Fanolua fires up Hartpury
GLOUCESTER legend Terry Fanolua made his first appearance in English rugby since 2006 as a blitz of three tries in four second-half minutes helped Hartpury to a convincing victory over fellow high-fliers Southend.
Despite the home side grabbing their first try after only 49 seconds, the first half was evenly contested and Hartpury led by only six points after 52 minutes.
But tries in quick succession from Sam Pitchford, Steph Reynolds and Reuben Haile, in addition to a virtuoso display off the bench by Fanolua, ensured that the hosts ran away with the match in the final quarter.
Hartpury, hurting after the last-minute defeat at Launceston in the previous round, made the perfect start and winger Jaike Carter crossed inside a minute, with Billy Burns slotting the conversion. Hartpury doubled their tally just six minutes later when Steve Leonard broke through to release Ben Vellacott for a touchdown near the posts.
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Southend's Todd Bailey capped a series of driving mauls with five points to provide some respite, but the Essex side found themselves 21-5 down within seconds as referee Philip Davies deemed a deliberate knock-on punishable by a penalty try.
The seesaw battle continued and Sam Nash went over for the visitors on 18 minutes after Hartpury allowed Chris Vaughan's long kick to bounce.
Vaughan and Burns both missed shots on goal as the half concluded without further score, before centre Nash danced through three tackles to complete a brace at the start of the second period.
Billy Burns struck another penalty to grant Hartpury some breathing space, but the turning point came when a fracas developed following Pitchford's close-range score, the outcome of which saw Southend scrum half Lee Sandberg yellow-carded.
With the bonus point secured, Hartpury called upon 29-cap Samoa international Fanolua and the 39-year-old made an immediate impact as his glorious long-range pass set Reynolds clear.
Haile then raced home on the left from the kick-off as the hosts stepped up a gear, with the bullish carries of the irrepressible and fit-looking Fanolua representing a particularly sizeable thorn in Southend's side.
The visitors still asked questions of their opponents as they scrapped for a four-try bonus point of their own, only to be met by an unyielding Hartpury defensive shield that had been lacking at times in the earlier exchanges.
And it was Hartpury who had the last laugh as debuting lock Simon Linsell bagged a double in the final two minutes.
The first try came after a number of phases on the Southend try line, with Linsell squeezing through a gap to ground at full stretch.
Scottish duo Craig Jackson and Vellacott then combined superbly from the subsequent restart to slice Southend open, with the former popping the ball up off the floor for the arriving Linsell to dive over and claim the try.
Hartpury: S Reynolds; R Haile, S Leonard, C Jackson, J Carter (T Fanolua 56); B Burns (M Spencer 62), B Vellacott; R Cano (A Clarey 78), C Fortey (W Tanner 58), W Thompson; W Waldron, S Linsell; A Chesters, A Woodburn (K Frowen 58), S Pitchford
Southend: M Billings; D Cleare, A Harrison, S Nash, T Gannon (H Branch 55); C Vaughan, L Sandberg (V Morris 65); T Bailey (J Fardell 58), M Bloomberg, M Guess; D Legge, M Crawford (S Fombo 54); H Hudson, A Ferrier (D Ox 58), J Kellard
Referee: Philip Davies (RFU)