London Wild Geese 34
Hartpury could be promoted on Saturday after Gareth Thompson’s last-gasp penalty ensured a remarkable victory over struggling London Irish Wild Geese.
After establishing a 17-5 lead midway through the first half, Hartpury found themselves 34-27 down with a minute on the clock and facing a damaging defeat.
But a penalty try evened up the scores before Thompson showed exceptional nerve to strike the winning points, meaning that Hartpury will be crowned champions if they overcome second-placed Ampthill at home this weekend.
The Wild Geese, playing at their famous Sunbury home for the final time, enjoyed the early pressure and hooker Scott Tolmie powered over for the first try.
The visitors went in front when Thompson converted Will Waldron’s try from a driving lineout.
Irish were then reduced to 14 men as referee Luke Haskins sin-binned captain and prop Michael Fraher for repeated infringements in the scrum.
Hartpury took advantage and Thompson broke clear to set up Mark Harrison with a perfectly-weighted kick, before adding the conversion and a penalty shortly afterwards.
But Irish hit back ahead of the interval as exciting London Irish Academy prospect Tom Fowlie bowled over Terry Fanolua, a man more than twice his age, and released Fred Berridge in the corner, with Oscar Thomas slotting the extras.
The home side’s momentum continued after the restart and some fine offloading and phase play resulted in Gerard Ellis restoring parity early in the second period.
Harrison pounced on a loose ball to race home from halfway and complete a brace, but Irish levelled again when a deflected kick bounced kindly for Fowlie.
Thompson and Thomas exchanged penalties as the final quarter approached and the tension was palpable around the old ground.
And it was relegation-threatened Wild Geese who seemed to have struck the fatal blow nine minutes from time.
Hartpury lost possession while attacking in Irish territory and the hosts hoofed the ball upfield, with Tolmie hacking on and looking favourite to reach the ball.
That was until he was felled by Harrison, who the referee sin-binned before awarding a penalty try following a consultation with his assistant.
Hartpury continued to press, however, and they quickly worked their way back into opposition territory.
The Hartpury scrum had been dominant throughout and hammered away on the Wild Geese five-metre line in the dying minutes, with the referee awarding penalty after penalty before sin-binning prop Charlie Connor.
Still the hosts transgressed, though, and the referee was eventually left with no option but to signal another penalty try.
Then, in the most dramatic of finishes, Haskins penalised Tolmie on Irish’s 10-metre line and set the stage for Thompson to send his team-mates into raptures and boos from the home support raining down.
LONDON IRISH WILD GEESE: L Prescott; F Berridge, T Fowlie, B Kitching (A Jones 77), O Thomas; E Keohane, T Eastham (E Hoadley 66); T Smallbone, S Tolmie, M Fraher (C Connor 37); A Dewdney, C Davey; G Ellis (D Livett 63), J Hoare (C Connor 23-33, R Dingle 76), S McKinney.
HARTPURY: J Carter; M Harrison, S Leonard, T Fanolua (G Boulton 47), R Haile; G Thompson, B Vellacott; D Merrey, C Fortey (W Tanner 67), W Thompson (J Litchfield 75); W Waldron, J Batley; R Moriarty, A Woodburn, N Thomas (T Ailes 41). Not used: M Spencer.
Referee: Luke Haskins (RFU).