Jersey won this game – dramatically – in the dying seconds, after a series of attacking line-outs, partly resulting from Hartpury indiscipline, created the late opportunity.
However, the home team were left incensed after a clear and very obvious Jersey knock on, prior to the final passage of play, went unseen only by the referee and his assistants. In a game as finely balanced as this one, such moments are huge.
“We’ve come away with a tough-fought win,” said Jersey’s Harvey Biljon, “but you’ve got to give Hartpury a lot of credit for the part they played in the game”.
“We probably should have made more of our chances in the first half and in the end I was pleased by the contribution made by our bench.”
Beyond the final moments of drama, there was relatively little to raise the pulses of the crowd in an encounter that was played in drifting rain and a blustery win throughout.
Perhaps not surprisingly, errors were frequent, despite both teams sticking to conservative game plans.
The playing surface was good at the start of the game and held up remarkably well, despite being wet. This was no mud-bath, but nevertheless handling was difficult and both sides struggled when playing into the strong south-westerly.
Hartpury had selected from a generally fit squad. Dan Koster and Rob Fuller both missed out due to niggles, but otherwise there were relatively few changes from the Pirates game back in December.
There was, however, some disruption in the half-hour before the game. Centre Joe Margetts pulled up with hip pain during the warm-ups and the experienced Luke Eves, not even a part of the original 23, had to be drafted in to the starting fifteen as a last minute replacement.
Defences were generally on top throughout the opening 40 and were rarely tested by anything resembling width. Jersey, playing with the wind, had the better of the territory and possession, but Hartpury were generally resolute and hard to break down.
The opening score came in the 18th minute. Hartpury failed to take the chance to exit from their own 22, when they were untidy at the base of a defensive scrum. Jersey took over possession and a series of drives took them closer and closer to the line. Number 8 Janco Venter eventually found the space to dive over in the corner.
That looked to be it for the half, until some late Hartpury pressure, again based around powerful forward play, drew a yellow card for Jersey’s Charlie Beckett and a penalty in front, from where Joshua Bragman could hardly miss.
Playing with the wind, Bragman repeated the dose immediately after the break to edge the home side into a one point lead.
Again, the action failed to provide much in the way of entertainment, although the narrow score-line ensured that the crowd remained interested. Now it was the hosts who were seeing more of the ball and the visitor’s time in Hartpury territory was limited.
With Jersey again down to 14 men – try-scorer Venter being carded for a ‘no-arms’ tackle – another three-pointer from Bragman, in the 74th minute (pictured, courtesy LNC images) appeared to have put Hartpury in the driving seat.
However, Mr Selwood’s moment of visual impairment, with the clock ticking down, turned what should have been a home scrum into a Jersey line-out. Two needlessly conceded penalties later – both from late replacement Tom Jubb, who was consequently sent to the bin – and replacement hooker, TJ Harris, was bundled over for the winning score.
“The weather dictated the style of the game,” said Hartpury’s John Barnes. “I was generally pleased with our defence in the first half and then we’d worked hard to get ourselves in front. I thought we had done enough to hold out, but events late in the game took the win away from us.”
Hartpury’s next game will be at Bedford Blues next Saturday (18th January, 3pm).
Hartpury: Wilcox, Simpson, Smith, Eves, Goatley, Bragman (Pens 40, 42, 72), Carter; Murphy, Crane, Gibson, Everard, Safe, Grieve, Preece, Nagle-Taylor. Bench: Tanner, Merrey, Flook, Jubb, Wilson, Qera, Cochrane, Eden.
Jersey: Dyer, Morgan, Newey, Iona, Van Dam, Cope, Homer; Godfrey, Dolly, Atalifo, Beckett, Bartle, Argyle, Bainbridge, Venter (Try 18). Bench: Harris (Try 80), Morley, Clarey, Hatherell, Upfield, Jones, Spencer, Stapley.
Referee: George Selwood