A HAT-TRICK from winger Will Morton helped secure Saltash their first trip to Twickenham.
Morton ran in three of the Ashes four tries as they overcame London Three South West title-chasers Old Cranleighans 31-15 in front of a bumper crowd at Moorlands Lane in their RFU Senior Vase semi-final.
They will now face South Yorkshire side Wath-upon-Dearne in the final at English rugby’s HQ on Sunday, May 6.
The Ashes are the first Plymouth Combination club to reach Twickenham since their neighbours Liskeard-Looe managed it in the RFU Junior Vase in 2009.
They had lost at the semi-final stage last season and it looked like history might repeat itself on Saturday.
Surrey side Old Cranleighans dominated territory and possession, but the Ashes managed to stay in the game with some spirited backs-to-the-wall defending and then the prolific Morton scored two tries in the final three minutes to seal the win.
Cornwall player Morton had missed last year’s semi-final and league run-in due to a broken foot so he was delighted to play his part in sending Saltash to Twickenham this season.
“Getting to Twickenham is massive” said Morton. “It is every rugby player’s dream.”
He added: “We didn’t have a lot of ball but when we did we capitalised. It was a massive result for us.”
Saltash coach Nick Skinnard felt his side did really well to keep in the game in the first half when playing up the slope.
“It was hard work as Cranleighans are a very good team,” said Skinnard.
“If we had not just hung on at the end of the first half and they had scored one more I suspect we wouldn’t have won.
“But we did and once we had the wind and the slope in the second half it really did help.”
He added: “We just did enough right things at the right time. We did a few dull things, but we did keep ourselves in the game.”
On what it means for the club, Skinnard said: “I just think it is great fun. I don’t think it has any deep meaning.
“Often in these situations you go to Twickenham and then the next year or two you are not very good. We hope that won’t happen.
“We don’t win very much at Saltash; we have a bit of fun and just going to Twickenham will be a thrill as that type of an achievement is very rare.”
Skinnard expects at least three of four coach load of supporters will go up to Twickenham from Saltash.
Yet he didn’t feel missing out last year spurred them on anymore this time around.
“Last year was great fun. Getting to a semi-final of a national competition was a great achievement and we didn’t view it as a failure,” he said. “In semi-finals you are either happy or you are not. It is nice to have that thrill, but I wouldn’t say it makes up for last year as there was nothing to make up for.”
Old Cranleighans were left feeling the pain this time around. They will have made the long journey home knowing they should have made more of their territory and chances.
They took the lead after just four minutes when winger Sam Dorman crossed out wide after early pressure from the kick-off.
But Saltash responded instantly when Morton used his pace to score down the right wing from a scrum after the visitors had knocked on in their own half. Kieran Down added the conversion to put his side 7-5 up.
However, that lead did not last long as Saltash messed up the restart and, after pressure on the line, Old Cranleighans went left again and Dorman was there to bag his second try, which Ross Jones-Davies converted.
Saltash just could not get out of their half for the rest of the first period. The visitors increased their lead with a Jones-Davies penalty on 17 minutes and they looked certain to score another try on 33 minutes but somehow knocked the ball on when diving over the try line. That was a massive let off for Saltash, as was Jones-Davies’ failure to kick a penalty almost in front of the posts two minutes later.
Old Cranleighans really pressed as half-time approached and the Ashes were relieved to see them miss touch from a penalty just before the break.
After the interval Saltash got the fortune they needed when the visitors were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes for tackling a player in the air.
Down kicked a penalty a minute later and then number eight Steve Hillman went over near the posts after a good move from scrum following a good kick and chase. Down converted to put Saltash 17-15 ahead.
Old Cranleighans then camped on Saltash’s line and had two great chances to score but somehow the hosts stopped them.
And on 77 minutes, Morton scored his second try when he burst down the right after Saltash had got the ball quickly to him from a poor Old Cranleighans clearing kick. Down again converted.
And three minutes later Morton went over again – this time with an even more stunning swallow dive – to send the Moorlands Lane crowd into raptures.
SOUTH WEST PREMIER
IVYBRIDGE have moved up to eighth in the South West Premier League table after a bonus point win over Bracknell at Cross-in-Hand.
The Bridgers won 28-14 with all their points scored in the first half of the rearranged fixture.
It shows how tight the league is that one win has moved the South Hams club up three places. They not only leapfrogged Bracknell, but also Weston-super-Mare and Exmouth.
Had they not had five points deducted for not following league procedures for postponing a game earlier in the season they would be joint fifth.
They are now five points clear of the relegation zone with three games to play, but no-one at Cross-in-Hand will be relaxing just yet, with all but the top four in the division still not mathematically safe.
“There’s still a lot to play for,” said Ivybridge player-coach Lewis Paterson. “But these catch-up games – Maidenhead and this one – have been huge. They were must-win and we have managed to get maximum league points from them.
“We just have to keep building. We are improving and the squad is nice and tight. This win was a really good squad effort.”
Scrum-half Ben Watts got Ivybridge off the mark in the seventh minute. Bracknell equalised but the hosts hit back immediately with Paterson going over.
Robin Luscombe and Billy Pinkus then went over for tries before the break. All four of their touch-downs were converted by Mitch Pinkus.
The only points in the second half, though, went to Bracknell who scored a converted try from a maul.
Paterson said: “The wind was in our favour first half and we took our chances well.
“I don’t think we took our foot of the gas (in the second half), it was just that Bracknell came back really strong. We were in our 22 for long periods of play but we put in a great defensive effort.
“We said before the game that the goal was to get a five point win and make sure Bracknell went away with nothing, so it was job done.”
PLYMOUTH Argaum ended a run of three defeats in style by scoring six tries to beat bottom side Wessex 38-10.
That was their biggest win of the season and moves them up to ninth in the table.
They are all-but mathematically safe now. They technically need two more points, but it is highly unlikely that both Hayle and Torrington will win all their remaining matches with bonus points and that Argaum would not pick up anymore points from their final four games.
The first half at a windy Bickleigh Down was quite tight. Wessex actually took the lead when flanker Dan Mather crossed for an unconverted try.
But Argaum hit back to go in at the break 14-5 up thanks to tries by John Fulton and Dan James, both of which were converted by Al Murray.
Argaum had the wind in their favour second half and they used it well. Jake Turfrey, Chris Perkins, Tom Bradshaw and the outstanding Fulton went over for further tries, with Murray converting two.
Harry Coombes did add a consolation effort for Wessex in the second period.
“I wouldn’t say it was an easy win as it wasn’t,” said Argaum coach Mark Sullivan. “We had to earn our points.
“But there was massive commitment. There was never a backwards step.”
He added: “We made a lot of mistakes, but the pack really stood up. We were winning our line-out and theirs and the scrums.
“And when we played our game-plan, which was to go wide and run at them, we did score tries. When we got the ball wider than inside centre, they just didn’t have the pace to match us.”
The one disappointment for Argaum was an injury to influential forward Joe Walker, who suffered a suspected cracked rib.
Plymstock Albion Oaks suffered another frustrating defeat to one of the top four sides on Saturday when they lost 22-10 to Honiton at Horsham Fields.
There was little in the match but Honiton’s Ollie Cave scored a converted try in the final few minutes to make the win safe for his side.
In their last home match, Oaks had narrowly lost 24-13 to leaders Wellington.
“Honiton are a top four team and we have another next week in Penryn,” said hooker and forwards coach Aiden Taylor. “We just have to find a way to get points against these sides. We match them all the way but come away with nothing.”
He added: “For 20 minutes we shocked Honiton. We just could not convert it into points, which was really frustrating.”
What was more frustrating is that Oaks even lost a bonus point in the closing stages.
“We do something stupid and then we are back under our own sticks and the bonus point is gone,” said Taylor.
Honiton, who had beaten Saltash last week, had the strong wind in their favour first half, but were worried they had not done enough, despite leading 10-0 thanks to a Cave penalty and a try by Louie Lane.
Oaks cut that lead to just three points early in the second half with a touch-down by winger Joe Rider, which Tom West converted.
Ben Kibson scored Honiton’s second try when he crossed out wide to make it 15-7.
West reduced that to 15-10 with a penalty and the game could have gone either way at that point. But with five minutes to go, Cave popped up to make the game safe for his side.
TAMAR Saracens travelled to Totnes with just 13 players and paid the price as they were beaten 65-3.
A pre-arrange Easter weekend stag-do, holidays and injuries, left Sarries struggling to fulfil their penultimate fixture of the season, which had been rearranged following an early postponement.
But they went and battled hard against third-placed Totnes.
“We did well to get a side, even though it was only 13 players,” said coach Chey Bryce, who had to play himself despite not being fit.
“They did score a lot of tries but none of them were through the middle, which was a positive, considering we only had 12 players and myself, who couldn’t really do anything. We got three boys out of retirement. So, to be fair, the boys did well.”
Bryce might not be anywhere close to being fit after his ACL operation and a back problem, but he did manage to score Sarries only points with a drop-kick penalty.
Totnes’ tries came from Josh Green (3), Jake Orchard (2), Jamie Mitchelmore (2), Dan Jackson and scrum-half Aaron Bartlett.
Old Techs had been due to play St Columba & Torpoint in the Devon Junior Cup but Saints pulled out of the fixture.
DHSOB did travel to Salcombe for a Devon Two fixture but as they did not have a full team they handed their hosts a walkover and played a friendly.
It should have been a DHSOB home fixture but Salcombe asked them to travel to them as they were holding a rugby festival.
“We travelled and made an effort and they (Salcombe) were dead happy that we did,” said DHSOB’s Mike Freeman.
DHSOB hope they will have a full side to play Totnes on Monday afternoon at Stonehouse Creek in the Devon Junior Cup.