Rosslyn Park 26 – Hartpury College 18
Hartpury College failed to ignite in a fixture which saw them visit one of the powerhouses of National League 1.
The progress that Hartpury have made so far this season could be measured by the levels of disappointment which were palpable in the visiting camp at the final whistle.
Twice last season Hartpury were comfortably seen off by the Londoners but, after a shaky start, they will feel that they should have left Roehampton with at least something from yesterday’s game.
That they did not, resulted from a failure to impose themselves on the Rosslyn Park forwards and a lack of accuracy with the ball in hand.
Park play on a newly-laid synthetic pitch which provided an excellent surface, although the teams did have to contend with a strong wind, blowing diagonally across the playing area.
Hartpury’s ranks were bolstered by the returns of Mat Protheroe, playing at full-back, and flanker Dan Thomas. Rhys Oakley moved into lock, with George Evans at Number 8 and Jaike Polledri switching back to blindside. Jamie Forrester replaced the absent George Boulton in the centre.
The opening quarter was dominated by Park, who took full advantage of a hesitant start from the visitors.
As early as the second minute the College were carved wide open. Impressive winger Mark Kohler made good ground after being released by Henderson. He was stopped short but the defence was nowhere when quickly recycled ball saw big lock Inglis in acres of space, his pass giving winger Dave Vincent a simple finish.
Park, eager to put recent defeats to Blaydon and Loughborough behind them, sensed the opportunity and continued to push hard.
Hartpury conceded a string of penalties at the breakdown and it was to be expected that referee Meredith would lose patience.
The students eventually lost the services of prop Mike Flook, as he saw yellow, and they paid an even bigger price two minutes later. A powerful Park drive was stopped on the line, illegally according to Mr Meredith, and the penalty try was awarded.
Hartpury had to respond and, as is so often the case, scrum half Ben Vellacott was the man to make things happen. He looked sharper than most and his quick thinking with a tap penalty had Park back-pedalling. The hosts were lucky to stay at full strength themselves after killing the ball in front of their posts – Evans nailed the kick to get Hartpury on the scoreboard.
Following another Evans penalty minutes later, Hartpury were again made to pay yet again for their indiscretions.
Park broke out and won a scrum put-in close to the Hartpury line. They got the initial shove and Mr Meredith clearly saw something he didn’t like, as he was quick to award the second penalty try of the match.
With half-time approaching, Vellacott again made deep inroads into Park territory and, on this occasion, lock Joe Dancer was excellent in support. He still had work to do, but showed good pace and tenacity to finish near to the posts.
With the score 19-13, Hartpury were very much within touching distance and, with the wind marginally in their favour after the break, might have expected to overhaul their hosts in the time remaining.
But they failed to make any impression and lost ground again early in the final quarter. Their fringe defence was poor as Park winger Kohler made good ground from a breakdown near half-way.
He was eventually dragged down, but tackles were missed again in the next phase as centre Matt Hawke was able to score under the posts.
Steve Leonard did hit back, with a powerful finish from a rare example of the high-tempo play we have come to expect from Hartpury this season, but Park were generally allowed to dictate the pace of the game until the finish.
There was still time for Park Number 8, Hugo Ellis, to see his late yellow card upgraded to a red, presumably for some ill-chosen words as he departed, but the celebrations at the final whistle were evidence of how much this game had meant to Park.
Hartpury, who slip to second, must now re-group before their visit to new league leaders Richmond next Saturday.
Richmond won comfortably at Loughborough Students (17-31) whilst Esher stayed in close touch with the lead by virtue of a 5-39 victory at Henley Hawks. Blackheath and Fylde produced the outstanding scoreline of the day as they fought out a draw, 34-34.
At the foot of the table, our neighbours Cinderford did themselves a power of good with a narrow home win over Blaydon although Wharfedale could not produce a similar result in atrocious conditions against visitors Plymouth, Albion winning 9-12.
Ampthill put a stop to their recent slide with a narrow 22-21 defeat of Ionians, but Coventry’s recent revival come to an end as they went down 29-21 at Mowden Park.
We would like to thank Rosslyn Park for their excellent hospitality and look forward to their visit to Gloucestershire in the spring.
Rosslyn Park: Field, Kohler, Henderson, Hawke, Vincent, Whelan, Cash ; Lilley, Bellamy, Chawatama, Inglis, Bowley, MacFarlane, Shires , Ellis
Bench: Gleave, Elrington, Milne, Broadbent, Herron
Hartpury: Protheroe, Neal, Leonard, Forrester, Mikalcius, L Evans, Vellacott, Flook, Tanner, Brockett, Oakley, Dancer, Polledri, Thomas, G Evans
Bench: Taylor, Barron, W Thompson, Pape, G Thompson
Park Tries Vincent 2, Penalty 12, Penalty 32, Hawke 73
Cons Whelan 13, 33, 73
Hartpury Tries Dancer 39, Leonard 77
Con Evans 40
Pens Evans 23, 27
Referee Mr J Meredith