Hartpury have now played 25 games this season without defeat, scoring 1214 points and are confirmed as champions of National League 1. One of their supporters was heard to say as this was announced, “next season we play Bristol”. But he was also heard to mutter under his breath “watch what you wish for”.
Certainly, Hartpury have stars at this level. No 6, Jake Polledri, is moving up a side to the Gloucester first team squad next season. Right wing, Mat Prothero, named Man of the Match and pocketing four unstoppable tries, has both pace and grace as he left OAs standing or grasping at thin air. Three of his tries came in the first half out of the six amassed by Hartpury. Chillingly, the home side achieved their bonus point after just eighteen minutes of play despite the OA pack executing a powerful pushover try to add some balance to the scoreboard, and overall scored nine tries to the visitors’ three.
But gradually the one-way traffic abated as OAs fought with pride for the pushover, touched down by hooker Matt Miles and run-in tries by winger James Pritchard and No 10 Zac Vinnicombe. Neither side went for penalty kicks at goal and so the match was a breathless end-to-end affair.
There was also a period of some twelve minutes during the second half (which OAs led 0:7 for a full twenty-four minutes) with OAs camped on the Hartpury line. In one sense this was mightily impressive as a number of yellow cards were issued to desperate Hartpury defenders, but the opportunity was wasted by kicking to touch at each of the three penalties awarded during that period and catastrophic as Hartpury No 4, Joe Batley, eventually intercepted a sloppy pass and ran his considerable tonnage from 70 metres away to score to the delirium of the home side supporters.
The overall impression remains of the home side able to create openings and to exercise maximum pressure on their opponents when possession is lost. This was highlighted when Andrew Daish came on as substitute and began to wrest breakdown ball back from Hartpury; but by then the scoreboard had already affected its lop-sided appearance.
So, this was no disgrace to lose by such an unflattering margin as OAs battled hard right up to the final whistle. To argue that the referee could and should have awarded a penalty try for three offences on the home side’s line and thereby negate Batley’s score is neither here nor there; the overall margin would still have greatly favoured the home side.
OLD ALBANIANS: Palmer, Pritchard, Burgess, Bednall, Hearle, Vinnicombe, Gliksten, Boggis, Miles, Garside, Hamilton, Lunnon, Johnson ©, Billows, Tuilagi.
SUBS: Walliker, Hughes, Daish, Daley, Bickle.