Hartpury snatched a win with the final play of what was a tense and frequently scruffy match.
It was harsh on Nottingham who had recovered from a five point half-time deficit, to lead going into the final minute.
With a clock in the red and a penalty awarded, Hartpury opted to kick for the corner, knowing that a similar situation just a couple of minutes earlier had seen them butcher a chance by knocking-on under the Nottingham posts.
James Williams, who has been a stand-out performer for Hartpury this season, drilled the ball to the five metre line. The initial drive was held up, before flanker Max Clementson – on his first start for more than a year – burrowed over to break Nottingham hearts.
“We were fortunate to win in the end,” said Hartpury DoR, John Barnes. “We were poor in the second half, when they were the better team. We left a lot of points out there before the break when we didn’t make the most of our chances, but maybe the luck went our way for once.”
“We’ll take that win and, although the performance wasn’t great, you’ve got to credit the lads for keeping going right to the end.”
The afternoon had turned bitterly cold just before the kick-off, which perhaps accounted for the handling shown by both teams as the ball was knocked on regularly throughout the .80 minutes.
Hartpury had much the better of the first half, but it was the visitors who opened the scoring in the 6th minute. Hartpury had already missed out, when Williams failed to ground the ball as he was tackled in the act of (almost) scoring, before Will Simmonds put the impressive Nottingham winger Joseph Browning fnto space on the left hand touchline.
His inside ball found Michael Stronge, tracking well, and the scrum half had an uninterrupted run to the line. Nottingham were unable to covert either of their tries, which proved to be crucial to the final result, although the swirling wind made it a difficult day for kicking.
Hartpury were quickly back on the front foot and, with Nottingham giving up a number of penalties, it was Bragman who kicked an easy chance to narrow the gap.
Despite still lacking the edge needed to break down organised Championship defences, the hosts were in front by the end of the first quarter. It also started with another half-break and offload off first phase by Williams.
When the ball was moved wide to the busy Ben Foley, the winger did remarkably well to stay upright with tackles coming in and his clever transfer of the ball to the supporting Robbie Smith left the Hartpury centre with an easy run towards the posts. Bragman made it 10-5.
And that’s how it stayed until the interval. Hartpury continued to dominate possession while failing to use it effectively while Nottingham showed occasional flashes on the break. Indeed, the visitors had a spell of pressure in the minutes before half-time, but the Hartpury defence proved to be solid, despite operating with 14 men after skipper Will Crane was carded for not rolling away.
A notable example was when a seven man home scrum was able to exert sufficient pressure on their fully-manned opponents to win a scrum penalty five metres from their own line.
The second half was low-quality fare, with neither side able to manage the game effectively. Nottingham continued to claw their way back into the match, while Hartpury fell victim to some poor handling and also some questionable decision-making in attack.
Nottingham closed things up on the scoreboard with a long range penalty from Alex Dolly and, just two minutes later, they hit the front.
When referee Selwood awarded one of a growing number of penalties to the Green and Whites, everybody expected the choice to be between a kick to touch or a shot at goal. Instead, Dolly launched the ball cross-field to where Theo Manihera was screaming for the ball. George Simpson did his best to get across and make the tackle, but Manihera’s task was a simple one thanks to the accuracy of the kick.
Hartpury had earlier tried a similar tactic, with less success, and that looked to be the ball game, until Clementson’s late intervention.
“That’s the Championship for you,” said Neil Fowkes, the Nottingham head coach. “If you don’t make the most of your chances, you know what’s going to happen.”
During the second half, Luke Eves came on to register his 100th appearance for the club – something that happens very rarely given the understandably transient nature of the University’s playing resources. Even more remarkably, for a player not long into his thirties, Hartpury is the second club for whom he becomes a centurion, having also achieved that status for Bristol earlier in his career.
Hartpury now face a tough trip to old foes Ampthill next Sunday, before Coventry Rugby are the next visitors to the Alpas in two weekend’s time.
Hartpury: Simpson, Johnson, Smith (Try 20), Williams, Foley, Bragman (Con 21, Pen 11), Flinn; Holsey, Crane, Knight, Russell, Lemon, Safe, Clementson (Try 80). Bench: Selway, Porter, Walsh, Clark, Wilson, Eves, Partington, Jones.
Nottingham: Tapley, Graham, Thacker, Simmonds, Browning, Ribbington, Stronge (Try 6); Sio, Cole, Garside, Frost, Price, Cox, Farnworth, Coghlan. Bench: Evans Betts, O’Connor, Ramshaw, Hall, Dolly (Pen 65), Hollingsworth, Manihera (Try 67)
Referee: George Selwood