After a heart-breaking trip to Twickenham with the BUCS 1 team, Loughborough travelled to Hartpury to lighten up the African violet spirits with a win. But even after a strong performance where Loughborough bodies were put firmly on the line, a late Hartpury try stole that chance of a National League One win.
The game got underway with a lot of toing and froing. Loughborough would make some ground only to lose the ball and for Hartpury to make an attack of their own. Neither team could break through the others’ defence for sometime but it was eventually the home side who took the first blood. Hartpury’s Rory Bartle took the first points of the match, crossing the line after the home side won a line out inside Loughborough’s 22, finding a way past John Short to go over in the corner. Gareth Thompson’s conversion for Hartpury was just wide but the hosts look the lead 5-0.
Hartpury made a strong attack on Loughborough’s defence but were stopped just short by a forward pass. Jack Wardle took a hard hit during Loughborough’s defence of this attack and was removed from the pitch with suspected concussion, Will Millett coming on in his place. Just a few minutes later, after some strong attacking play from Loughborough, Jack Pons received a yellow card for foul play. Down to 14 men Loughborough had to spread their defence as Hartpury made another attack. This defence held and eventually Loughborough regained the ball, Henry Taylor booting it down the pitch to take the pressure off Loughborough’s defensive line. Just seconds later Ben Pons collected one of Hartpury’s long ranging passes and made some good metres up the pitch before he was caught. The disparity in team members did not last much longer, however, as Hartpury’s loosehead prop James Gibbons was not long behind Pons heading to the sin bin. With the teams now even, the game settled down again to the two teams pushing each other’s defence before losing the ball and being forced to defend themselves. The game remained this way until half time, the only score on the board being Bartle’s try.
After the half time break, Hartpury looked to extend their lead and were awarded a kickable penalty just a few minutes in. Thompson lined up again and split the uprights, taking the score to 8-0. Immediately Loughborough were on the attack. A whole team effort saw Ben Pons collect the ball on the wing and come round to dot down under the posts. Will Millett knocked the conversion over and brought the scores within one point, now 8-7.
Hartpury, uncomfortable with only a one point led, pushed forwards in their attack. A line out on the halfway line was collected cleanly and quickly whipped out to the wing. Scrum-half Ben Vellacott, squeezed past Loughborough’s last man out wide and crossed the line. Thompson couldn’t add the extras in the windy conditions but the hosts had a more comfortable lead, 13-7.
Loughborough gain some possession and eventually Jack Pons broke through Hartpury’s defence. He teamed up with winger Craig Dowsett to outsmart Hartpury’s fullback with Dowsett eventually getting over. Millett split the uprights with the conversion and Loughborough took the lead, the score now 13-14.
Hartpury attempt to gain some ground but Loughborough, now on the attack, recollected the ball and pushed forwards themselves. Millett found a gap and scampered through to cross the line, he couldn’t convert his own score but Loughborough’s lead was extended, the score now 13-19.
Hartpury were not complacent to let their varsity rivals take the win, however. They strengthened their attack and pushed Loughborough’s defence until Vellacott managed to get over the whitewash again. Centre James Forrester took over kicking duties; he took the conversion well moving the score to 20-19 and regaining his team the lead.
The remaining minutes of the match played out in a back and forth motion. Loughborough were desperate to score again while Hartpury were desperate to keep their opponents out, in the end the latter prevailed and the score stayed as it was, the game finishing at 20-19.
Director of rugby, Dave Morris, had a few words for us after a difficult weekend of rugby for Loughborough:
“It’s been very tough. Obviously, there’s real ambition amongst the group so to have won the BUCS Championship with our BUCS 1 team, which is our second team, and then to come and beat Hartpury here on a really good run of form at their place, was obviously what we wanted to do. We’ve fallen short on both but I think it would be fair to say that we’ve fallen short on both with some pretty small margins. It’s pretty painful for everyone involved at the moment but as Director of rugby and observing the group and when I talk about that I mean the support staff and the players and the way that everyone has conducted themselves and the effort that they’ve put in I can’t say anything else except that although the results haven’t gone our way, I’m extremely proud. There’s a lot of good work which reflects exactly what Loughborough is about and I don’t want the fact that we haven’t got two wins to detract from the development that’s going on in the program at the moment. We set out a two day project to stick together as a group for the two games and the boys really bought into that and been fantastic, so it’s a real shame about the outcome and results but there’s a lot to be proud of. It will take a while, I think, for everyone to mourn the fact that we haven’t got the wins.”
Elizabeth Tyler, Label Sports Editor