Hartpury fell short of the standards they had set themselves last week, in this disappointing defeat at Nottingham. A second-half recovery was not quite enough to undo the damage, frequently self-inflicted, in a below par first period.
One bright spot was the performance of back row forward Harry Short. In his first Championship start – and only his second appearance – he took his personal tally for the season to four tries and put in another good all round display.
Hartpury had a calamitous start when winger Sam Goatley up-ended Nottingham full-back Jack Stapley while the latter was in the air collecting a JB Bruzulier box kick. The fact that there was an element of misfortune in the collision was about the only thing that prevented yellow becoming red and Hartpury were down to 14 men within 30 seconds of the kick-off.
If that was a moment of generosity from the referee, it was all that Hartpury were about to get, as stream of penalties kept them under pressure for much of the half.
However, Nottingham needed no help with the first try after winger Joe Browning had made a huge inroad into Hartpury territory. Nottingham hooker Jake Farnworth was twice the link man, as Karl Kirwan opened the scoring in only the second minute.
To continue Hartpury’s ill-fortune, centre Charlie Foley took a head-knock in the build-up – subsequently failing an HIA – meaning that a re-shuffle was needed, with Tommy Mathews coming on at fly-half and James Williams moving out to 12.
Nottingham’s second score wasn’t long in coming. Hartpury indiscipline was the root cause, Farnworth eventually bundling over from a five-metre line-out.
It took Hartpury more than a quarter of the game before launching their first meaningful attack, but they were lacking the zip and verve of the home team who, in contrast, were looking dangerous on seemingly every possession.
After a Sam Hollingsworth penalty had extended the home lead, it was no great surprise when another Nottingham try arrived, although again it was avoidable.
From the restart, the ball was hoofed back into Hartpury territory and the returning Iain Grieve was unable to gather. Nottingham won the loose ball and, although their handling was far from flawless, Stapley was able to simply step between two would-be tacklers before setting off for the visitor’s 22. Scrum half, John Stronge, was on his shoulder to run in between the sticks for an easy finish.
The only surprise, at this stage, was that this was to be the end of the Nottingham scoring. Hartpury did, finally, steady the ship in the closing minutes of the half, building pressure with a series of attacks for which their reward was a single Williams penalty.
22-3 at half-time. If there were two elements of hope for Hartpury, they were that, one, it could not get much worse and, two, that Nottingham had contrived to give up a similar lead at Richmond in the previous round. They almost did it again.
Hartpury, making changes, were purposeful after the break and they got a try on the board after 46 minutes, when Short finished a drive for the first of his brace.
Nottingham were starting to look like a spent force and the Red & Blacks were now dominating possession. There was still frustration in the performance, however, as they failed to convert this into clear-cut chances.
It was not until the 77th minute that Short grabbed his second, in similar circumstances.
Hartpury had a couple of minutes to rescue the losing bonus point and, to their credit, they managed it. With Nottingham giving up penalties at the same rate as Hartpury had earlier in the game, a late line-out ended with replacement hooker Luke Stratford smashing his way over.
Hartpury will reflect that this was a game that they could definitely have had more than a single point from, had they shown anything like the levels of discipline and control that they had against Pirates a week earlier.
We now await the visit of Coventry, under the lights, on Friday 8th October at 7.45pm.