Hartpury needed to win this Friday night fixture, against another team in the lower reaches of the Championship, but were their own worst enemy as widespread errors handed the game to the home side.
There had been a level of optimism before the game. After eight weeks of fixtures against three of the league’s top four, it was hoped that a match against a team with a similar playing record would result in a much-needed win.
Conditions were good on a clear, dry night, with a firm track underfoot.
Hartpury were without centre Steve Leonard, who faces another long spell on the side-lines with a foot injury, and also a large contingent of the younger squad members, who were away at an England Under-20 training camp.
However, the pack looked strong enough to assert themselves and there was a decent blend of pace, power and experience in the back division.
The early signs were positive, as Hartpury – starting at a good tempo – controlled possession and territory in the opening minutes. Luke Cozens put the visitors ahead in the 7th minute, after Scottish strayed offside in front of their posts.
Not for the first time this season, Hartpury were a little sloppy after the re-start and former Bath youngster, Rory Jennings, quickly replied for the hosts, when Hartpury were penalised in a similarly straightforward position.
The Red & Blacks continued to control possession, but their attack was never looked to have the key that would open up a well-organised home defence. Indeed, it was the Exiles who went in front before the end of the opening quarter.
Scottish kicked behind the Hartpury defence for whom Championship debutant, Robbie Smith, was quickly back to field the ball.
Smith, stepping up after strong performances in university rugby, is a very good young player, but his judgement deserted him on this occasion.
Under pressure, he opted to run in-field and across his posts and, when the ball was lost in contact, Exiles’ Rob Stevenson was presented with the easiest of finishes. Jennings kicked the extras.
Still Hartpury had the lion’s share of possession but, unable to make headway with the ball in hand, reverted to a kicking game that all too frequently misfired.
Another Jennings penalty came along in the 32nd minute, after a strong break by former Hartpury centre, Tom Griffiths – dual registered by Scottish from Saracens – and it was 13-3 at the break.
The second half continued to provide frustration for Hartpury, as Scottish finally got on top of the game and began to turn the screw.
In what was a scrappy 40 minutes overall, Hartpury lost the supply of ball that they had before the break and found themselves increasingly on the back foot.
The hosts managed two close-range tries, both coming after Hartpury had given up field position through errors, indiscipline, or a combination of both.
For the first, which came on the hour, scrum-half Grayson Hart nipped through the fringe defence after the Scottish forwards had driven close to the line.
The hosts laid siege, again, late in the game, referee Simon Harding adjudging them to have been held up over the line fully three times before their lock forward, Theo Vukasinovic – who had a good all round game – bundled over with a minute remaining.
Ben Foley did produce a Hartpury try in the dying seconds – finishing well after a quickly tapped penalty – but it was too little, too late, on a disappointing night.
Hartpury need to re-group quickly. Results elsewhere mean that they are now five points behind both Richmond and the expensively reinforced Yorkshire Carnegie, at the foot of the table.
Although half of the season still remains, the Red and Blacks will know that they need to turn their form around within the next few matches if they are not to get cut adrift. They will have another opportunity to do so when Doncaster Knights visit the Gillman’s Ground next Saturday (2.30pm).
London Scottish: Mantella; Stevenson (Try 17), Griffiths, Jennings (Cons 17, 60. Pens 9, 32) , Fowlie; Perry, Hart (Try 59); Brodley, Harding, Palframan, Vukasinovic (Try 79), Hodge, Tyas, Wynne, Bright. Reps: Saunders, Harris, Cringle, Eliet, Barton, Bird-Tulloch, Davidson.
Hartpury: Foley (Try 80); Smith, Eves, Forrester, Henry; Cozens (Pen 7), Chapman; Murphy, Tanner, Harden, Kelland, Linsell, Qera, Stephenson, Grieve. Reps: Stratford, Flook, Gibson, Quinn, Gilbert, Bolt, Leeming.
Referee: Simon Harding