Hartpury Under-18s rugby team continued to make history in the RFU AASE competition by storming to their seventh successive final victory and maintaining their phenomenal record of being the only team ever to have lifted the trophy.
Seven tries in the 39-12 victory over Bicton College at Allianz Park were just reward for a performance that included the anticipated moments of magic plus a not a little application of grit and determination. The final scoreline was harsh on Bicton though, who made their opponents work hard for long periods of the match.
For the first 50 minutes or so, Bicton used their forwards well, winning phase after phase and, on occasion, driving Hartpury backwards in the loose. But defence has become something of an artform at Hartpury and whenever the Gloucestershire side won good ball, they had the weapons outside to take full advantage.
Hartpury crossed the Bicton line three times in the first half, which represented a clinical return from relatively few periods of pressure in the Devonian 22.
The first try came early, Robbie Forbes’ perfectly judged cross-field kick landing in the arms of wing Rhys Tudor, who finished strongly.
Ten minutes later, the lead was extended when centre Robbie Smith, receiving the ball 35 metres out from the try line, cut back inside and beat the cover for a fine individual try. Forbes added the conversion for 12-0.
However the score kick-started a purple patch for Bicton. Building up a head of stream, they spent the next 15 minutes on the front foot and it was not until the closing minutes of the half that Hartpury were able to break out and create some pressure of their own.
They launched a series of drives towards the Bicton line and eventually battered their way over through powerful hooker Jorden Liney. Forbes’ conversion attempt struck the post from wide out, but 17 points was a useful half-time advantage.
The second half was still young when the lead was enhanced. Indeed, there had just been time for Bicton second row Groves to collect a yellow card before Harry Randall made the challengers pay. The quicksilver scrum-half was the outstanding player on display and his footwork killed the defence as he danced through tackles from 25 metres out.
Again, Bicton responded well and they got some compensation when their own scrum-half, Joe Snow, showed pace and determination to puncture the Hartpury defence in the corner.
But by now the Hartpury engine was ticking over nicely. First, Robbie Smith made big ground through midfield with another pacy break and moments later the ball went wider still, to wing Harry Robinson. He had plenty to do, but a pair of strong fends gave him the impetus to burst through the last-ditch tackles to touch down.
Man of the match Randall picked up a second try as the game entered its final 10 minutes, nipping over after a quick ‘tap and go’ from five metres.
Hartpury’s forwards had worked tremendously hard all evening, firstly to meet the Bicton challenge and latterly to supply good ball for the runners behind. It was fitting therefore, that the final Hartpury try came from number eight Morgan Morris, who had put in as big a shift as anyone, typically bulldozing over in the closing minutes.
There was still time for Bicton to pick up a further score moments later, latching on to a loose Hartpury pass as they attacked from their own 22, but there was no question over where the trophy was going – home!
Skipper Ceri Silvester duly got his hands on the prize and once again it was time to reflect on the remarkable achievement of another unbeaten AASE season and an astonishing, ongoing record of success.