Hartpury's first-half dominance over Redruth is decisive
at the Recreation Ground
Redruth director of rugby Adrian Edwards was the first to admit his men were beaten by a better side after Saturday's 26-19 National League Two South defeat at home to Hartpury College.
This was the Reds' first loss at the Recreation Ground all season and it took an outstanding performance from the Students to accomplish such a rare feat.
Hartpury matched Redruth and more all over the pitch, stifling the home side and forcing uncharacteristic errors on the way to a 21-0 lead in the opening half.
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The positives for Edwards came as his side fought off a growing sense of disenchantment to finish within seven points following scores from Lewis Vinnicombe and Murray Westren as well as a penalty try.
Edwards said: "They were really good and played some great rugby – a really good team. At 21-0 down, it could have got worse but we came back and could have got something else.
"The spirit from our guys was tremendous and we will take a lot of positives from the game as well."
The size of the challenge was immediately apparent. While the Reds cut through Lydney at will the previous week, three minutes of toil in possession yielded little or no territory against Hartpury early on and the otherwise excellent Darren Jacques was then penalised for not releasing the ball.
The situation was hardly helped when centre Steve Evans was forced off with a knee problem, forcing a reshuffle in the back line with Westren's introduction. Unsurprisingly, a period of pressure ensued with Hartpury's catch-and-drive coming within a metre of the try line only for Reds to turn the ball over and clear.
Harpury were not to be denied, however, and scored the first points – a penalty kicked through the posts by full-back Craig Jackson. They extended that lead with a try in the 15th minute when flanker Liam Wilkinson went over in the left corner for a Jackson-converted score.
Jackson then added a try of his own three minutes later, dotting down a grubber kick in the opposite corner, this time without the conversion.
A better spell from Redruth might have yielded points against a lesser side, but Hartpury absorbed it all and maximised every opportunity – whether it be a favourable bounce of the ball, a refereeing decision or a home mistake – with clinical efficiency.
Even as they came under pressure, rare breaks into Reds territory drew another two infringements and Jackson took the chance to extend his side's lead to 21 points with his second and third penalty kicks at goal.
It needed some resolve, inspiration, ingenuity and, possibly some luck, to bring Reds back into the game. It came from scrum-half Greg Goodfellow, who exploited a rare bit of space to break, following a Jacques turnover, from his own half.
Goodfellow's pacy and elusive running got him past the bulk of Hartpury's defence and he found Vinnicombe, with a pass that could easily have been judged as going forward, to put the centre through for a try under the posts, converted by Paul Thirlby, which lifted spirits in the Rec just before half time.
The first points of the second were always going to be crucial with momentum seemingly in the Reds' favour for the first time in the match. But it was Hartpury who got them through Wilkinson, running in his second try in similar fashion to his first.
The introduction of top-scorer Tom Duncan into the back row lifted the home side once more and they applied pressure again. Several scrums were halted illegally by Hartpury deep in their own 22 and referee Dean Richards eventually lost patience, awarding Redruth a penalty try which Thirlby converted.
However, Hartpury's mental strength impressed as much as their technical ability throughout. There was no panic despite the Reds' stirring fight back. They even maintained impressive poise after yellow cards for Chris Fortey and Dylan Rodrigues in the latter stages.
Redruth could never be faulted for effort and pulled one final score back through Westren to earn a losing bonus point but their eventual defeat now means their hopes for promotion recede, especially with a hugely testing away trip to Canterbury ahead next weekend.