Hartpury made the long trip up north to face Newcastle Falcons on a clear and brisk evening under the Friday night lights, writes Jenny Bates.
This game was always going to be a tough one, facing an ex-premiership side whose team included a large contingent of players with international and top-flight experience.
As such, the defeat did not come as a huge surprise and, despite going home empty-handed, Hartpury can feel pleased to have put together an improved performance at Kingston Park.
The Falcons pushed Hartpury from first whistle to last with a high tempo game which Hartpury – a semi-professional side – found difficult to match.
The Red and Blacks did manage a stronger 40 minutes across the second and third quarters, but a sloppy start and a tired finish allowed the dominant Falcons to secure the full five points in round two of the Greene King IPA Championship.
George Simpson crossed for Hartpury’s only try – his first for the club – four minutes into the second half after his was first to latch onto to Joshua Bragman’s cross-field kick.
They created a few further scoring opportunities which went begging due to a lack of composure and accuracy at key moments. However, throughout the game as a whole, Hartpury made far fewer mistakes and demonstrated better discipline then they have previously this season.
Falcons started strongly, stealing the first lineout and then driving Hartpury off their own scrum.
They were rewarded with an early try, when Nemani Nagusa scooped up the ball to dive over in the corner. Former England man, Toby Flood, slotted the extras.
Their second followed 12 minutes later when prop forward, Rodney Ah You crashed down under the posts, giving Flood an easy conversion.
Hartpury had a more even share of possession in the second quarter, but they could not stop the hosts crossing the whitewash for their third try, two minutes before half time.
Aggressive defence high up the field from the Falcons forced Hartpury to kick long and into the hands of Adam Radwan. The youngster, who had troubled Hartpury for Darlington Mowden Park, back in National 1 days, had the pace to run 80 metres down the wing and into the corner.
The half ended with a missed opportunity for the visitors, as they coughed up the ball five metres from the try line.
Newcastle led 21-0 going into the break but Hartpury returned to the field with more fight and assertiveness, allowing them to get some points on the board.
Simpson’s try represented a bright start to the second half by Hartpury.
With players being tended to, there was nobody to bring on a kicking tee for Bragman, so he improvised with an impressive drop kick conversion from the left touchline to make it 21-7.
The respite was brief, as two minutes later Falcons secured their four-try bonus point as Sinoti Sinoti powered down the left from 30 metres out. Hartpury appeared to have lost concentration after their own score.
The Red and Blacks again enjoyed a spell of possession, with some excellent breaks from Nick David (pictured – courtesy of LNC Images) and Bristol player, Charlie Powell. However, they could not break the Falcon’s defensive line and the hosts eventually regained control.
A flurry of late tries punished Hartpury on the scoreboard. Replacement Ben Stevenson helped himself to two quick-fire scores before another impact player, Callum Chick, crashed over in added time to make it 45-7 as the final whistle blew.
On Friday, Hartpury welcome Nottingham Rugby to the ALPAS Arena for round three of the Greene King IPA Championship. This is a fixture that the Gloucestershire side have won in each of the past two seasons and they will be keen to open their account for 2019-20.
Hartpury University RFC: Simpson (Try 44), David, Powell, Eves, Fricker, Bragman (Con 45), Carter; Murphy, Crane, Challenger, Munga, Batley, Hawkins, Clementson, Safe. Bench: Tanner, Merrey, Flook, Curran, Preece, Nagle-Taylor, Cochrane, Forrester
Newcastle Falcons: Tait, Radwan (Try 38), Wacokecoke, Matavesi, Sinoti (Try 47), Flood (Cons 5, 19, 38, 72), Stuart; Brocklebank, Maddison, Ah You (Try 18), Barry, Montgomery, Welch, Graham, Nagusa (Try 4). Bench: Blaimire, Davison, Tampin, Robinson, Chick (80), Nordi-Kelemeti, Hodgson (Con 80), Stevenson (Tries 71,77)
Referee: Anthony Woodthorpe.
Star Man: Nemani Nagusa (Falcons)