That was a tight game wasn’t it, a must win game and Barnstaple pulled it off. There was a lot of good things to appreciate against Rochford and a few area to improve upon but lets not let that get in the way of a really good match that resulted in the Chiefs second win of the season.
With a good sized crowd and better weather than we might have hoped for given the unsettled forecasts on the horizon the Chiefs began the game by getting hard into Rochford Hundred for the first few minutes taking the initiative. Unfortunately a handling error, which as the game progressed became much more than just a one off issue, handed the visitors with a great opportunity as the ball was lost in the tackle, with still half the length of the pitch to go the fly half was put into space to score Rochford Hundred’s one and only try in the game. Also converting the try for a 0-7 lead the fly half was to be their only player to score any points with a further two penalties during the game. The Chiefs went back onto the offensive and pressing hard earned several penalties which got them to the 5 meter line where a driving maul drove Martinas Dromantas over for the Chiefs 1st try of the game to get within 2 points. By now it was evident that the Chiefs had sorted out their line out problems of last week as it looked spot on throughout the game even pinching several of the oppositions lineouts and the scrum was massively on top shoving back the visitors pack time and again, so much so that half was through the half the coaching staff replaced two of the front row to try and shore things up.
Despite the dominance of Barnstaple at the set piece the rest of the half actually saw Rochford Hundred apply the majority of the pressure as wayward kicking by the Chiefs continually gave the visitors possession back inviting the pressure through most of the last 20 minutes of the half, however all they had to show for it was 3 points as a chance of a try from a pick and go of the base of a ruck saw the Rochford player spill the ball within inches of the line and stout resolute defence prevented any further chances. So at the break Barnstaple trailed 5-10.
The second half produced a much better performance by the Chiefs as Winston James finally got to play his 250th game after having to wait 20 months. There was less kicking and more playing with ball in hand and the Chiefs were on the front foot throughout this half. Still Barnstaple could not find a way through the very good defence of Rochford and handling errors still was contributing to what pressure the Chiefs did produce was not sustained long enough to create those defensive errors that provide chances. Yet the visitors continued to foul and Jake Murphy closed the gap with a penalty after just 7 minutes of the second half and the Chiefs continuing pressure did take its toll as one of the visitors saw red which saw the flanker walk from the field for foul play and reduce Rochford to 14 men for the rest of the game. Now with the advantage the Chiefs pressed and at one point thought they were in at the corner from a pick and go at the base of the ruck, the spectators alongside definitely thought it was but the ref deemed it had been held up. Almost immediately the Chiefs attacked and Will Topps managed to slip a tackle to find himself in space and off load to Dan Johnson just as he was tackled for Dan to run in for the Chiefs second try and more importantly the lead which was extended by Jake Murphy’s conversion to 15-10.
By now you’d think it would be a cruise as Rochford were not making any impact on the Chiefs in the second half but we are not that lucky being Barnstaple Chief supporters as with 14 men the visitors hit back hard and despite a penalty to get them within 2 points they could not breech a very good Chiefs defensive line, but it did make us cheering on the side-lines become very tense sure that our team would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, thankfully they didn’t and the Chiefs won this must win game 15-13 and deservedly so especially from their second half performance which saw the Chiefs on the front foot for most of it.
The negatives well there wasn’t many just the poor kicking in the first half which gave up too much possession and just invited pressure and more worrying is the continuing handling errors which often happen just when we are getting into the oppositions 22 and pressing them then all of a sudden out pops the ball as its lost in contact or dropped. Whether this is just the Chiefs rushing it trying too hard as they see the chance of a score or the speed of the defence they are facing I don’t know but it does seem to happen at the most inconvenient of times just as we are expecting to grab more points.
The positives definitely outweighed the negatives as the scrum continued to dominate as it did at Worthing and goes from strength to strength which is great and so many times Rochford were penalised and even the changing of their front row so early in the game did little to stop that dominance. The line out was also excellent it’s amazing what a proper warm-up does for the squad isn’t it. Finally it was great to see Winston back where he belongs in the thick of it.
So now Barnstaple go on to their shortest journey of the campaign to our old friends Dings Crusaders next weekend and then a week off before another away trip this time to Old Albanians. So it’s three weeks until the next home game against another first timer to Pottington Road Leicester Lions, remember kick off times will be 2pm for the foreseeable as the clocks would have gone back by then.
So now to the rest of the league and what an upside down day it was for many as only one of the top three teams won this Saturday whilst two of the early runners surged back with impressive wins. The big one was Redruth v Esher as the home side hoped to extend their unbeaten run to seven but not today as Esher, who have had a poor run of late after only winning one of their last four, pulled off their best win to date as they reminded Redruth there is competition in this league winning 26-35. Worthing to lost only their second game of the season as they went down 17-7 to Leicester Lions who have only lost one at home. The winners then was Guernsey as another win on the road at Hinckley 16-19 propelled them to first place for the first time this season.
Old Albanians showed how good they are at home as Dings are still to find any consistent form and lost this one 50-27 to the home side. Henley at home to Bury produced another cracking game with just one point separating the two teams with Henley winning this one 25-24. Clifton reminded everyone how dangerous they are as they scored a century against Westcliff to win 106-17 while Barnes and Canterbury fought out a 20-20 draw.
This still leaves Barnstaple second from bottom but just two points behind Hinckley while Clifton and Esher close the gap over the top three with Guernsey now on top.
Barnstaple Athletic had a good battle at Cullompton winning 7-22 to put them just a single point behind Ivybridge in Devon Merit Table 1. I’ll find out more for next week from the coaches but pleased we won out there.