’ coaches agree. The boys were at it defensively, around the set-piece and the breakdown, physically – each and every one of them was outstanding. It’s made my weekend!”
A large crowd, perfect weather and an excellent surface provided the backdrop for an afternoon that will live long in the memory of Hartpury supporters. But it was the monumental effort put in by the whole 23 in Red & Black that really stole the show.
Pirates opened the scoring with a straightforward Arwel Robson penalty, before Hartpury started to generate some pressure of their own.
Ben Foley created field position with the club’s first successful 50-22 of the season, before Sam Smith, Joe Howard, James Williams and Charlie Foley all went close in quick succession.
The referee, Anthony Woodthorpe had spotted and infringement, however, and from the resulting penalty, kicked to the corner, Will Crane opened Hartpury’s account with a successful drive.
Hartpury continued the enjoy the better of the play in the next few minutes, but it was Pirates who were to score next.
A line out in Hartpury territory was the source and when Carwyn Penny, from full-back, timed his intervention perfectly he was able able to put wing Callum Sirker in the clear. An inside ball to skipper John Stevens, saw the latter with an open road to the posts.
James Williams – who didn’t miss a thing all day – and Robson then exchanged penalties to make the score 10-13.
Hartpury were just edging the territorial battle now but the next score, when it came, was out of the blue.
Pirates had attacking ball just inside the home half, which was mis-handled in midfield. Charlie Foley was quickest to react and his kick through set up a foot-race between his centre partner, Robbie Smith, and Pirates’ duo of full-back Penny and winger AJ Cant.
As the crowd held their breath, Smith eased clear to arrive first at the ball.
Another Williams penalty extended the lead on the stroke of half-time and you could see the belief flooding into the Hartpury side.
If Hartpury were good in the first half, they were close to being dominant after the interval.
Callum Sirker squeezed in for a try in the 61st minute but, either side of that all of the scoring, action was at the other end of the field.
Young flanker, Harry Short had arrived for his Championship debut as a first half replacement for the unfortunate Joe Howard, who looked to have damaged a hand or arm.
However, he had two other reasons to celebrate before the end of the game. As Pirates, under pressure, began to leak penalties, Hartpury had more and more opportunities to make hay, enabled by some excellent line-kicking from Williams.
For his first try, in the 47th minute, he somehow managed to burst out of the middle of the drive to score, while for the second – a crucial score with 15 minutes to play – he ended up somewhere under the more traditional heap of bodies.
Williams, impeccable on the day, kept kicking the conversions, as well as a 57th minute penalty.
As a final act, Hartpury looked to have scored the try of the match in the closing seconds, with another debutant, Deago Bailey going 60 metres to set up a finish for Sam Smith, only to be called back for a marginally forward pass – harshly, as it turned out – at the start of the move.
Pirates Head Coach, Alan Paver, had no complaints with the outcome. “We had some game management issues early on, but the bottom line was that Hartpury dominated the collisions on both sides of the ball. They got a grip on the game and they never let go.”
It’s hard to pick out individual performances on a day when the general level was so high, but the second row pairing of Cameron Jordan – rightly named as Man of the Match – and Alex Groves deserve a special mention.
Both knew that they were likely to have to go the full 80 as a combination of injury and bad luck meant that there was no specialist replacement on the bench. This they both did, outstandingly, sparing nothing in the Hartpury cause.
We now have a short turnaround before we go to Nottingham on Friday night, with our next home fixture being on October 8th (also Friday night) against Coventry.