Hartpury University RFC 14 – Ealing Trailfinders 33

After the impressive win at Bedford last week, there was no to be no history-making score line against the Championship favourites – and nor any match points either – but there was no lack of respect for the Hartpury effort at the final whistle. 

No stopping him – Toby Venner turns the ball over and goes 60 metres to score (c) Archie Saunders

Ealing’s DoR, Ben Ward, said “Hartpury are in form and we knew how tough they were going to be.  We watched their game from last week and we thought they were outstanding.”

“That helped us prepare for what was to come and I thought that there were two very good teams going at it today.”

“There were a couple of moments in that game where it looked as though Hartpury would get back into it, but our defence was sound.”

“In the first 20 minutes our power game gave us big edge and after that, in the conditions, it was never going to be a good day to chase the game.”

The match itself had many echoes of the opening fixture of the season – weather very much excepted – in which Ealing had flown into a commanding lead in the early stages only for Hartpury to press back, particularly in the third quarter.

On that occasion the Trailfinders had stretched away again, with three quickfire tries late on, whereas yesterday Hartpury actually ‘took’ the second half 7-5.  No prizes for that, unfortunately.

On a grey, damp and blustery afternoon, Hartpury fielded a starting XV very similar to that at Bedford.  Mitch Eadie – who was to have a fine game – was back at Number 8, as was loose-head Conor Maguire who missed the last two games with injury.

On the bench, Hartpury gave a debut to sizeable Irish tight-head Conran Gleeson , who was also to contribute well to the second half effort.

Hartpury’s problems on the scoreboard mainly occurred in the first quarter, when the clinical efficiency and sheer physical power of the Londoners almost put the game to bed.

In fact, Hartpury were in trouble right from the kick off.  They were tidy enough in fielding the kick, but a fumble on the next phase prevented a clean exit and gave a perfect scrum position to the visitors, deep in the home 22.

After a re-set, the ball was moved to Cian Kelleher before the forwards took over, launching a series of punishing drives.  Hartpury defended a number of these well, before Rayn Smid powered over at the fifth or sixth attempt.  Craig Willis was left with a simple kick.

Ealing were back in business just minutes later.  Josh Gray made a strong carry close to half-way but Ealing were quick over the ball and the penalty was conceded.  The resulting line-out was clean on the home 22 and centre Max Bodilly was able to get well across the gain line before the forwards again assumed control, this time lock Bobby De Wee getting the final touch.

At after nine minutes of play Hartpury were 0-14 and exactly where they did not want to be.  They received a let-off when Pat Howard failed to finish a big Shaun Malton break moments later, but the reprieve was to be temporary.

On Hartpury’s first serious visit into Ealing territory they were offside in possession and the visitors kicked to 30 metres out.  Howard and Craig Hampton both tested the defence before the telling break from Angus Kernohan left prop Lewis Thiede with the simplest of finishes.  Willis again did the honours.

That made it 0-21, but at least it signalled the start of something better from Hartpury, who finally managed to combine forwards and backs in a multi-phase attack that was only ended when Ealing were penalised close to their 22.  It was a encouraging passage of play, with many players in black contributing.

Sadly, neither the resulting line-out drive nor the follow-up phases were able to match Ealing’s level of efficiency and the chance eventually went begging as it all ended with a scrum penalty to Ealing from which, ultimately, they collected the bonus point try.

The line-out, just inside Hartpury territory, was followed by a powerful carry from Simon Uzokwe and a more silky contribution from Kelleher, who was able to release former Hartpury skipper, Simon Linsell, for a good finish from 20-metres.

The home team, to their credit and prompted by a Cameron Jordan line out steal, appeared to shrug this off and finished the half strongly.

They launched another sustained attack, ended by an Ealing offside, and got their reward when another Jordan lineout win was converted into points by the strong running of Harry Short.  Williams converted to make it 7-28 at the break.

Try time for Harry Short – number 7 of his debut Champion season

The second period also started with the hosts playing with enterprise and ambition, whilst never quite able to break the shackles of the impressive Ealing defence.  Again, opportunities came and went.

The remainder of the game was pretty even, with both sides enjoying periods of pressure.  If there was a difference in the end, apart form the early scoring, it was the ascendancy that Ealing were gaining at both the set-piece and the breakdown, which maintained the points margin.

Hartpury did receive some encouragement with 25 minutes to go.  The usually neat Hampson was scragged at the base of a ruck by the ever-lively Venner and the ball popped up nicely for the Hartpury scrum-half.  He had the pace to convert the opportunity, running a full 60 metres to score.

With time still in the game and deficit now reduced to 14 points, there was still a chance that Hartpury might not remain empty-handed.

But the Ealing pack had other ideas.  Five minutes later they won a penalty with a powerful scrum that was kicked into the home 22.  The first drive, with at least 12 men, was defended well – albeit  at the expense of a penalty – but there was nothing they could do about the next, which brought a score for replacement prop Will Davis.

14-33 was to be the final outcome.  In terms of performances, the Hartpury MOTM was voted as Venner although, in truth, any of a number of players had their hands up.  In the backs, George Simpson and Robbie Smith both caught the eye, while Jack Tovey backed up his display at Bedford nicely.

All of the forwards worked tirelessly.  Mitch Eadie did what he does so well, week in week out, while Cam Jordan made another excellent impression.  James Dun made a strong impact as a second half replacement at lock, while young hooker Ethan Hunt continued to impress.  

John Barnes was typically honest in his comments.

“We probably got what we deserved, based on that opening.   We couldn’t match their physicality in the opening quarter, but I was pleased with way that we came back into the game.  We got within striking distance but a few late errors killed it.” 

Hartpury’s next game, on Saturday 12th February, is also at The Alpas, when the visitors are third-placed Jersey Reds.   Despite a poor home record against the Islanders, Hartpury will feel that their current form is good enough to potentially reverse a trend of defeats that stretches back to their Championship arrival in 2017.

The Red & Blacks remain fifth in the table and irrespective of next week’s result they have a sufficient cushion to remain there, at least until their visit to second-placed Doncaster in a fortnight.

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