DEVONPORT Services dedicated their 25-10 home win over Wadebridge Camels on Saturday to long-serving club official Graham Emonds, who died during the week.
Services scored three tries to claim their 11th win of the season, which means they are four points clear at the top of the Western Counties West table at the halfway point of the campaign.
Coach Mike Lewis admitted the team had been desperate to beat fifth-placed Wadebridge to honour the memory of Emond, who did so much to produce youth players at the club.
“The boys were chuffed that we could get a great performance for Graham,” said Lewis. “He would have been proud of the way the boys stuck at it and stuck together.
“In the changing rooms before the game we said this was for Graham. We left it on that note as we went out.
“I think everyone put that extra five per cent in because of that.
“We generally drop out of games for 20 minutes. We have done that nearly every game this season, but this week it was only for about five minutes. I think everyone realised they were playing for Graham. It was fantastic.”
Both teams observed a minute’s silence before kick-off.
After spending the first couple of minutes defending, Services then took a grip of the game.
They enjoyed 11 minutes of solid pressure in Wadebridge’s 22. Twice it looked like they were going to score before they did eventually break the deadlock with a try from right winger Luke Stannard, who was celebrating his 21st birthday.
Services, with Joe Wyatt making his debut at full-back, continued to dominate territory. They really made it tough for Wadebridge to get out of their half with really good pressure.
And on 29 minutes they got a second try when number eight Matt Gregory got the ball down after setting up a maul near the posts. Matt Anstis converted to make it 12-0.
On the stroke of half-time Wadebridge’s James Grubb kicked a penalty to close the gap to nine points at the break.
Anstis kicked a penalty of his own after the interval to make it 15-3 before Wadebridge’s experienced player-coach Mike Rawlings got his team back into the game with a converted try from close range on 50 minutes.
Services almost immediately had Tyler Busfield sin-binned, which they were far from happy about, and they looked rattled for five minutes. However, they defended a Wadebridge five-metre line-out brilliantly and Anstis restored their composure with a penalty on 64 minutes with put them eight points up.
Anstis missed with a drop-goal attempt five minutes later and Joe McKinley came close to scoring with a good run down the left wing.
Eventually, though, Devonport did seal the win with a drive try, which Gregory was credited with, although Joe Daley appeared to go over the line with him.
Lewis added: “Throughout the game we felt we were in control, although there was a tiny spell in the second half when they came back into it when they scored. But I think a few stern words from Matty Anstis behind the posts corrected that.
“Considering the conditions – and they were appalling – we played some great rugby.
“It is tough to play in those conditions but we showed character and quality throughout the team.
“Other weeks we’d try something too hard and we’d be under the cosh for 20 minutes but this week I don’t think we were really under cosh at all.”
Lewis admitted everyone at the club is thrilled with the position they find themselves in at the halfway point of the campaign.
“We are halfway through the season and top of the league,” he said. “That’s not what we were expecting. We were hoping for maybe a top four finish but we didn’t think we would be up here at this minute.
“The players are really buoyed – really happy.”
NATIONAL THREE SOUTH WEST
IVYBRIDGE suffered only their fourth defeat of the season as they went down 30-15 at fellow high-flyers Dings Crusaders in National Three South West.
The teams had gone into the match sitting third and fourth in the table, but Dings’ win has moved them up to second, above Old Redcliffians, and seven points clear of Ivybridge.
Frustratingly for the Bridgers they did not return home from the trip to Bristol with even a bonus point, which had been their minimum target.
Ivybridge paid the price for conceding two quick tries in the first 20 minutes of the game which gave Dings a 17-0.
Billy Pinkus got them back into the game with a penalty and then a try, but that was to be the extent of their scoring until the last minute when teenage prop Marcus Prout scored his first senior try, which Pinkus converted.
Ivybridge, who are six points ahead of fifth-placed Brixham, will be looking to bounce back next week when they travel to Salisbury in their final match of 2017.
After Saturday’s defeat, player-coach Jamie Tripcony said: “It was a big game – third v fourth – and we knew it was going to be a tough place to go and get a result.
“They (Dings) had a very good start. We did start to claw our way back into the game a little bit and we thought we had them on the ropes for a little while. However, in the second half they played the territory game really, really well and took points on offer. Fair play to them.
“They played the conditions probably better than us at times.
“I thought scrum-time we were dominant again and our line-out functioned a lot better this week, but their pick-and-go game gave us some trouble at times. They were pretty on-point with their decision-making at vital times.”
Tripcony added: “For us, me and Lewis (Paterson) will look at the DVD and see where we can improve. We have to ruck up Tuesday all-guns blazing for the last game of this year.
“All our focus now has to be on Salisbury. We can’t change anything that’s happened, unfortunately, so we need to focus on next week. We want to try and create some momentum over the Christmas period.”
TAVISTOCK were the only Plymouth Combination side to celebrate a victory in the Cornwall/Devon League at the weekend.
The Sandy Park club enjoyed a 34-5 bonus point away win at Topsham.
Their success in east Devon means they have now claimed more wins at the halfway point of this season than they did in the whole of last year’s campaign.
Saturday’s victory was their seventh this term and lifts them up seventh in the table, just one point behind sixth-placed Withycombe.
Last year, Tavistock only won six matches in total and three of them came in the final two months, along with two draws, to keep them in the league by the skin of their teeth.
“We’ve already got seven wins now, which is a massive turnaround from last season and the boys are really enjoying it,” said Tavistock coach Hammy Kerswill.
“Our aim is to be 8-6 (eight wins and six defeats) at Christmas. We are currently 7-6, but it will be very hard at Lanner next week by the sounds of things.”
Kerswill, though, was just delighted with his team’s performance at Tophsam.
“It was really good,” he said. “Defensively we were really good.
“Winning away from home is really positive.”
Tavistock got a great start with Sam Smerdon scoring following a good break by Ben Hadfield.
Ten minutes later they went 12-0 up with Louis Cockcroft, who had a great first half, scoring following a good break down the wing. Lock Danny Oner, who took over the kicking duties on Saturday, added the conversion.
He then also kicked a penalty to make it 15-0, which became 22-0 when Hadfield made another good break before off-loading to Andrew Schuttkacker to score.
Tavistock’s only lapse in defence came on the stroke of half-time when Topsham scored a converted try out wide.
The visitors had to spend the first 10 minutes of the second period defending, but they did it well.
“It was very much Topsham for the first 10 of the second half,” said Kerswill. “They had a lot of possession but I said I really wanted a top defensive display and it really was.
“We were very disciplined. Topsham had a lot of possession and it took a long while for us to turn it over, but we said if it takes six or seven minutes so be it.”
And when Tavistock did get the ball back they added a fourth try with Smerdon going over for his second after a good turnover.
Tavistock again soaked up some pressure before they hit Topsham with a fifth try – Callum Thompson, playing at flanker this week, the player going over.
Tavistock had also taken a veterans team to Topsham. Their vets lost in a match played before the league game but they gave their club colleagues plenty of support to get a win.
“It’s was so nice that the vets all watched,” said Kerswill. “There must have 25-30 watching and their support was phenomenal. They really enjoyed it.
“And I have to say Topsham were really good hosts to us.”
Saltash have dropped down to third in the table after slipping to a 24-22 defeat at in-form Lanner.
Lanner struggled at the start of the season following their promotion but they have now only been beaten once in their last five games, including taking valuable points off Plymstock Albion Oaks, Plymouth Argaum and now Saltash.
Paignton have overtaken Saltash and moved into second after beating Plymstock Albion Oaks 40-0 at Queens Park.
Paignton, who have only been beaten once this season, did the damage in the second half.
“We played well in the first half,” said Oaks’ player-coach Richard West. “It was 9-0 at half-time, but they just played a bit more rugby second half and broke us down.
“We had 17 players who have played in the first team over the last two years who were unavailable or away, which makes it a struggle, but the boys that played did well.
“I think on a different day with a full squad we would have given them more of a game, I have no doubt about that.”
After such a great start to the season, Oaks, who at one point were looking unstoppable, have now gone three games without a win – surprisingly losing at Honiton, drawing with Lanner and losing on Saturday at Paignton.
“It was the same last year we struggled at this time of year,” said West. “We have one more game before Christmas and the lads are going to have to put the effort in next week. If they do that they’ll get their reward.”
Another Plymouth team hoping to end a sticky patch is Plymouth Argaum.
They have gone three games without a win or a try. They have not even managed a point in their last two games against Paignton and Penryn, who they played on Saturday.
Argaum lost 34-0 at Penryn, although they felt their performance was better than the scoreline suggests.
They were not helped by having lock Nick Carter sent off before half-time for retaliation and having an early Matt Bankhead try disallowed that might have given them some momentum.
“It was actually a good game of rugby,” said Argaum secretary Stuart Quarterman. “It was very, very muddy, but despite the conditions both teams really tried to spin the ball out. It was a good game to watch.
“I thought we competed really, really well.”
Argaum did have a few more players back than in recent weeks but they hope to have even more available next week for a trip to Withycombe.
Tamar Saracens’ hope of preventing an immediate return to Devon One look increasing unlikely after they could not fulfil their away fixture at fellow strugglers Honiton.
It means they have now been deducted the five points they had already earned and leaves them 23 points off safety.
OPMs had to dig deep to keep their 100 per cent winning record going in Devon Two.
The Old Boys were pushed all the way by Salcombe in their first trip outside Plymouth in the league this season.
However, OPMs did secure a 13-10 victory to make it five wins from five.
They have dropped to second, with Dartmouth, their first opponents in 2017, moving one point above them.
OPMs have been running in tries for fun at home this season, but they could only manage one at Salcombe.
That came in the first half courtesy of Matt Thompson, which Gavin Rae converted, giving OPMs a 7-3 lead at the break.
Rae added two penalties after the interval. OPMs were not helped by picking up three yellow cards during the match and another, making a red, afterwards.
Third-placed Old Techs, after their early season defeats to Dartmouth and OPMs, are keeping the pressure on the top two.
Techs overcame winless St Columba & Torpoint 38-0 away in horrible conditions at Defiance Fields.
The former Plymouth Argaum and Plymstock Albion Oaks back had been due to start at fly-half but illness to Billy Evans meant he was switched to scrum-half and also took over the kicking duties.
Matt Simmonds scored two tries for Techs, with Danny Bond and Ben Lynch also touching down.
Techs, playing up the slope first half, lead 19-0 at the break, before adding another 19 points after the interval.
“We just need to keep picking up five points win and see what happens,” said Old Techs chairman David Evans. “We know OPMs and Dartmouth still have to play each other so hopefully we can pull some points back.”
Dartmouth beat Plympton Victoria 43-0 at Marsh Mills to leapfrog over OPMs.
However, Plym Vic took great encouragement from their second half performance where they frustrated their unbeaten visitors.
Dartmouth lead 33-0 at the break but Plym Vic coach Howell Phillips switched players around at half-time and the hosts were a lot better.
“It was definitely a game of two halves,” said Phillips. “Dartmouth are a well-drilled side, with some big boys and they move the ball wide well.
“They took us apart first half but towards the end of the half we did slow their scoring down and then second half we changed a few things around and slotted people into positions and we took the game to them with some hard, fast running and some good high kicks. We got into their faces and started forcing Dartmouth into mistakes.
“The second half was very positive. I told the boys that afterwards. I thought they were fantastic second half. They played with confidence.”
Phillips felt his team really showed character to produce a good second half display when they were trailing 33-0.
He is hoping now they can take that second half showing into next week’s match against St Columba & Torpoint.
DHSOB picked up a losing bonus point away in a narrow 17-10 defeat at Buckfastleigh.
Buckfastleigh have been in impressive form this season, their only defeat being a one-point loss to Dartmouth, but DHSOB really made them work hard for the victory on Saturday.
That should give the Old Boys confidence ahead of their big home match next weekend against Dartmouth.