Hartpury College RFC 50 – Darlington Mowden Park 7
After scoring seven tries at Henley in their previous outing, Hartpury went one better when Mowden Park came to the College at the weekend. The result, Hartpury’s seventh successive win, ensured that top spot in National One was retained for at least another week…
Other than a scruffy patch mid-way through the second half with the result already beyond doubt, this was an impressive performance from the College side, arguably the best of the season so far.
The foundations were laid in the first quarter, when the visitors hardly got a sniff of the ball, and were based on the rock solid contribution of a forward pack that was dominant throughout.
The DMP scrum found itself in trouble early in the contest, despite looking to have a weight advantage over its youthful opposition, and four lost scrums over the course of the match tells its own story.
Meanwhile, the line-out was an equal source of joy for the hosts, with Joe Dancer, Tom MacDonald and Will Safe ruling the skies, aided by some pinpoint accuracy from hooker Will Tanner and his replacement, Nathan Taylor.
Park’s line-out, under pressure from Hartpury’s effective spoilers, was less impressive and the decision to play Simon Uzokwe - normally a prop - at hooker, was reversed as early as the 24th minute after the home team had regularly snaffled DMP ball.
Not to be left out, Hartpury’s loose trio had a field day. Dan Thomas, making his first appearance of the season, was everywhere whilst Jake Polledri’s trademark carries repeatedly tied up three or four Mowden Park defenders. Number 8 Safe was his usual industrious self, his overall performance capped by a second-half try and reminding us why he is in the England Under-20 Elite Player Squad.
The College started with a pace and intensity that had their visitors immediately on the back foot. Enjoying the platform provided, half backs Robbie Shaw and Billy Burns – also making his first Hartpury start for some time – were able to vary the play between punchy forward drives and sweeping back-line moves.
Despite an uncharacteristic penalty miss by Gareth Thompson early on, the hosts were ahead after 10 minutes of incessant pressure. A DMP line-out deep in their own 22 was overthrown and Thomas was quick to latch onto the loose ball. Two or three thumping drives later and lock Tom MacDonald was receiving the congratulations after bundling over close to the posts.
Even when DMP did break out, it ended up in a Hartpury score. A penalty kicked to touch brought an attacking line-out which their jumpers got hands to – however the possession was untidy and Dan Thomas was again sharp to capitalise for the turnover.
The ball was fed to winger Kai Little, quickly in support, and he set off on a 70 metre run to the Park line, skipping out of a cover tackle on the way (pictured).
To their credit, Park then defended successfully for 20 minutes despite their on-going worries at the set piece.
In the 34th minute, however, Hartpury would not be denied as they scored their best try of the match. A series of concerted attacks, forwards and backs combining, stretched the DMP defence in every direction. Sensing the opportunity, Elliot Creed made the telling break in the outside centre channel and his pass gave powerful winger Jonas Mikalcius the invitation to add to his four tries from last weekend.
The bonus point was secured before the break when Burns spiralled a penalty into touch about 10 metres short of the try line. The driven line-out did the rest, prop Tim Brockett also adding to his recent scoring exploits.
Whatever was said to Park at half time clearly had little effect as the College were quickly back on the scoreboard after the break, Thomas’s off-load finding the excellent Joe Dancer in support.
With the game in the bag and changes being made, Hartpury then appeared to lose their way, much of the focus and intensity going out of their game. Will Safe was an exception to this and his persistence brought him a reward in the 50th minute when, bursting infield from a Hartpury line-out and clearly being held around the neck, he stayed on his feet long enough to get over the line and down for the try.
Jake Polledri needlessly saw yellow for a transgression at the breakdown and Park finally mustered a head of steam. Replacement Callum Mackenzie capped a short period of pressure by punching his way over for a try converted by Law.
Into the closing minutes and Hartpury showed good resolve to shake off their indifferent spell and get back to business. More forward drives, with Thomas prominent, had Park pinned on their own line and Tom MacDonald was on hand once again to apply the finishing muscle.
Shortly before the final whistle, George Boulton added himself to the scoresheet when he latched onto a delicate grubber from Thompson to squeeze over in the corner.
So, with eight tries scored and good performances all round, there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful after the match. The only dark clouds were a potentially serious-looking knee injury to Kai Little mid-way through the second half (we wish him a speedy recovery) and the scrappy spell around the hour mark.
One eye should also be kept on the penalty count – 16 were conceded in a match in which the hosts were rarely under pressure and another team, on another day, might have made Hartpury pay.
One of the clubs with the capability to do that is Blackheath, currently second in the table, and they are Hartpury’s up-coming opponents, in London, after next weekend’s break. Like Hartpury, Blackheath are unbeaten since a defeat in Yorkshire in their first game of the season, so everything points to a nail-biter when we visit Rectory Field on November 7th.
Hartpury: G Thompson (Cons 11, 14, 41, 50, 75), K Little (Try 14), E Creed, G Boulton (Try 78), J Mikalcius (Try 34), B Burns, R Shaw; M Flook, W Tanner, T Brockett (Try 39), T MacDonald (Tries 10, 75), J Dancer (Try 41), J Polledri, D Thomas, W Safe (Try 50)
Bench: A Barron, A Clarey, N Taylor, J Voss, J Forrester
Darlington Mowden Park: J Barnard, P Homan, T Appleton, B Frankland, M Tait, G Law (Con 55), M Walsh; I Darkintis, S Uzokwe, R Appleby, T Salmon, T Jubb, J Redfern, L Petillo, A Bone
Bench: T Harrison, R Duff, J Maud, C MacKenzie (Try 55), M Connon
Referee Ben Blain