Hartpury comeback not enough to defeat Canterbury
Canterbury staged an extraordinary second half comeback to recover from a 26-point half-time deficit and claim maximum points at high-flying Hartpury College.
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Hartpury had the four-try bonus point and seemingly the result wrapped up at the interval against a Canterbury side forced to play the first seven minutes of the second half with 13 men after two yellow cards.
But a tremendous display of fortitude from the visitors, who scored two tries during those seven minutes, helped them salvage an unlikely victory and deal a devastating blow to Hartpury's promotion chances.
Chris Fortey gave Hartpury the lead on eight minutes with a try at the back of a driving maul, converted by Craig Jackson.
Jackson extended the hosts' advantage midway through the first half when he latched on to Tim Stevenson's inviting pass in the shadow of the posts and added the conversion.
Ian Clark rounded his opposite number to grab a converted third, before Sam Raven secured the bonus point in the last play of the period after intense pressure that saw Canterbury back-rowers Jesse Liston and Wim Baars sin-binned in quick succession.
The visitors, who had lost October's reverse fixture 41-7, rang the changes at the interval by replacing two-thirds of a front row that had been dominated in the scrum in the first half and repeatedly fallen foul of referee David Procter.
One of those replacements, Neil Wakefield, helped himself to a try just 37 seconds after the restart following strong carries from Tom Sherson and Aiden Moss, improved by Scott Browne from out wide.
That score provided a glimmer of hope, which became more genuine six minutes later when patient phase-play allowed David Devlin-Jones to crash over in a corner, with Browne converting again.
Jackson slotted a simple penalty to provide brief respite for a reeling Hartpury, but Baars and Peter Marshall burrowed over for seven-pointers within three minutes of each other to take the visitors to within a score.
As a buoyant Canterbury turned the screw, the home side lost Will Graulich and Callum O'Connell to the sin bin in an uncanny resemblance to their opponents' fortunes in the first half.
That inspired Hartpury to finally show the defensive resolve that had been lacking for such long periods, and they appeared to have survived when they cleared their lines following a knock-on inches from the whitewash. But the visitors were not to be denied, and a breakdown infringement from the subsequent lineout allowed Tom Best to strike the penalty that completed a truly incredible turnaround a minute from time.
Hartpury : S Marsden; S Reynolds, C Jackson, S Rodwell, I Clark; T Stevenson (L Cozens 67), B Field (C Stuart-Smith 41); J Gibbons, C Fortey (C O'Connell 67), C Thorne (R Cano 58); W Graulich, S Raven; J Head (B Walker 58), G Mills, N Thomas.
Canterbury: M Beaumont; A Moss, D Devlin-Jones, A Veale, M Melford; S Browne (T Best 60), P Marshall; J Green (M Livesey 68), S Rogers (N Wakefield 41), S Goode (R McLeod 41); B Massey, T Sherson; J Liston, P Kelly, W Baars. Unused replacement: J Del Val. Referee: David Procter (RFU)