Hartpury University 38 – Richmond 20

It is, perhaps, a measure of how far Hartpury have come this season that the coaches felt ready to criticise aspects of this performance rather than be grateful for a six-try, five-point win.

The result elevates Hartpury to fifth in the Championship table, although with the club having played more games than any team in division and a bye week coming up, this will almost certainly change before the next fixture.

“We’ve done the job and got the five points, which was the aim prior to the game, but again our discipline was poor and the error count was unacceptably high,” said Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.

“We allowed Richmond to play far too much rugby.  Our defence was good, apart from against the drive, but we shouldn’t be having to make that many tackles.”

The Red & Blacks were able to name a relatively settled squad for the match and were coming off a good win on the road at Ampthill in the previous round.  Richmond, like their hosts, were in a relatively good spot despite some inconsistency.

Hartpury had the better of the early exchanges, although it was from an unpromising position that they opened the scoring.

Richmond were close to the home 22 when they were penalised for being off their feet at a ruck.

With everybody, including it seems the Richmond players, expecting the kick to touch, scrum half Toby Venner tapped to himself and set off upfield.   Among his many talents, Venner has exceptional pace and good feet and, after stepping his way through the somewhat dawdling Richmond defence, he was able to turn full-back Will Homer one way and another before finishing under the posts (pictured, above).

This was Venner’s second try in successive starts after recovering from injury and his inclusion certainly brings an extra threat that opponents need to be aware of.

Former Hartpury University player, Lewis Dennett – a member of the same BUCS Super Rugby winning squad as Venner – closed the gap with a Richmond penalty after 15 minutes, but the Red& Blacks were able to extend their lead just before the half-hour.

After a period of play in which Richmond enjoyed plenty of possession without being able to create any clear-cut chances against some solid defence, a penalty for holding on allowed Hartpury to move upfield.

From a line-out, the home team executed a move which involved Matt McNab – making his first Championship start – coming off his wing into midfield, before the ball was recycled and moved smartly to the right winger, Sam Smith, who finished strongly from just outside the 22.

Smith is one of a number of players who have benefitted from an extended run in the team this season and deserved his man-of-the-match award in this game.

Indiscipline has generally been a problem for Hartpury in the past few seasons and it was some poorly chosen words to referee Neil Chivers – who maybe didn’t have his best afternoon – that let Richmond back into the game.

The kick into touch was duly turned into five points by hooker James Hadfield in the drive although, on this occasion, Dennett was wide with the kick.

With both sides inclined to keep the ball in hand, the error count was high and the game became compressed between the two 10 metre lines before an attacking lineout, caused by a Richmond penalty, gave Harry Short the chance to power over. 

Referee Chivers declared he had been held up and, from the 22 drop out, Richmond scrum half Charles Gowling sustained a concussion when he was a little high into a tackle and felt the full force of Ben Foley on the move.

After a significant delay, play restarted with a rock-solid Hartpury scrum and, off first phase, Foley was able to side-step Gowling’s replacement, Callum Watson, to score from 35 metres out.

Hartpury led 19-8 at the break, after James Williams landed his second successful conversion.

Apart from one powerful scrummage Hartpury, as they are occasionally prone to do, looked disjointed in third quarter and with penalties flowing the way of the Londoners, from a mix of indiscipline and some questionable calls, it was not a surprise when Richmond scored again.

Any sort of contest at the breakdown prompted a whistle from Mr Chivers and it was from fully 22 metres that the heavy Richmond pack rumbled over for their second try.

Hartpury again restored the buffer on the hour when, after attacking from turnover ball, a series of assaults on the Richmond line ended with Robbie Smith finishing in the corner.

More Hartpury indiscipline gave Richmond the opportunity for another driven try – finished by Bright – after 65 minutes, but that was as close as Richmond were to get.

With 12 minutes remaining and Hartpury pushing close after a Josh Gray charge-down, veteran back rower Bright got his marching orders after being offside in the red zone and things got even worse for the visitors after the resulting lineout.

Hartpury’s drive was smart and aggressive.  Richmond halted it illegally on the line, meaning a 7-point penalty try and a further yellow card for replacement hooker Michael Perks.

With Hartpury now in control and with a two-man advantage, a final try was on the cards. 

After a couple of ineffective attacking lineouts from the hosts, Richmond eventually coughed up the ball for Hartpury to run it in, Robbie Smith knifing through from the 22 after Ben Foley had cleverly delayed his pass.

Thus, Hartpury conclude the ‘first half’ of the season with a creditable five wins from 10 games, compared to just two in their 9 nine matches from last season’s truncated campaign.

We now get a bye week before resuming with two matches against the league’s, arguably, strongest teams, Ealing Trailfinders (home) and Cornish Pirates (away).

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