FOURTEEN points from the boot of Billy Burns helped Hartpury College overcome a first-half red card and end Cambridge’s unbeaten start to the season.
Hartpury’s coaching staff rang the changes, some enforced by illness, injury and the retirement of Sam Raven, after the limp display against Clifton last week, with only seven survivors from that match in the starting line-up.
Their plans were seemingly left in tatters, however, when Dave McKee was replaced with a nasty gash to the knee after six minutes and Ellis Genge was sent off only 18 minutes later for biting Joe Collingham.
But the college, by that stage boasting a team with an average age of 20, demonstrated tremendous spirit in defence and quality in attack to seal a thoroughly deserved second victory of the campaign.
Jim Wigglesworth and Burns traded penalties in a stop-start opening quarter-of-an-hour that saw Cambridge’s Martin Wolfenden suffer a serious leg injury and McKee prone for lengthy treatment.
The game sprung into life when young back rower Genge, who is dual-registered with Bristol, was dismissed, referee Matthew O’Grady wasting no time in brandishing the red card.
Cambridge unsurprisingly began to take control of proceedings while a stunned Hartpury came to terms with Genge’s loss and an eerie hush settled around the ground.
The home side were resilient, however, and kept the visitors comfortably at bay. Wigglesworth’s second penalty was the only further punishment inflicted.
Hartpury continued to offer a significant threat in attack, particularly through their outstanding centre pairing of George Boulton and Craig Jackson, and Burns slotted a penalty on the half-time whistle to restore parity.
The hosts dominated after the restart, with Burns, Jaike Carter and Tim Stevenson becoming increasingly influential on the counterattack.
The turning point soon arrived when visiting openside Jethro Rawling’s sin-binning on the hour following a number of infringements deep inside Cambridge territory made it 14-a-side.
From the resultant scrum-five, the Hartpury pack drove their counterparts back and earned a penalty try, converted by Burns.
Burns then added two more vital penalties in the space of four minutes to edge his side closer to the finish line, before Collingham’s late seven-pointer after several phases in the 22 ,grabbed a losing bonus point for Cambridge.
Hartpury: B Burns; M Harrison, C Jackson, G Boulton, J Carter; T Stevenson, M Spencer (B Vellacott 49); J Gibbons, C Fortey (W Tanner 49), W Thompson; D McKee (T MacDonald 6), S Pitchford; E Genge, A Woodburn (K Frowen 60), L Ludlow. Not used: J Litchfield
Cambridge: J Wigglesworth; M Gillick, A Portsmouth, J Green, DLR Veenendaal; J Stokes (J Husband 46-49, 56), R Kevan (J Daly 60); J Ford-Robinson, J Palmer, W Allard (T Jones 35-41, 50); M Wolfenden (J Collingham 3), O Marriott (B Brownlie 70); R Conquest, J Rawling, G McComb
Referee: Matthew O’Grady (RFU)