Evan Mitchell wasted no time in staking his claim for Coventry Rugby’s no.10 shirt by scoring 15 points in his club’s Premiership Rugby Cup win at Hartpury.
The home-grown 21-year-old was handed his first start of the season in the wake of Pat Pellegrini’s World Cup call-up for Tonga and went on to orchestrate an impressive 19-35 bonus point win which pushes the unbeaten blue-and-whites towards quarter-final qualification.
Mitchell added a foot-perfect five-from-five return from the kicking tee to his first-half try as impressive Cov broke a six-match losing run at Hartpury’s Alpas Arena to move into second place in Pool A behind Gloucester.
It took just six minutes for Cov to open the scoring through centre Lucas Titherington who connected with Will Chudley to finish a well-executed set play from a lineout.
After Mitchell added the extras, in near perfect sunny conditions the visitors had a clear edge early on and their forwards soon got within a whisker of the posts.
Despite the home defence initially holding firm, Mitchell nipped round Hartpury hooker Ethan Hunt to stretch and score before doubling Cov’s lead with the conversion.
Alex Rae’s team looked certain to stretch their lead five minutes before the break when a scrum led to a cross-field break which left Chudley and Will Wand with the try-line gaping only for play to be halted for a forward pass.
Hartpury then lost a good scoring opportunity when Harry Short and Ethan Hunt broke from a line-out only for referee Jonathan Cook to again spot a forward pass.
Cov extended their lead to 21 points three minutes into the second-half when a cross-field break from a scrum ended with blindside Patrick Ryan twisting past the last defender to dot down a score which Mitchell improved.
This left the visitors with a firm grip on the game but a series of errors meant they were unable to extend their lead despite being camped in Hartpury’s half for large spells.
But eventually this pressure told as Chudley’s over-the-top chip fell perfectly for prolific wing Ryan Hutler who ran in Cov’s bonus point try on the hour-mark – again converted by Mitchell.
When Hartpury finally came to life in the final quarter, blindside flanker Harry Short found a gap from a line-out to dive over for a try which Chamberlain converted.
And better soon followed for the hosts as they were awarded a penalty try after Cov full back Louis James was adjudged to have illegally prevented scrum-half Oscar Lennon from grounding his own chip ahead.
James was duly dispatched to the sin-bin with seven minutes remaining but despite being a man down, Coventry continued to play some fantastic running rugby.
Mitchell and Hutler both made progress with ball in hand before a break by debutant back-rower Chester Owen set-up Hutler who sliced between two defenders to continue his amazing start to the season.
The home-side had the last word when hooker Will Crane was driven over to claim his team’s third try from the final play.
Hartpury: Morgan (Ward 15, Mathews 42), S Smith, R Smith, Tarling, Denty, Chamberlain, Lennon (O Randall 75); Benz-Solomon (Sims 70), Hunt (Crane 62), Rees (Gibson 43), Cobbett, Davies (Rice 57), Lewis, Short, Hayler (Duncan 18)
Coventry: James; Hutler, Wand (Rigg 53), Titherington (Betteridge 70), Wilson; Mitchell, Chudley (Ogden 62); Chilvers (Trinder 40), Poole (Biggs 62), Andrews (Salt 57); Tyas, G Smith (Nkwocha 53); Ryan, Ball, Bartlett (Owen 62)
Referee: Jonathan Cook
Half-time: 0 – 14
Tries: Short 63, penalty try 73, Crane 79
Conversions: Chamberlain 64
Tries: Titherington 6, Mitchell 25, Ryan 43, Hutler 60, 76
Conversions: Mitchell 7, 26, 44, 61, 77