SALTASH moved another step closer to Twickenham by beating Somerset Premier Division leaders Winscombe 32-20 at Keyham on Saturday in the South West Counties Senior Vase final.
Some incredible first half defending and then four quick tries at the start of the second period were enough to see off Winscombe, who arrived in Plymouth with an unbeaten record this season.
The visitors did finish strongly with three tries in the final six minutes, but Saltash had already done enough to book their place in the last eight nationally of the RFU Senior Vase.
They will now play Berks/Bucks & Oxon Premier League leaders Swindon College Old Boys at home on March 19 in the South West Divisional Final, with the winners of that match just one game away from a trip to English rugby’s HQ.
The visitors took the lead in the fourth minute with a penalty by Jim Merryfield before the prolific Will Morton scored in the right corner on nine minutes to put Saltash 5-3 up.
But the Ashes spent the rest of the first half defending as Winscombe threw everything at the Cornwall/Devon League side on the artificial surface at Keyham.
The Mendip Hills outfit had five-metre scrums, line-outs and good opportunities, but somehow Saltash kept them from crossing the whitewash.
The visitors could hardly believe they were trailing 5-3 at the break after dominating possession and territory.
If they were shocked by that, then they were certainly stunned by what happened in the first 18 minutes of the second half when Saltash showed their clinical edge in attack with four stunning tries.
The first came less than 40 seconds after the restart when Ryan Cruickshanks scored on the right after a good break by James Moriaty from kick-off to make it 10-3.
Saltash then scored three tries within the space of three minutes to secure the game.
Winger Moriaty scored twice on the right within a minute before fellow winger Morton ran in from long range from the next restart. He celebrated his try with a forward-roll under the posts.
Kieran Downs converted two of the four tries at the start of the second half and then added a penalty on 69 minutes to put Saltash 32-3 up.
Winscombe were stunned, but they hit back hard in the final few minutes to make the scoreline respectable.
Lewis Podpadec, Dan Fryer and Callum Stewart crossed for their tries, with Merryfield converting the final one.
Saltash coach Richard Thompson said afterwards: “We had to defend for long periods in the first half, but that defence was the reason we managed to stay in the game and then win it in the second half.
“In that first half, we just could not get our hands on the ball.
“But, like wise, at the start of the second half, it was role reversal – we managed to keep hold of the ball and scored four really good tries.
“We starved them of possession, but the last 10 minutes they came back with three tries. Those were a little bit disappointing, but it was a great victory against a very good side. We are more than happy.
“It was a big performance from us. It was probably the most complete performance I have seen in my four seasons here.
“We have Falmouth away in the league next week and there’s no better way to go into that fixture.”
Meanwhile, there was Lockie Cup success for OPMs and DHSOB, who both reached the semi-finals of the competition on Saturday.
Both clubs had to come from behind, with OPMs beating Tavistock IIs 9-7 at Sandy Park and DHSOB seeing off the Peninsula Medical School 24-15 at Stonehouse Creek.
OPMs found themselves 7-0 down after just three minutes with Mark Friend going over for a try for Tavistock and John McGarry converting.
But the visitors pulled it back to 7-6 at the break with two Gavin Rae penalties and he added another three minutes from time to seal the win.
After last week’s disappointment of losing to Buckfastleigh in Devon Two, OPMs were just delighted to return to winning ways.
“We had a bit of a mixed team out, but it was good that we have got that depth back at the club that we can win a game like that,” said OPMs captain Henry Matthews.
“All we were looking for was to make sure we got back to winning ways.”
He added: “There was a lot of wind up there, but Gav kicked really well. He only had three chances but put them all over.”
DHSOB came back from 12-0 down after 20 minutes to beat the Peninsula Medical School at Stonehouse Creek.
Lopeti Faha, playing at outside centre, started their revival with a try, which was converted by Shawn Mucunabitu.
And not long later Faha scored a second, which Mucunabitu again converted, to put DHSOB 14-12 in front.
However, just before half-time, the Medics kicked a penalty to take a 15-14 lead at the break.
DHSOB were boosted by some half-time replacements, including Taniela Savou, who was inspirational at full-back.
Savou scored a great individual try before Atu Kovula added a fourth and decisive try for the home team. They will now play Plymouth University in the semi-finals.
In league rugby, Tamar Saracens were beaten 61-12 by runaway Cornwall/Devon League leaders Falmouth at Ernesettle.
The win puts Falmouth 14 points clear of second-placed Saltash.
St Columba & Torpoint were forced to pull out of their Devon Two match with Dartmouth at Defiance Field.
The walkover meant Dartmouth were crowd champions with two games still to play.
Their final two matches are against OPMs and Old Techs, who are battling for the runners-up spot.