Hartpury’s first XV claimed a BUCS Championship semi-final spot with a comprehensive 38-14 victory at home over Durham University yesterday.
Holders Hartpury set up a clash with last year’s beaten finalists Leeds Beckett University, who beat Bath University in their quarter-final.
Welcoming Durham University to the West Country, Hartpury started the game looking to capatilise on a stiff breeze at their backs.
In the early exchanges, nerves seemed to have the upper hand, with both teams struggling to settle. Only a long distance kick at goal from the Hartpury fly-half that struck the crossbar threatened the scoreboard.
The game sparked into life on 10 minutes when winger Alex O’Meara ran the ball back from the halfway line off a loose Durham clearance kick.
Weaving his way up to the 22-metre line, he popped the ball up to supporting captain George Boulton, who was pulled down just short. Quick ball from the resulting ruck enabled Thompson to throw a long pass that found second row Rob Fuller in acres of space to run in. Thompson added the extras.
Providing impetus for Hartpury, the score spurred them on to double their lead minutes later. A Durham dropped ball close to the touchline deep into Hartpury territory was picked up by Boulton.
With no cover at home for Durham, his well-weighted long kick invited full-back Alex Brown to easily win the race to dot down. Thompson again provided the conversion.
A response did come from the northerners on 25 minutes when sustained pressure on the Hartpury line resulted in Durham’s flanker crashing over after taking a neat inside line off his outside-half, who duly added the extras.
Using the wind to get deep into Durham territory, Hartpury responded to their defensive blip by looking to increase their lead further.
With a penalty awarded, a stab in the dark cross-kick was fumbled by the Durham winger before O’Meara pounced on the loose ball to touch down. Thompson supplied the extras to make it 21-7.
Moments before the break, Hartpury held out an initial Durham surge on their own line, winning a penalty to relieve pressure.
Having had previous trouble at the line-out, an overthrown Hartpury line-out was picked off by Durham, who released their backs to break the midfield and score through their winger. The try brought an erratic first half to an end, leaving the half-time score at 21-14.
Playing into the wind in the second half, Hartpury came out with a clear mindset to keep possession of the ball and, in the process, looked a far more efficient team.
Buoyed by the home crowd, Hartpury moved the play swiftly to either touchline, allowing Brown to grab his second try, cutting the line at pace and wriggling over in the corner. Thompson’s conversion struck the post from wide out.
Brown’s involvement in the game was not over, proving instrumental in Hartpury’s next try. Gathering a clearance kick, Brown carried the ball up to the defensive line and chipped the rushing defence.
Reclaiming his own kick, he carried deep into Durham’s half before offloading to replacement winger Mark Harrison, who crossed the line unopposed in the corner.
With 10 minutes to go, despite being in complete control, handling errors starting to creep back into Hartpury’s game.
However, they completed their points tally through a powerful driving maul from close range, flanker Kyle Frowen putting the finishing touches to the score. The extras were added from out wide by Thompson to take the final score to 38-14.
Captain George Boulton said: “After a wavering first-half performance, we were obviously very happy to produce a solid win against a team such as Durham and progress into the semi-finals.
“However, as a team, we are fully aware there are areas of our game that we need to work hard on in training if we are going to go to Leeds Beckett and win.
“Going up north is going to be a tough task, but taking the positives from this win, we firmly believe we can go up to Leeds and get the right result.”