Hartpury were, for the fourth time this season, second-best to an impressive Cornish Pirates when the two met at the Gillman’s Ground on Saturday.
In a game that was dominated by a strong wind scouring the length of the field, it was Pirates who used the elements better to build a commanding 33-5 lead by the break.
As hard as Hartpury worked in the second half, they had left themselves with far too much to do and had to settle for a single four-try bonus point.
That was disappointing outcome for the hosts who were looking to build on a run of three successive Championship home wins and who were able to name which looked, on paper, to be up to the task.
Although Mike Daniels and Will Safe were missing from the team that had beaten London Scottish the week before, they were replaced by the experience of Rupert Harden and Iain Grieve respectively.
Hartpury did, in fact start brightly when Mike Wilcox put a kick deep into Pirates territory to engineer an attacking lineout. The drive was good and it was Grieve who emerged with the ball.
But that was as good as it got for the Red & Blacks into the wind, as the rest of the half belonged to the Pirates. Hartpury did little to help themselves by conceding a stream of unnecessary penalties to hand both initiative and field position to their opponents.
Full credit is due to the Pirates, who were playing with a level of energy and efficiency that Hartpury were unable to match. They were pragmatic in their approach and clinical when the scoring the scoring opportunities arose.
And arise they did, at regular intervals throughout the half. Hartpury old boy, Matt Evans, grabbed the first coming in from his wing to join a 14-man lineout drive after Hartpury had given up a penalty.
Lock Ross Caulfield was next to score, again from a lineout, after some good interplay between the Cornish pack and then, after Hartpury had taken a ball against the feed at a scrum, a clearing kick was blown backwards by the wind and hooker Sam Matavesi was on hand to score under the posts.
By this stage, Hartpury were starting to look ragged and the Pirates’ bonus point came in the 35th minute when, with Hartpury down to fourteen men after a yellow card to Alex Craig, Number 8 Tom Duncan scored off the back of an attacking scrum.
Hartpury did put some phases together as the half drew to a close, but it was symptomatic of their performance when a penalty for holding on was tapped and run back by the visitors, flanker John Stevens finishing the long-range attack.
With the elements now in their favour, Hartpury did enjoy a better second half and worked hard to try and get themselves back into the game.
Mike Wilcox crossed in the corner after an interchange of passes with wing-forward Rob Langley, but Pirates quickly responded when some adventurous back play eventually created a try for another Hartpury alumni, Alex O’Meara.
Darrel Dyer was industrious throughout the game for the Red & Blacks and he capped a good personal performance by driving over in the 57th minute, but again Pirates were quick to hit back through Duncan’s second a few minutes later.
Harry Randall was typically busy and worked hard to try and keep Hartpury on the front foot. A quickly tapped penalty had the visiting defence at full stretch and it was replacement winger George Boulton who finished well to earn the bonus point.
Ultimately, however, for all their second half possession Hartpury had left themselves with far too much to do and Pirates were able to successfully withstand further pressure to finish as comfortable winners.
With four games remaining, Hartpury next travel to Richmond before finishing with fixtures against the league’s current top three teams, Bedford, Ealing and Bristol.
Hartpury: Wilcox (Try 47), Perkins, Bedlow, Eves, Hudson, Perry, Randall; Murphy, Dawidiuk, Harden, Craig, Quinn, Grieve (Try 5), Langley, Dyer (Try 57). Bench: Stratford, Flook, Knight, Oakley, Hinkley, Cochrane, Boulton (Try 66).
Pirates: Moyle, O’Meara (Try 50), Koster, De Battista, Evans (Try 9), L May (Cons 17, 26, 36, 40, 63), Day; Walker, Matavesi (Try 25), Judge, Caulfield (Try 16), Beukeboom, Lawday, Stevens (Try 39), Duncan (Tries 35, 62). Bench: Paver, Andrew, Freeman, Morgan, Lee, Pope, T May
Referee: Fergus Kirby