Hartpury made it three wins from four with a comfortable seven-try victory over bottom club Yorkshire Carnegie, writes Andrew Beacham.
On a chilly but – mercifully – dry afternoon, the hosts had far too much in hand for a hard-working but under-powered Yorkshire team, which has endured a difficult start to the season after financial turmoil led to significant player losses in the summer.
Whilst it was hardly a clinical performance, there were some good tries scored and the Gloucestershire club will go into the next phase of the Championship Cup in decent shape.
Of equal importance is that Hartpury currently sit sixth in the Championship table, well away from the relegation concerns that added extra pressure throughout much of last season. There are also signs that, with 13 tries scored in the past two games, the club are finally starting to find their feet as an attacking force.
With a solid core group of players – and assuming that they can avoid major disruptions through injury – supporters can hope to see further development over the remainder of the season.
“We were pleased to get the win, even though the performance level was slightly down from last week,” said Hartpury’s John Barnes. “We were a bit stop-start, and Yorkshire battled hard, but eventually we got the result we had been targeting.”
“There is still plenty of work to do and we can start that process in the next three rounds of the Championship Cup.”
Hartpury came into the match on the back of an impressive 44-17 win over London Scottish in the previous round and looking to put as much daylight as possible between themselves and Carnegie, currently the Championship’s bottom club.
The hosts also had the benefit of fielding a settled side, with just two changes in the starting fifteen, compared to eight for the visitors.
The game started frustratingly for Hartpury, who spent the opening 10 minutes deep in the Carnegie half but with nothing to show for their early dominance.
They did eventually take the lead when Number 8, Seb Nagle-Taylor, was unstoppable from the base of a five metre scrum, but a mistake from the restart saw Carnegie immediately draw level.
Full-back George Simpson, who has been a consistently good performer so far this season, had a kick charged down in his own 22 and skipper Luke Carter had no option other than to carry back over his own line.
Yorkshire had their own attacking platform and, driving from the base themselves, scored under the posts through James Flynn, after numerous pick and goes.
Hartpury were quickly back in front, however. This time they worked patiently through the phases after a half-break from centre Luke Eves. It was the forwards who collected the points again, as loose-head Dan Murphy burrowed over (pictured, courtesy of LNC Images). Murphy was to have an excellent all-round game, solid at the set-piece and showing up frequently in open play.
Flanker Jack Preece added a third in similar circumstances on the half-hour and, at the interval, the only major disappointment for Hartpury was that 21-7 did not reflect the balance of play. Errors in both decision-making and execution were to blame.
Things got better quickly after the restart. A flowing move involving both backs and forwards looked certain to produce another score for Murphy, before his progress was halted by a desperate Ryan Shaw high tackle. A yellow card and a penalty try were immediately awarded by Premiership referee, Luke Pearce.
Nagle-Taylor did add his second try after more enterprising rugby at the end of the third quarter, finding space and finishing well after some sharp handling. Nagle-Taylor is another player who has settled well into Championship rugby, following his summer move from Rotherham Titans.
Lock-forward, Joe Batley, picked up his second score in two games after another forward surge, touching down at the base of a post to move Hartpury further out of sight.
Hartpury’s final try was arguably the best of the match. Attacking sharply from another successful lineout – Hartpury were 100% in this department on the day – the ball was shipped to replacement Tiff Eden, who had come on at inside centre. His long, floated pass fell perfectly for winger Jake Henry and he had the pace and strength to finish from 20 metres.
The final word went to the visitors, who drove over from an attacking lineout after Hartpury had failed to roll away at the breakdown. It seemed as though most of the Yorkshire team joined the drive, before former England winger Tom Varndell peeled off to score.
Yorkshire’s Player-Coach, Joe Ford, said “It’s obviously quite tough at the moment. Although the performances are not yet what we need, the lads are fighting and we’re working hard to get to where we want to be.”
Hartpury now have a weekend off, before successive away trips to Newcastle and Jersey in the Championship Cup. The next home fixture will be their sixth, and final, Cup pool match, against Doncaster Knights in December 14th.
Hartpury: Simpson, Henry (Try 75), Koster, Eves, Morris, Bragman (Cons 16, 22, 31, 70), Carter; Murphy (Try 22), Crane, Gibson, Batley (Try 70), Safe, Graham, Preece (Try 31), Nagle-Taylor (Tries 16, 57). Subs: Tanner, Merrey, Flook, Qera, Hinkley, Cochrane, Goatley, Eden. (Plus Penalty Try, 42)
Yorkshire: Bitirim, Lawson, Shaw, Lancaster, Varndell (Try 80), Ford (Con 18), Elliot; Flynn (Try 18), Sowrey, G Smith, Bloodworth, Humfrey, Lloyd, Seabrook, T Smith. Subs: Musetti, Davidson, Reid, Gough, Brady, Lavin, Findlay, Carlisle.
Referee: Luke Pearce