Unable to capitalise on their form from two earlier-season league victories over Hartpury, the Blue and Gold of the University of Bath slipped to BUCS Super Rugby semi-final despair in Gloucestershire on Wednesday evening.
In truth the 37-27 victory for Hartpury, playing at home, was deserved and founded largely on a consummate first-half in which their battling attack got the upper hand.
The Gloucester-based player-scholars had also done their defensive homework allowing them to repel Bath’s trademark line-out drive three times in they only bright spell of the first period for the visitors.
Bath battled in the second half and came within a score of levelling, with the opposition down to 13 men and only six minutes on the clock, only to give away a late penalty away and with it any chance of reaching Twickenham.
Aaron James, Head of Rugby said: “We’re obviously disappointed for a lot of reasons but at the end of the day I think they controlled our driven maul really well. And we gave away too many penalties although we got close at times, too”.
Bath Captain Alex Burrage added: “This is a tough one to take for the boys. I thought we performed well especially in the second half and got a bit of a momentum shift but Hartpury put in a great performance and starved us of a lot of possession”.
The Fulkers-sponsored Blue & Gold, who are also supported by MJ Church, had fallen at this stage on the Road to Twickenham during the past two seasons, including a narrow defeat at Hartpury in 2017.
Team Bath started the game quite slowly, with Hartpury seeming to win the territorial battle through some intelligent kicking. The first chance of the match came in the 6thminute when Hartpury were awarded a kickable penalty, however fly half Nathan Chamberlain pushed it just wide.
Despite Bath’s best effort to keep Hartpury at bay for the opening 15 minutes, Angus Southon managed to crash over the line after some superb phase play. Chamberlain added the extras to give the home side a 7-0 lead.
Bath looked dangerous when they finally managed to get their hands on the ball and a clever kick from Will Partington put the home team on the back foot, giving Bath their first real attacking platform of the half. However, the pressure from Bath didn’t last long and Hartpury quickly took control of the game once more.
The home team continued to look dangerous and found themselves knocking on the door of the Bath try line once more. Some courageous Bath defence and a number of Hartpury handling errors deprived the home team from scoring a second.
However, Hartpury were rewarded for their prolonged period of pressure as they were awarded a penalty in front of the sticks which the Hartpury number 10 comfortably kicked to take the score to 10-0.
The visitors responded immediately through the boot of Will Partington who converted a crucial penalty to make the score 10-3.
Hartpury crossed over for their second of the night when Ervin Muric wonderfully regathered the ball off the back of his own chip and chase with Chamberlain, once again, adding the extras.
On the stroke of half-time, the home side were penalized for not rolling away and with Bath opting to kick for the posts through Partington, the first half finished 17-6.
Bath started the second half the stronger of the two sides, gaining dominant field possession early on. On the 45-minute mark, the big lock Angus Hinton dived over to score Bath’s first of the evening off the back of some dominant carries. Partington’s conversion was successful making the score 17-13.
Just as the game looked to be back in the balance, Muric made a sniping run through the Bath defence and then superbly offloaded to Venner who darted under the sticks to create a simple conversion for Chamberlain.
Not long after, Muric turned from provider into scorer and crossed over for a try himself which was successfully converted to give the home side a 31-13 lead.
With 15 minutes still to play, the game looked to be out of reach but a brilliant line from replacement and Bath Rugby player Miles Reid saw him run under the sticks to give the vocal travelling fans, who arrived by bus-load just as the sun was setting on the Gloucestershire ground, a glimpse of hope. Partington took no time in taking the conversion which made the score 31-20.
Despite an earlier penalty conversion from Chamberlain, Bath started to gain some real momentum. Following two yellow cards for Hartpury, James Hadfield bulldozed over the line off the back of a driving lineout and with Partington converting, Bath looked to be right back in the game with just under 10 minutes to play.
With Bath desperately looking for a try in the dying embers of the match, Hartpury‘s defence remained strong and a late penalty ensured it was the home side who would be travelling to Twickenham to face Leeds Beckett in the BUCS Super Rugby final.
Hartpury starting XV: 15 Jack Johnson, 14 Ervin Muric, 13 Robbie Smith, 12 Joe Margetts, 11 Elias Caven, 10 Nathan Chamberlain, 9 Toby Venner; 1 Luke Boon, 2 Will Biggs, 3 Alex Gibson, 4 Tom Everard, 5 Angus Southon, 6 Will Hopwood, 7 Max Clementson, 8 Harry Wilson. Replacements: 16 Jordon Liney, 17 Oliver Adkins, 18 Nick English, 19 Ben Kellend, 20 Aiden Burnett, 21 Ben George, 22 Dan Cole, 23 Alex Forrester.
Team Bath starting XV:15 Will Partington, 14 Ethan Hutt, 13 Will Hughes, 12 Alex Nisbett, 11 Brandon Bellamin, 10 Alex Burrage (c), 9 Ed Rimmer; 1 Arthur Cordwell, 2 James Hadfield, 3 Austin Hay, 4 Angus Hinton, 5 Jack Davies, 6 Jack Kenningham, 7 Chris Barry, 8 James Catlin. Replacements: 16 Sam Ngeng, 17 Jake Buckingham, 18 Kieran Verden, 19 Adam Thresher, 20 Rhys Davies, 21 Miles Reid, 22 George Wootten, 23 Finn Murphy.