Hartpury College Junior 1st XV continued their preparations for the 2009-10 season when they competed in the inaugural AASE Colleges Festival, conveniently held at Hartpury, enjoying a good win over Filton College.
The invitation-only Festival, organised by the RFU, sees the associated colleges and schools of the country's top professional clubs come together for a one-day event, and provides a fascinating insight into the prospects of the member teams ahead of the new season.
Nine sides were in attendance, and they were divided into three pools of three, each team playing two games of forty-five minutes in duration.
Hartpury were placed into a pool with local rivals Filton College, who represent Bristol, and Oaklands College, who represent Saracens. With England National Academy coach John Fletcher and other national selectors fascinated spectators, this was much more than just a pre-season tournament.
Hartpury's first match was a mouth-watering clash against Filton, which is always a full-blooded encounter. Filton had looked impressive in dismantling Oaklands College just twenty minutes previously, constantly looking to run the ball from deep and boasting a formidable lineout drive.
However, it was a tall order to play a game against a fresh Hartpury side after just twenty minutes rest, and Hartpury duly showed no mercy, swarming over their jaded opponents like a colony of wasps.
The host's aggressive pack starved Filton of the ball, securing numerous turnovers and lineouts against the throw, with second row Rob Langley outstanding in performing the latter.
Hartpury deservedly opened the scoring after ten minutes when Harry Casson and Nathan Taylor combined to barge their way into the Filton 22-metre line.
A quick recycle saw the ball fly into the grateful hands of Ryan Mills, forced to play out of position at fly half to deputise for the ill Dan Robson, who showed guile when stepping out of a couple of attempted tackles and then strength to force himself over the line from five metres with a Filton player on his back. His conversion put Hartpury 7-0 to the good.
They doubled their advantage just a couple of minutes later in highly controversial circumstances. Filton had achieved a reasonable attacking platform ten metres inside the Hartpury half and endeavoured to spin the ball wide.
After the ball had left the hands of Filton's inside centre, the ball was slapped forward cynically by an opposition hand. However, quite astonishingly, the referee elected to play on and winger Ian Clark pounced upon the loose ball and ran fully sixty metres to score under the posts. Mills had no trouble with the simple conversion.
Hartpury continued to dominate possession, but were hindering their own progress by conceding a string of penalties at the breakdown. Despite this, Mills managed to make the score line a pleasing 17-0 at half time after knocking over a sweetly-struck drop goal from thirty metres.
Filton came out with all guns blazing at the start of the second half and powered their way deep into the oppositions 22. They looked destined to score on several occasions, but some outstanding Hartpury defence kept them at bay.
Finally, against the run of play, a moment of magic put the game out of sight. A long Filton pass twenty metres from the Hartpury line went astray and Clark gathered.
Skipping past one despairing lunge, he embarked upon a monstrous eighty-metre dash, in which he breezed past another four attempted tackles, with just millimetres of space between him and the touchline, before dotting down for his second and Hartpurys third try fifteen metres infield.
Ryan Mills added the extra points that the try deserved to put Hartpury twenty-four points clear.
The men from Bristol did grab a converted try back with five minutes to go when their fullback gave the tired Hartpury defence the slip, but it was the hosts who had the last laugh when England hooker Will Tanner barged over for a converted try of his own, to give Hartpury a very satisfactory 31-7 victory.
The standard of the game was excellent for an U18's fixture and has highlighted the success of the AASE scheme in conjunction with Gloucester Rugby Club.
Phil Greenaway, Gloucester's assistant academy manager explained:
"We are finally starting to see the scheme bear fruit. All the hard work that has gone into getting the scheme to this point has meant that these boys receive 1st class, coaching, conditioning and education."
"The development of the AASE league provides a playing standard beyond anything else available to U18's in the country and can only benefit players coming through our academy systems."
"This is the preferred route for our academy scholars as it exposes them to a hugely professional environment on a daily basis."
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