Hartpury College RFC 30 Esher 19
Coming into the game with three wins from four and fresh from beating fellow pace-setters Fylde, Esher might have expected a win against the league new boys.
But right from the start it was clear that Hartpury were a very different proposition from the team that succumbed so meekly to Richmond a fortnight ago.
The hosts were fielding an exceptionally young side, with Batley, Bartle, Bowden, Griffiths and Safe all products of last season’s successful Under-18 team.
Hartpury, playing with a strong breeze, sizzled at the start and their fired-up forwards won a string of early penalties. The reliable boot of Gareth Thompson quickly had them into a 6-0 lead.
It got even better for the home side after 18 minutes. Good defence frustrated a series of Esher attacks and led to a break-out. Although Esher recovered the ball in their own half, continued pressure from the marauding Hartpury players forced the turn-over, leaving Griffiths with a run-in under the posts.
Esher hit back six minutes later, during a sin-bin for Hartpury lock Fuller. A sustained assault on the Hartpury line led to a penalty try, when Hartpury were judged to have collapsed a maul only a metre out. Chisholm converted make it 13-7.
Hartpury raised the tempo again and Esher were regularly penalised, both at the scrum and in the loose. Indeed, Esher were beginning to look a little ragged in the face of some aggressive play from the hosts.
Esher’s transgressions meant that Thompson, kicking beautifully, was able to increase the margin, with three further successes before the break. 22-7 at half time.
The visitors would now have the use of the breeze and the question in Hartpury minds was “Is the lead big enough”?
And Esher did close the gap with 50 minutes gone. Good work from the forwards created the position and winger Spencer Sutherland scrambled over on the blind side. Chisholm did well to add the extras from wide out.
However, if Hartpury felt any pressure at this stage, they did not show it. With kicking being a poor option in the conditions, they largely kept the ball in hand and were happy to play the phases, gaining territory and running down the clock.
Another Thompson penalty, after Esher handled in a ruck, nudged Hartpury further ahead on 54 minutes.
As the game progressed, Hartpury continued to win the forward battle. With six minutes to go, a catch and drive was finished off by Will Tanner and, although Thompson hit the post with the conversion, his only miss of the match, the game was effectively won.
Esher did grab a very late try, again through Sutherland who somehow burrowed over, but it was not enough to save the game or even produce a bonus point.
This was undoubtedly Hartpury’s best performance of the season so far. They refused to be over-awed by an established League 1 club and whilst there were few instances of the flowing back-play we have come to expect, the sheer intensity of the performance made them excellent value for the win.
Next week Hartpury, currently 7th in the table, welcome Fylde who lie 3rd, in what will be another fascinating test for the developing College side.
Hartpury would like to thank Esher for an excellent match and we look forward to the return fixture in January 2015.
Hartpury: 15 Reynolds, 14 Carter, 13 Griffiths, 12 Jackson, 11 O’Meara, 10 G Thompson, 9 Ellis, 1 Merrey, 2 Fortey, 3 W Thompson, 4 Bartle, 5 Fuller, 6 Batley, 7 Bowden, 8 Stratford.
Bench: 16 Tanner, 17 Brockett, 18 Safe, 19 Burton, 20 Boulton
Esher: 15 Chisholm, 14 Wright, 13 Richards, 12 Brown, 11 Sutherland, 10 Cheeseman, 9 A Garner, 1 Millard, 2 Sweeney, 3 Zeiss, 4 Gentles, 5 Drye, 6 Walker, 7 J Garner, 8 Collins
Bench: 16 Simmons, 17 McMahon, 18 Synnott, 19 Bedford, 20 Shaw
Referee: Veryan Boscawen
Tries Griffiths 18, Tanner 74
Penalties Thompson (6) 3, 11, 27, 31, 40, 54
Cons Thompson 18
Tries Penalty 24, Sutherland (2) 50, 79
Cons Chisholm (2) 24, 50