Clifton pay the price for errors as Hartpury seal an opening-day win
CLIFTON director of rugby Darren Lloyd blamed poor decision-making and handling errors for his sides home defeat to Hartpury College, but was pleased by the way his side stuck to their task.
He said: "We didn't start too well, and we were under a bit of pressure early on.
"When we did have possession in the first half, we took the wrong options, and our line-out in general was poor.
"But Hartpury are practically full-time professionals, and I thought we did well to stay with them.
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"We were much better in the second half, and I thought we played some good rugby. Had a few things gone our way today, we might have sneaked it at the end, but we've managed to pick up a losing bonus-point, which we didn't do in our opening game last season.
"Hartpury are among the favourites to win this league, and we ran them pretty close, which is very encouraging."
The students took the lead after 15-minutes when fly-half Billy Burns slotted a penalty after previously missing two straight-forward attempts from in front of goal.
The visitors dominated the opening half-hour, and it looked like Clifton were in for a torrid afternoon, as Hartpury monopolised field position and possession.
The home side also had to contend with losing Bristol loan signing George Biagi, who was forced off after 20-minutes with a shoulder injury.
But it was Clifton who scored the opening try of the game on 28-minutes.
Hartpury pressed deep in the Clifton 22 and looked as though they would score out wide on the left, but a loose pass allowed wing George Karayannis to nip in and intercept, and sprint towards the visitors line. Karayannis was hauled down inches from the line by Hartpury wing Reuben Haile.
But he still managed to pop the ball up to the supporting Will Pomphrey, who dived in at the corner for a try. Fly-half Ben Roberts converted from the touch-line to make it 7-3 to the home side. Hartpury responded with a try from a driving line-out from lock Sam Raven, which went unconverted, to give the visitors a one-point advantage at the turnaround.
Clifton improved in the second half with wing Sam Smith making several probing runs in his stand out performance.
And there was an intriguing battle at the scrum, where former Bristol team-mates Will Davis (Clifton) and Darren Crompton (Hartpury), locked horns, with the impressive Davis coming out on top.
Visiting centre Craig Jackson nudged over a penalty on 41-minutes, after Clifton were offside from the second-half re-start.
Hartpury extended their advantage when Graham Spiers dotted down out wide on the left after Clifton had over-thrown a line-out over on the right flank.
But the home side battled back to within bonus-point range when Roberts kicked a penalty in the 80th minute.
Clifton ended the game in the ascendancy, but were unable to finish off their opportunities.