Reading’s Rugby Union 1st XV claimed the university’s first ever win on Hartpury soil on Wednesday afternoon with a tremendous bonus point 24-17 win. Whilst Reading had beaten Hartpury on two of their past three meetings, the Berkshire side had yet to take anything away from Gloucester in living memory. However, fresh off a good pre-season win against Brunel the week before, a young and exciting side made the journey to the west country with high spirits.
Reading kicked off with a strong wind behind their backs, a wind which was to be a major factor during the 80 minutes. Immediately, Reading piled on the pressure, and some excellent handling and tactical kicking kept Hartpury pinned in their own 22 for the first 20 minutes.
After some clinical lineout work, the ball was spun out to the backs, where captain Seb Lear crashed through the centre of the defence, to dive under the posts to claim his 2nd try in as many games. After Toby Spark had added the extras, Reading were straight back into the Hartpury half, and some impressive phase play led to hooker Dan Neal to crash over to score on his league debut.
This relentless pressure continued from the Berkshire side, in a 25 minute period which head coach Mike Tewkesbury described as the best he had ever seen a Reading side play. However, it was clear, that with the wind behind their backs, Reading needed to take as many points as possible from the first half, and the points continued to roll in with centre Ethan Wright burning around the Hartpury defence to touch down and take 17-0 lead.
This was a wake up call for Hartpury, who finally gathered some possession, and through their enormous back row, brought the score back to 17-7 with their first meaningful attack of the game, to go into half time with the momentum and now the wind on their backs.
As the second half kicked off, it was clear Hartpury now had their tales up, and it was the Gloucestershire side who were now dominating possession and territory. Two quickfire tries from the impressive Hartpury backs brought the score back to 17-17, and Reading felt the game slipping away from them.
However some wise substitutions from coach Mike Tewkesbury then breathed life back into the Reading side, and with Hartpury down to 14 men for an infringement at the break down, Reading began to rediscover their form from the first half. The referee was allowing a fast and expansive game, and as tiredness crept in, so did the gaps in defence.
A great break from debutant Harith Shalash got Reading into the opposition 22, and some slick hands out wide led to club president Quentin Batterbury touching down to the delight of the small travelling contingent. Replacement Ollie Mann cooly slotted over the conversion from out wide, giving Reading a 24-17 lead with eight minutes to go. Some desperate defence then followed as Hartpury rallied, desperate to get themselves at least a draw, but the Reading line held firm, and relief spread as the final whistle blew, and gave the away side a historic bonus point victory.
Reading were significantly improved at the break-down and defence, and a session last Monday night with James Haskell had certainly helped. To come away from Hartpury with five points is a great return from three weeks of hard pre-season, and Reading will look to back-up this performance in their next Premier South B fixture at home to Cardiff 2’s next Wednesday.