Two Richmond tries in the final three minutes, including a score with the very last play of the game, were enough to snatch this game away from a Hartpury team which had dominated for long periods.
The satisfaction taken from a much-improved performance after last week’s poor effort against the Pirates, will be over-shadowed by the disappointment of losing the game in such circumstances, although credit has to go to Richmond for their composure in the final, frantic phases of the match.
Despite leaden skies, conditions were perfect with a generally firm and well-grassed suface and hardly a breath of wind.
Hartpury had a set-back in the warm-up, with hooker Darren Dawidiuk forced to withdraw from the game, although in the returning Will Tanner they had a perfect replacement ready to step in to the starting line-up, Will Crane taking his place on the bench.
Otherwise, the side was similar to that which had faced the Cornishmen the week before, although James Williams was back to replace the injured Jacob Perry and there were changes on both wings where George Boulton and Ed Coulson were given opportunities.
The game started well for Hartpury who were on top from the early stages. They were ahead as early as the 4th minute when a penalty was kicked deep into Richmond territory and the lineout drive did the rest.
It was the late stand-in Tanner who got the final touch, playing his first game for a month and he was on the scoresheet again, barely more than 10 minutes later.
Hartpury were pouring forward at every opportunity and, when Richmond were penalised in their attempts to stem the flow, Harry Randall was quick to tap and go against a stretched defence. His forwards were in close support and it was the hooker who was able to stretch out for the try (pictured).
Richmond were struggling to establish any attacking momentum, but they did get a breakthrough early in the second quarter when Rob Kirby picked a good line off first phase to streak through some flat-footed Hartpury defence.
One issue that has dogged Hartpury in their debut season in the Championship has been an inability to convert pressure into points. That was never more evident than in the closing stages of the half as phase after phase in and around the home 22 yielded nothing more than a single Mike Wilcox penalty.
To add insult to injury, Hartpury then gave away an unnecessary penalty in their own half as the whistle drew closer. Richmond got the drive on from the resulting lineout and Ross Grimstone collected their second try. For all their dominance, therefore, Hartpury had just a one point plead, 15-14, at the break.
The second half started with play mainly between the 22s, although Hartpury still had the upper hand in terms of both territory and possession. They were benefiting from a rock-steady set-piece, while Richmond were occasionally struggling to secure their own lineout.
Another Hartpury penalty was kicked deep by Williams after 52 minutes. Although the lineout was overthrown, Rob Langley was first to the bouncing ball. He powered on and, after the ball was recycled, lock Alex Craig was able to stretch out for his team’s third try.
Into the final quarter and Richmond, opening up now in their search for a breakthrough, were finally starting to look threatening will the ball in hand. Even so, Hartpury, defending well, appeared to have weathered the storm until the final few minutes.
When the previously admirable Darrel Dyer followed Tanner into the sin-bin, the Red & Blacks were briefly reduced to 13 men and were having to scramble in defence against the strong Richmond running, with Jono Woodward in particular causing problems.
The breakthrough finally came when flanker Jesse Liston was good in support and his try made it a one-point game, following Kirby’s conversion. Richmond roared back straight from the re-start to re-apply the pressure and, after a period of almost unbearable tension, had the composure to work the ball wide for Ronnie McLean to dive into the corner.
Hartpury now get a week off before three difficult closing games against Bedford, Ealing and Bristol – the current Championship top three.
Richmond: Kirby (Try 23, Cons 24, 40, 79, 80), Woodward, Mitchell, McLean (Try 80), Simpson-Hefft, Damant, Jones; Cunnew, Grimstone (Try 40), Trennier, Warden, Davies, Liston (Try 78), Allcock, Parker. Bench: Phipps, Goodrick-Clarke, Crawford, Gibbs, Hudson, Saysell, Tarrant.
Hartpury: Wilcox (Cons 17, 53 Pen 38), Boulton, Bedlow, Eves, Coulson, Williams, Randall; Murphy, Tanner (Tries 4, 16), Harden, Oakley, Craig (Try 52), Grieve, Langley, Dyer. Bench: Crane, Flook, Knight, Quinn, Hinkley, Cochrane, Sheldon
Referee: John Meredith