Hartpury made it three bonus point wins out of three – a club ‘first’ at Championship level – although it was anything but straightforward against a stubborn and fully committed Nottingham.
Recent meetings between these clubs have generally been close affairs and this was to be no exception on a day when pre-match rain gave way to first-half sunshine.
Hartpury have now achieved six wins in the season, which matches their record for the whole of the 2017-18 campaign and is just one short of their record in ’18-’19. With nine matches still to play, there is plenty of reason to anticipate our most successful season to date.
This game was a scrap; not high on quality but with both teams firmly focused the ‘W’.
All of the early pressure belonged to Nottingham, as Hartpury leaked penalties in response to a strong start from the Archers. The opening 12 minutes was all played in the home 22 and it was no surprise when the visitors took the lead, having had an earlier effort ruled out for a forward pass.
The try, when it came, was a little scruffy, Michael Stronge’s ill-directed pass off the back of an attacking breakdown going to ground. However, it evaded the Hartpury defenders and winger Joe Browning was able to dribble the ball across the line before falling on it. The conversion from Dan Lancaster was good to make it 0-7.
The score at least offered the opportunity for Hartpury to launch the ball into Nottingham territory and they got some assistance when the visitors fumbled the re-start. A sequence of attacking phases drew a penalty and the line-out drive did the rest, Number 8 Oli Robinson emerging with the ball for his second try in Hartpury colours.
The normally reliable James Williams pulled his kick, but he atoned minutes later when his penalty – awarded after another passage of attacking play followed by an infringement at the scrum – edged Hartpury into an 8-7 lead.
Hartpury continued to dominate into the second quarter and got further reward with 36 minutes on the clock. The forwards were driving effectively and Totti Benz-Salomon (pictured above), on his first start, was showing up well. His was the final effort, before off-loading to Josh Gray who had a simple task from no distance.
Williams landed the conversion from wide out to stretch the lead and still had time to land a simpler kick when Nottingham were penalised in front of their own sticks. 18-7 at the break.
The visitors started the second half in much the same way as they had the first, with a period of pressure in the Hartpury 22. Browning went close to a second, being held up on the line in the corner, but when the ball was moved infield skipper Jake Farnworth was there to finish from close range. Again, the kick was good.
As they had earlier Hartpury responded strongly and, after Will Crane went close, centre Robbie Smith was unlucky not to gather a grubber under the posts.
The reprieve for Nottingham was temporary, however. From a well-worked line out, a dynamic Hartpury drive was illegally halted at the expense of a penalty try and a yellow card, awarded by referee Sarah Cox.
It was typical of the match that the Green & Whites bounced back almost immediately. In the 54th minute they worked their way into the Hartpury 22, aided by some indiscipline from the home team. Choosing width, a lovely floated pass from Lancaster left winger Ian Williams with a straightforward task. Lancaster added the extras to make it 25-21.
Opportunities for the Hartpury back division had been relatively few but that changed in the 64th minute. Electing to scrummage a penalty in the shadow of the visitors’ posts, there were good hands from the inside backs before replacement George Simpson got the final pass away for Ben Foley to score in the corner against his former club.
30-21 and still Nottingham would not lie down. Another sprightly attack created another opportunity for Joe Browning on the left wing, and this time there was nothing untidy about his strong finish.
Hartpury were relieved to see the conversion pushed just wide but they still faced a nervy last few minutes with a four-point lead and Nottingham pushing for more. In the end, they had just enough.
Loose-head Totti Benz-Salomon had an exceptional day on his first start for the club. He played the full 80, including a final 15 minutes switched to tight-head, and apart from a strong scrummaging display, he carried and tackled superbly. Honourable mentions also go to Dale Lemon, for a strong 80-minute shift at lock and a good performance at the line out, and to Oli Robinson, another 80-minute man who carried and tackled well.
Hartpury now get another week off before travelling to Coventry on 15th January.