Three first-half tries were enough to set up Hartpury’s first-ever win in the Greene King IPA Championship, but not before Titans had closed to within a point in a battling second half display.
Hartpury resumed control of the match in the closing 15 minutes and added a bonus point try to put the result beyond doubt.
Bright, breezy conditions made a welcome change from the rain of the two opening rounds. The visitors enjoyed the opportunity to move the ball around, while the back three had a much happier time under the high ball than in the previous game against Jersey.
Hartpury came into the game little changed from the Jersey experience, with Iain Grieve making his first start of the season at Number 8, while skipper Rhys Oakley shuffled into the second row in place of the absent Alex Craig.
Titans had made five changes from the side heavily beaten at Doncaster last time out. Skipper Tom Calladine and wing Drew Cheshire were both appearing against their former college.
The opening was cagey as it took some time for the teams, both winless in the season so far, to find their feet.
Flanker Rob Langley did signal his intention with a strong break early on, but it was the Titans who opened the scoring in the 13th minute, Lee Millar slotting the first of four successful kicks as Hartpury infringed in front of their own posts.
Langley, outstanding on the day, was back in business shortly after, making another powerful run before eventually being dragged down a couple of metres short. Hartpury were quick to recycle the ball and scrum-half Harry Randall spotted a gap in Rotherham’s fringe defence to open the visitors’ account.
Jacob Perry converted the try and was close minutes later when his penalty struck a post and bounced away, but that was a temporary reprieve for the home side as Hartpury scored again before the half-hour. The field position was created by some strong play from the forwards, with Langley again prominent.
Randall probed on the heels of his pack and this time he had Elias Caven on hand to finish strongly, breaking a tackle as he crossed for his second try of the season.
Millar closed the gap with another simple penalty before Langley was involved, yet again, in making Hartpury’s third. The former Nottingham and Plymouth back-row man, who had previously played for Hartpury as a student, made good ground down the left before feeding Harry Cochrane, who had the pace to give Hartpury a 19-6 lead at the break.
Hartpury looked dangerous from the restart when Mike Wilcox fielded the kick-off before making big inroads into Titans territory, but it was Rotherham who had the better of the third quarter.
Flanker Adam Peters drove over for the hosts after a period of pressure, although a Perry penalty kept Hartpury noses more than a converted try clear.
However, a yellow card for experienced prop Rupert Harden – tackling a man without the ball – proved costly. Millar kicked the penalty resulting from Harden’s offence and then winger Jake Henry finished strongly against an over-stretched Hartpury defence.
At that point the score had closed up to 21-22 and, with momentum seemingly shifting to the home team, there was a danger that Hartpury were about to give up their third half time lead in succession.
But the visitors, restored to full strength, not only regathered their composure, but finished the game as the stronger side. Into the final 10 minutes and they laid siege to the Titans’ line, with Langley, Darrel Dyer and replacement prop Tom Heard all carrying well. And it was student Heard who eventually burrowed over from close range, James Williams’ conversion taking the Red & Blacks back out to an eight point lead.
The relief was obvious and Williams was on target again, three minutes before the end, after more forward power had drawn a penalty from the home defence.
The result moves Hartpury closer to the middle of the early-season Championship table, although it leaves Titans still looking for their first point of any kind. Next week sees another Yorkshire-based opponent, as Carnegie are the visitors to the Gillman’s Ground in what promises to be another tough challenge for the Championship new-boys.
Rotherham: Thomas, Henry (Try 63), L Peters, Barker, Cheshire, Millar (Con 45, Pens 13, 30, 53), Davies; T Williams, Cole, Shields, Lasis, Hodge, A Peters (Try 44), Calladine, Grange. Replacements: Murphy, T Williams, Foster, Burns, Vieira, Foley, Loizias
Hartpury: Wilcox, Cochrane (Try 32), Carpenter, Eves, Caven (Try 27), Perry (Cons 17, 28. Pen 51), Randall (Try 16); Murphy, Tanner, Harden, Edwards, Oakley, Langley, Gilbert, Grieve. Replacements: Stratford, Flook, Heard (Try 73), Quinn, Dyer, Williams (Con 74 Pen 77), Boulton
Referee: J Makepeace