Hartpury remain undefeated in the AASE League Northern Conference after a nail biting victory over a plucky and determined Moulton College.
The match was certainly not as pulsating as the score line implies, with neither side able to seize control of an error-strewn affair. However, many more performances like this from Hartpury are sure to see their unbeaten record removed before long.
They will be pleased to have won, but had Moulton retained their discipline at the breakdown, particularly in the second half, the home team may not have landed on the positive side of the result, and they would not have had cause to complain if they had done so.
To Moultons credit, they exhibited a master class in spoiling opposition attacks, denying Hartpury clean, quick ball at every opportunity and, consequently, they earned a deserved two points from the game.
Hartpury made two changes to the starting lineup from the win over Oaklands College two weeks previously, one in personnel and one positional. Returning Wales number eight Gareth Evans was put straight back into the team after a foot injury, with Dan Hull shifting across the back row to blindside flanker and Alex Woodburn dropping to the bench.
The hosts started as brightly as the sunshine in the sky, with Ian Clark picking up a loose ball and haring into Moultons 22 in his inimitable style. That particular attack came to nothing, but it gave Hartpury the field position required to open the scoring after six minutes.
From a lineout well inside the Moulton half, the ball found its way to Ryan Mills, who cut his way through the wall of onrushing defenders and sneaked in an offload to the supporting Louis Spencer.
The delighted flanker bashed his way over the try line from close range for a try converted by its architect Mills.
Northampton Saints are putting in some gutsy performances of late, and their associate college, Moulton, showed themselves to be made of the same stuff as they came roaring back at Hartpury.
They found glaring chinks in the home sides armour, which were exploited on several occasions. Only some excellent scrambling defence prevented Moulton from scoring on three separate occasions.
The visitors deservedly took the lead with three quick-fire penalties in a five-minute burst halfway through the half.
Moulton ran the ball back at Hartpury with venom after each restart, refusing to allow their stunned opponents any respite. Hartpurys discipline deserted them as they were penalised three times for breakdown infringements in almost identical positions.
The away teams kicker proved to be frighteningly accurate with the boot, nailing what cannot be described as easy chances, and in the process gave his side a narrow 9-7 advantage.
They seemed to rest on their laurels after nudging themselves in front, and this allowed Hartpury to regain a foothold in the game, and it was only a matter of a few minutes before the latter recaptured the lead.
Captain Mills showed the class that makes him an England international, as again he received the ball from a scrum inside the opponents 22 and weaved his way through their despairing ranks for an unconverted try.
The hosts looked set to go into the interval in front, perhaps fortuitously, but the ding-dong battle continued as Moulton struck back again controversially a minute before the break.
A maul from a lineout saw a mass of bodies collapse over the line with the visitors hooker in possession. The ball appeared to be grounded onto Louis Spencers leg but the referee awarded a try.
Hartpury players in close proximity protested, but the bottom line was that the Moulton hooker was being congratulated by his jubilant teammates after putting his side 14-12 up. The conversion was missed and so that score line became the half time score.
Immediately after the whistle blew for the second half, the home pack set up a maul, rumbling on twenty metres before being dragged down on the halfway line, giving Mills a difficult chance to put his team back in the ascendency.
He was inches wide with a good effort, but it was the first of three missed shots at goal in five minutes, Mills failing where Moultons kicker had succeeded.
With Hartpury wondering whether it was going to be their day, mistakes began to creep into their game. However, with ten minutes on the second half clock, Rob Langley came up trumps with a trademark lineout steal five metres from the Moulton line.
This set the stage for the ball to be spun wide to winger James Price, who gleefully scampered over from fifteen metres for his first try of the season. Mills rediscovered his kicking boots to put Hartpury 19-14 to the good with a fine conversion.
The hosts set off in pursuit of the all-important fourth try which would guarantee a bonus point, but, in truth, they very rarely looked like breaching the stubborn Moulton rearguard.
In fact, even though it was the visitors turn to neglect their discipline and hence ensure that they were pinned inside their own half, Hartpury shot themselves in the foot and gifted Moulton three points.
A pinpoint up-and-under into the home 22 was chased hard, causing panic amongst the defenders. The ball was knocked on by the catcher and was gathered by a Hartpury player in an offside position, granting the on-form kicker the simplest of chances in front of the posts to make it 19-17. He duly obliged.
Hartpury looked nervous, and when they had opportunities to get in behind their opponents and kill the game off, those nerves showed. Countless times the ball was dropped, thrown forward, kicked unnecessarily and turned over and this gave Moulton great hope.
With just four minutes left, Mills was handed a relatively simple kick to extend Hartpurys lead to five points, but even he felt the pressure as the kick drifted agonisingly to the right of the posts.
Finally, with just two minutes left, home hearts were in mouths as Moulton were awarded a penalty after Hartpury strayed offside. It was a tough shot, ten metres inside the hosts half and on an angle, but with the kicker in such excellent form, many were expecting the kick to sail between the uprights and almost certainly win the game for the visitors.
Incredibly, just when it mattered most, he caught the kick all wrong and it fell well short. It was to prove a costly miss as Hartpury clung on for victory, the relief on all their players and coaches faces evident as the referee blew for time.
Coaches Alan Martinovic and Chris Dewsnap admitted that they were frustrated by the performance but took comfort in the fact that the team is winning despite being capable of much more than what it is currently producing.
"It would be interesting to know how many times we got into their 22 and lost the ball by knocking it on, kicking it away and turning it over, amongst other things," Alan said.
"We weren't as secure in our set piece or as competitive in the breakdown today as we usually are either."
"Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition though. Moulton came to stop us playing and they did that very well. They were excellent in the breakdown. "
"It was one of those days where you cant really explain why the team didn't perform," Chris added.
"The team run yesterday was good, the boys looked sharp. I don't know why it didn't happen for them on the field."
"It is frustrating to watch when you know that they are capable of so much more. Hopefully it will make the team realise what they could do if they play at their best."
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