Hartpury University finally got the chance to shake off a bit of rust yesterday, with a shortened pre-season fixture versus old friends and near-neighbours, Gloucester Rugby.
Almost a year after the last match action at the Alpas Arena – a best-forgotten rain-soaked night against Ampthill – the game was played in close to perfect conditions, with bright spring sunshine and little wind to trouble the players and a firm, dry surface underfoot.
The squads were pretty fluid (Gloucester have a Premiership fixture today). More than one Hartpury lad lined up in the pale blue Gloucester change strip, while a number of the young Gloucester boys on dual registration with Hartpury got used to playing alongside their new team-mates in the Red and Black.
The game was pretty even overall, although it was the Hartpury defence that had to work the harder over the hour or so that was played. From a Gloucester perspective, Matt Banahan was pulling a few strings in a late-career conversion to fly half and, had any Cherry & Whites fans been present, they would have been pleased to see former England Number 8, Ben Morgan, getting his hands on the ball as he continues his return to fitness after a long lay-off. First team lock forward, Matt Garvey, was also prominent in the loose.
The error count, unsurprisingly, was pretty high on both sides, but Hartpury will benefit greatly from the work-out as they build towards next Saturday’s season-opener at home to Richmond. By and large, the defensive effort was commendable and there hints that, under the tutelage of former Gloucester fly-half, they are prepared to play with some width in the games ahead. Whilst it would be hard to pick out too many individuals from the many used during the session, lock-forward Ehize Ehizode caught the eye with some powerful carries.
For the record, Gloucester opened the scoring in the first half when a penalty was spiralled deep into the home 22 before Gloucester Academy hooker, Ethan Hunt – himself a Hartpury business management undergraduate – applied the final touch to the drive.
On the stroke of half-time Hartpury drew level when a period of pressure was rewarded by Number 8, Harry Wilson, bundling over. Joshua Bragman dissected the uprights for a narrow interval lead.
The second half remained a close affair until a few minutes from time when Hartpury – ringing the changes – paid the price for a scruffily-lost line out in their own red zone. Gloucester put in a couple of drives before the ball was spun wide for former Hartpury student, Jacob Morris, to finish in the corner.
7-10 was to be the final score, although Hartpury might have nicked it when on-loan loose forward Josh Gray broke down the left touchline. His in-field grubber was well-weighted, but Bragman just failed to gather the awkward final bounce.
Hartpury now have seven days to prepare for Richmond in Round 1 of this year’s Greene King IPA Championship.
Thanks to LNC Images for the pictures – you can find a larger gallery here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?vanity=LNCImages&set=a.3873803376044881