FOR the second year running Saltash find themselves one game away from Twickenham after destroying Slough 73-22 at Keyham on Saturday in quarter-finals of the RFU Senior Vase.
Last season the Ashes lost away at Farnham at the semi-final stage, but this time around they will have home advantage in the last four.
They will face Surrey side Old Cranleighans at Moorlands Lane on March 31 for a place at Twickenham.
Old Cranleighans are not going to fancy a trip to the West Country, especially when they look at what Saltash have done to their last three opponents, scoring more than 70 points in each game.
Slough arrived at Keyham with just one defeat to their name all season, but they never looked like they were going to beat Saltash, even though they were only 26-15 down at the break.
The Ashes just had too much pace and fitness for their visitors, who got caught on the counterattack time after time in the second half.
Saltash even had two players sin-binned in the final 30 minutes but it did not even up the contest.
“We started really well, but, in fairness to Slough, they stuck at it. They had long periods of possession, but we kept to our game-plan and came away with the win.”
Rayner admits the players would love a trip to Twickenham after missing out last year, but he says they are not getting carried away yet.
“We wanted to make it all the way last year,” he said. “But we’ve just got to take each stage as it comes.”
To have scored nearly 250 points in three games within seven days is impressive.
Hooker Rayner, who has pitched in with four tries in his last two games, said: “We have been working hard in training and it’s just nice to score some points and come away with wins.”
The Ashes have a busy few weeks coming up now. Not only do they have a national semi-final and a Lockie Cup semi-final coming up but they are also still hoping to win the Cornwall/Devon League title.
“We are competitive and just want to keep winning. We’ll just take each challenge as it comes,” said Rayner.
Saltash made a great start on the artificial surface at Keyham, where they had moved Saturday’s match due to concerns about the state of their Moorlands Lane pitch. They scored four tries within the first 28 minutes to lead 26-3.
Ryan Cruickshanks opened the scoring on six minutes when he ran in from the halfway line. Slough kicked a penalty after that but then forwards Lewis Wells and Steve Hilman scored for Saltash.
Cruickshanks added a second after good play by Phil Eatwell before Slough had their best spell of the game, scoring two tries just before the break to close the gap to 26-15.
However, any hopes they had of turning the game around disappeared almost from the restart when Will Morton broke and scored before Cruickshanks claimed his hat-trick.
Todd Crofts added a sixth for Saltash before Rayner sprinted in for one on the left to make it 52-15.
Slough got one back while the hosts were a man down, but there was still time for the Ashes to score three more through Simon Nance, Chris Carpenter and Jason Carroll.
SOUTH WEST PREMIER LEAGUE
IVYBRIDGE suffered late heartbreak at play-off chasing Bournemouth on Saturday.
The Bridgers were leading the high-flying Dorset side 19-17 going into the final few minutes of the South West Premier League match, but they conceded a late converted try to lose 24-19.
The loss, coupled with victories for the four teams immediately above them – Newbury, Bracknell, Weston-super-Mare and Camborne – means they are now five points from safety.
They do have a game in hand on Newbury, who sit just ahead of them, but they now face five massive matches to save their level five status. The good thing for them is that they do have Weston-super-Mare, Bracknell, Camborne and Cleve to play, who they can still catch.
They made a great start at Bournemouth, scoring in the opening two minutes through fly-half Matt Grieveson.
The hosts, though, responded with a Grant Hancox penalty and then a converted try by Alex Sutherland to go 10-5.
But Ivybridge regained the lead on 26 minutes when Charlie Briant ran in to score and Mitch Pinkus added the conversion.
However, in the closing stages of the first half, Ivybridge picked up a yellow card and Bournemouth took advantage to score on the stroke of half-time through Sutherland again to lead 17-12 at the interval.
In a seesaw of a match, the Bridgers went back in front on 57 minutes when replacement Harrison Legg won the race to a ball.
It did look like the Cross-in-Hand club were going to hold out but with time nearly up Wyn Roberts broke their hearts by crossing out wide on the left and Hancox brilliantly converted to move Bournemouth up to second in the table.
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks gave league leaders Wellington a bit of a scare at Horsham Fields on Saturday.
The Somerset side did finally manage to get the all-important bonus point win, triumphing 24-13 in blizzard-like conditions at Staddiscombe, but they had to work really hard for it.
In the end Oaks were left disappointed that they didn’t get at least a bonus point out of the game.
“Considering they are top of the league we did really well,” said hooker Aiden Taylor, who joined Oaks last month from Ivybridge as their new forwards coach.
“There were points left out there by us. We could definitely have got a bonus point, it was just a few errors at the end. We dropped the ball right on their line.
“We had a weakened front-row due to players missing, but the character of the boys to come out against the top of the league and perform like that was really encouraging for next season and the rest of this.”
Chris Batts gave Wellington the lead, but Oaks hit back with a try out wide from speedy back Matt Neyle-Opie after a good spell of pressure on their opponent’s line.
However, just before the interval, the visitors scored a second try through Danny Lee to take a 10-5 lead in a match badly affected by the weather.
After the break, Plymstock closed the gap with a penalty by Tom West, but Wellington responded with an individual try by Tim Jenkinson, which Alex Davey converted to put them 17-8 ahead.
It looked like Oaks might cause a major surprise when captain Jack Hardman scored to pull his side to within four points midway through the second half.
But Wellington got the all-important fourth try when Nev Pitman ran in from distance.
Tavistock got their first win of the season by beating Withycombe 30-5 in snowy conditions at Sandy Park in a match that was turned into a friendly due to availability problems by the visitors.
Withycombe handed Tavistock the walkover before the match as they were struggling for front-row players. By turning the game into a friendly they could avoid any point deductions and play some unregistered players.
“Massive credit to Withycombe for travelling down in the snow,” said Tavistock coach Hammy Kerswill. “I know they didn’t want five points deducted, but they came and they stuck to it.
“We won six tries to one, but there was not a single conversion in the game, which tells you what the conditions were like. It was blizzard-like at times and very, very cold.
“But it was nice for us to get a win. It is a confidence boost.”
Captain Andrew Schuttkacker and Ethan Lamerton both got two tries each, with Mark Friend and Kerswill getting Tavistock’s other tries.
Techs knew they had to win to have any chance of staying up, but they did not perform on the day and suffered their biggest defeat of the season.
They were hit by a storming start from the hosts, who scored four tries in the opening 18 minutes.
Prop James McFarlane was key to their victory. Time after time he burst through Techs’ defence, while he was part of a Sarries pack that dominated the scrums.
Techs, who had gone into the game on the back of three wins, did have good spells at the end of each half but they could only manage one try and the game had already got away from them in the opening quarter.
Sarries’ first try came from Mike Cox at the base of a scrum on six minutes. The hosts had put pressure on straight from kick-off and it was their third scrum on the line.
That was followed by a second try on 12 minutes from centre Chad Smith after McFarlane had burst through and had just been stopped inches from the line.
McFarlane did get a try three minutes later when he ran in from 25 metres, with Tom Rigby adding the conversion to make it 17-0.
And almost straight from the restart, Sarries scored again when Mike Cox went over from another good scrum. Rigby converted to make it 24-0.
Techs did then get into the match but wasted a couple of good chances to score before the break.
The visitors were ruled to have been held up over the line on 46 minutes and they failed to make the resultant five-metre scrum tell.
And to rub salt into their wounds, Frazer Tatchell ran in for a sixth try for Sarries after McFarlane fed him after a poor clearing kick by Techs. Rigby converted that effort and also added a try himself on 60 minutes.
Techs did dominate the last 20 minutes but their only reward was a converted try by centre Matt Simmonds. They now have to face up to a return to Devon Two.
Saracens, though, were delighted to secure their league safety, although the win did come at a cost, with Jamie Lavill-Harris suffering a nasty-looking injury to his foot that ended the match a few minutes early.
He added: “I said in the week that I hoped it wouldn’t be a close affair and that we’d get the game won early and I think we had it won by half-time.
“It was then just a case of sticking to our patterns and systems and the boys did that.
“We really put them under a lot of pressure, but credit where credit is due they stuck at it and managed to get on the scoreboard.
“But now our league safety is secured we can utilise our squad.”
Saracens have a busy week coming up, with three games in five days. They are set to play University of Plymouth III on Wednesday night, Dartmouth in the league on Saturday and then travel to Buckfastleigh on the Sunday in the Devon Junior Cup.
“We have three games in five days so we are going to have to use our squad and rotate players around,” added Bryce.
DHSOB’s Devon Two game with Salcombe was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.