Ampthill Director of Rugby Mark Lavery revealed how Paul Turner’s half-time talk lit a fire in his side to pull off a sensational 43-41 comeback against Hartpury in a thrilling Dillingham Park ding-dong.
The home side was behind from the first to the 79th minute before captain Louis Grimoldby provided the winning touch from a penalty.
Seven tries were shared in the first half before Syd Blackmore’s brace, Will Brown’s solo effort and Billy Johnson’s jump for the line kept Ampthill in contention for the steal.
Lavery said: “Hartpury are a good side and they will punish you if you give them an opportunity. Boy did we give them some opportunities! Certainly, what Paul Turner said to them at halftime made a difference. He clanged into them about paying no attention to training, no transference and to take a long hard look at ourselves.”
“When they scored the fifth try, you could see Hartpury think the job’s done. But one thing about this group is there’s a lot of passion and a never-say-die attitude. The bench were good when they came on. Once we got to composure and structure and played in the right area, Hartpury found it hard to contain us. We definitely needed a win – we’ve already lost one at Dillingham Park and that’s one too many – so we’ll take the five points and reset.”
The scoring started with just 40 seconds on the clock, Robbie Smith weaving through Ampthill’s defence to feed Luke Eves before James Williams converted.
It was a double blow for the home side too as Jeremy To’a injured his leg in defence.
But Lavery’s men had their own score eight minutes later when Alex Humfrey and Joe Bercis’ quick hands saw Joe Roberts kick down the line for Will Foster to chase and score his first of the season.
Grimoldby could not find the posts, though, to keep Hartpury ahead – and Jonny Law failed to spot Ehize Ehizode chasing down his box kick at the restart, with the second row carrying over the line for a 4-14 lead.
Seven more points were added by the visitors on 15 minutes, with Will Flinn’s bouncing pass picked up by Will Safe and put into Morgan Monks for his first Hartpury try, Williams again converting.
But Ampthill cut the gap again four minutes later, Blackmore commanding a split of the university team’s pack to pounce, Grimoldby hitting the mark for the extras.
While an error at the breakdown gave Hartpury three points from a penalty, the ole rugby was out at Dillingham Park.
Brown worked excellently to intercept Wil Partington’s attack before Law chipped over and Tom Hudson raced Ampthill’s third try in – against his former side.
The first half – yep, it’s still only 30 minutes in – would end badly for the home side, though, as Charlie Beckett and Llewelyn Jones went to the sin bin.
While Lavery’s men defended bravely, they were broken four minutes later as swift hands saw Partington kick through for Jack Johnson, Williams giving Hartpury a 19-31 lead and bonus point.
John Barnes’ side came out of the restart firing, captain Will Crane finishing a maul despite Ampthill being back to 15 men.
Once again, a Hartpury attack brought a double blow to Ampthill as Hudson was injured following a tackle on Ehizode two minutes earlier.
But the home side did not give in, despite being 19-38 down with 30 minutes to go, as Blackmore again finished a maul with Grimoldby converting.
And Brown pulled off a ‘Try of the Season’ contender eight minutes later, charging down Law’s kick in a race with Championship top-scorer Ben Foley and kicking out of Lewis Holsey’s grasp to score.
Lady Luck seemed to be smiling on Ampthill on the hour when a Williams penalty smacked off the left post and back into play.
Williams’ second attempt hit the mark to cross the 40-point barrier four minutes later, leading Hartpury to believe five points were secure.
But Billy Johnson had something to say about it, diving over the line in a defensive gap as Grimoldby converted to make it a one-point game.
And when Williams made an offside tackle in the 79th minute, the visitor’s day came crashing down as he was sent off and Ampthill awarded a penalty.
Just 20 metres out, it was never in doubt – unlike the rest of the match – as the captain slotted the three points for victory at Dillingham Park.
While Lavery was encouraged, he sent a warning to his Ampthill side ahead of traveling to Cornish Pirates next Saturday (24 April).
“If we give Pirates those sort of easy scores, it’ll be a long day. We gave Doncaster the game, we were in the Coventry game with five mins to go. But what this does is give us the opportunity to start looking up.”
“We have a game in hand on those around us and we have to do something with it. We’re not there by a long chalk but there were signs that, with a little more structure and accuracy, we can probably cause one or two upsets.”
Tries: Foster 8, Blackmore 19, 50, Hudson 25, Brown 58, Johnson 72
Cons: Grimoldby 20, 26, 51, 59, 73
Pens: Grimoldby 79
Sin Bins: Beckett 30, Jones 31
Team (15-9/1-8): Hudson (Bennett 42); Brown, Roberts, To’a (Hallett 2), Foster; Grimoldby ©, Law; Jack (Crean 67), Blackmore (Ward 55), Wainwright (Lutui 55); Beckett, Jones; Humfrey, Bercis (Arthur 60), Stonham (Johnson B 57)
Substitutes not used: Bryan
Tries: Eves 1, Ehizode 10, Monks 15, Johnson 34, Crane 44
Cons: Williams 2, 11, 16, 35, 45
Pens: Williams 22, 77
Sin Bins: Waters
Red Cards: Williams 78
Team (15-9/1-8): Partington; Johnson J (Foley 55), Smith R, Eves, Smith S (Bragman 75); Williams, Flinn (Waters 60); Holsey (Porter 67), Crane © (Selway 60), Knight (Challenger 67); Ehizode (Clark 70), Lemon; Safe, Clementson (Wilson 57), Monks
Penalties conceded: 13-11
Line outs won: 7-11
Line outs lost: 4-5
Scrums won: 0-3
Scrums lost: 0-0
Sin Bins: 2-0
Red Cards: 0-1
Referee: Mike Hudson
Star Man: Syd Blackmore – Ampthill