Club dig deep but can’t halt Hartpury’s party
Not their most serene performance of the campaign, but a comprehensive victory nonetheless to give Hartpury their record breaking thirty wins from thirty matches.
At times during this contest the champions demonstrated just why they have won this league at a canter with five of matches to spare with some outstanding back play orchestrated by the excellent Adam Hastings at fly-half, allied to searing pace from their back three of Maliq Holden, Harry Cochrane and Jonas Mikalcius who collectively scored six of Hartpury’s seven tries, and the latter of whom had a hat-trick in the bag on the half-hour to take his season tally to 36.
Nevertheless, after a dismal run which has seen Blackheath claim just one win in ten matches, the hosts can be pleased with a display that, while never likely to win, restricted their visitors from cutting loose.
‘After some disappointing results it was good to see the boys turn up and put in a great team performance,’ said Club director of rugby Colin Ridgway.
‘Hartpury are a good side and played with lots of confidence, but I thought we controlled the game for periods and, but for two or three soft tries given away, might have run them much closer.’
Indeed, Blackheath had the best of the first ten minutes which culminated in Mark Cooke putting them ahead with a penalty for holding on, but straight from the re-start the ball found its way to Mikalcius to sprint away unopposed for the first try.
His second score came as Hastings chipped towards the left corner and, with Blackheath losing possession in midfield, Holden came up from full-back to put the left-wing away for a third and a 19-3 advantage.
However, despite an impressive ability to create space and execute opportunities from almost nothing, Hartpury were far from having a monopoly on territory and possession. Crisp passing from Simon Whatling in his final game of competitive rugby and, once again, out of position at scrum-half, allied to some decent kicking from Cooke, kept Blackheath on the front foot for much of the time, and as field position was claimed from a penalty, a neat line-out move saw Tom Baldwin across for a try.
Hartpury inside-centre Luke Eves touched down as the visitors drove from a throw at the far end, Hastings adding the third of his four successful conversions, but Blackheath responded again as another penalty found touch and the Club pack stormed forward for Chris Walker to score, leaving the hosts just nine points in arrears at the break.
Nevertheless, any thoughts during the interval of a dramatic turnaround were quickly extinguished as, within 30 seconds of the re-start, Cochrane found space on the right flank. Hastings timed his pass to perfection for Holden to score on the hour and with Cochrane, having moved from wing to scrum-half, touching down on the blind-side of a five-metre scrum, Hartpury began to stretch out. But the biggest cheers of the afternoon were reserved for Dan Hamilton who tracked down Mikalcius, denying the wing a fourth score, and Mike Mvelase who grounded a cross field kick for a consolation try at the death.
‘We’ve had some real challenges around selection issues over the past weeks,’ concluded Ridgway.
‘Some players have had step up a level, and others play out of position, but the boys put in a fantastic effort today and showed a lot of spirit. They did us proud.’
Tries: Baldwin, Walker, Mvelase
Conv: Cooke 2
Tries: Mikalcius 3, Eves, Cochrane 2, Holden
Conv: Hastings 4
15 Mike Mvelase
14 Tom Chapman
13 Markus Burcham – Capt
12 Alex Pickersgill
11 Dan Hamilton
10 Mark Cooke
9 Simon Whatling
1 Aston Croall
2 Harry Fry
3 George Baker
4 Devin Montgomery
5 Tom Stradwick
6 Chris Walker
7 Jesse Liston
8 Tom Baldwin
16 Chris Shorter
17 George Cave
18 Freddie Owen
19 Jake Bedding
20 Tom Dowding