With the Albanians needing only one point to secure first place, second placed Richmond made the pragmatic decision to focus on the play off game against Caldy next week and to rotate the squad significantly for their last league game of the season against Hartpury College. Fielding a side showing twelve changes from the previous week, they will not be unhappy with a 33-19 defeat, which they contested well to the final whistle. For once Richmond had to settle for second best with the set possession and they did well to score three excellent tries from limited ball.
Charlie Perry made his first team debut, Tom Chesters returned after competing in the London Marathon and James Taylor reappeared after a season decimated by injury. On the bench, Craig Nightingale, Rayn Bruce and Pat Crossley each made first team debuts.
With Hartpury fielding a familiar side, Richmond were further tested by playing the first half into a strong wind. From the kick off. the home side dominated possession and Richmond gave away two early penalties under pressure, the second converted by full back Craig Jackson. Two minutes later, the challenge got tougher as Hartpury added their first try. Turnover ball set up the opportunity before a beautifully judged kick was slid through to the corner for Ryan Brende to get first touch.
Facing an early 8-0 deficit, the visitors regrouped well. Having been denied any significant ball in the initial ten minutes, they made good use of their first quality possession, similarly won from a turnover. Working the ball out to the blindside, Richmond gave James Greenwood a half metre of space, from which the winger cut in, kicked through and did very well to outpace the defence to get the touch down. Matt Keville added the conversion.
Using the wind well to ensure territorial domination, Hartpury continued to have the best of the chances and Richmond did not help themselves by conceding penalties. One such offence for hands in the ruck allowed the home side to set up camp deep in the 22, and, from the line out, the forwards drove commandingly forward for prop Chad Thorne to get the touchdown.
Nevertheless, Richmond looked very lively in the loose with the big forwards, James Taylor, Harison Edwards and Juliano Fiori always to the fore and Chesters and Duncan Peters prominent in the backs. A kickable penalty after half an hour was declined in favour of a line out but the move just fell short and possession was lost. However full amends were made in the thirty-third minute, when another penalty was run back at Hartpury and recycled well, creating a small gap on the blindside, very well exploited by the outstanding Taylor, who romped over for a deserved try.
A 13-12 deficit would have been very satisfactory at half time but a polished College side had other ideas and, well as Richmond defended, they could not easily bring down the massive Thorne on the burst and he slipped a good pass inside to flanker Mike Craven, who was supporting well. A half time score of 18-12 reflected an entertaining and skilful first half, with Richmond still very much in the game, given second half wind advantage.
With lock George Merrick replaced at half time by flanker Nightingale, Richmond’s scrum ballast was bound to be further tested by the large Hartpury pack. But a number of players still had points to prove and there was plenty of commendable effort as the visitors strove to get the first score of the second half.
Perhaps a little over ambition was demonstrated in the process as Richmond twice opted to attack from their own 22, rather than use the wind to achieve better territorial platform.
As a result, the opposition were able to use their extra forward weight to keep Richmond pinned back in defence and took full advantage when they worked good ball out to the dangerous Ian Clark. The diminutive winger, who has played for Gloucester this season, showed pace and poise to weave his way to the line past three or four wrong footed defenders.
At 25 -12, the game looked lost and some lengthy injury delays took some of the energy out of the game. Richmond continued to struggle at both scrum and line out but used limited ball to very good effect. Hartpury, keen to establish daylight on the scoreboard, opted to kick a penalty but missed. The crucial score finally came in the sixty-fourth minute when a quick throw in, in defence, resulted in Greenwood receiving man and ball, and, from the breakdown, substitute Ricky Cano was eventually able to get the touchdown.
Commendably, Richmond heads did not drop despite the hosts’ full time conditioning and, after a Jackson penalty, the visitors had the last word with a very good try. Keville, who led the line well, made a half break and, inevitably, Taylor and Fiori were well up in support. When the forward drive was stopped ten metres out, Theo Malthouse ran with great determination to find a tiny gap in the home defence and power over. The final score of 33-19 was fair enough and now focus can really start on the play off game against Caldy. Several players from this last league game will surely come into consideration for the final 22, tasked with nailing down promotion after a wonderful season. Come on, the Mond!
Richmond Director of Rugby Steve Hill commented; ‘I was really proud of how this squad stood up against a very powerful Hartpury team. A number of strong individual performances showed just how determined all today’s players are to feature in the play-off game versus Caldy next Saturday. The success or otherwise is now based on the outcome of our last match of the season. Next Saturday we need to bring our best game to the most important match of the season. I am really excited to see just how well we can play in such a pressured environment.’
Tries: Greenwood, Taylor, Malthouse
Conversions: Keville (2)
Team: T.Chesters, D.Peters (P.Clarke), T.Malthouse, C.Perry, J.Greenwood, M.Keville, T.Drewe (T.Henry), A.Lyon (R.Bruce), J.McCormick-Houston( P.Crossley), T.De Buf, J.Taylor, G.Merrick(C.Nightingale), J.Fiori, H.Edwards, D.Abbott.