DEVONPORT Services came from behind to snatch a narrow 17-15 victory over lower league Plymstock Albion Oaks in the region’s first taste of adapted rules rugby.
A large crowd turned up at Horsham Fields to watch the new form of rugby, which does not include scrums or mauls due to the risk of spreading Covid-19.
Cornwall/Devon League side Oaks definitely adapted better to the new version of the game and were 10-0 after 25 minutes of the fixture that was played in three periods of 30 minutes.
South West One outfit Services struggled to get going and made too many uncharacteristic mistakes, but they did show character to dig out the win with a late try when it looked like they were going to lose.
“It was what we expected – a suck-it-and-see game,” said Devonport head coach Mike Lewis.
“I think both teams tried to play the rules as best we could and try and play a bit of rugby, but I don’t think the wind helped as there was plenty of knock-ons in the game.
“There was free-kick after free-kick, which meant there wasn’t many stoppages and you could see guys getting really tired in that last third.
“I think what we have got out of it is that we now know how to build. It’s brilliant training all the time but until you get into a game you don’t know what issues you might have. You can coach it on a Tuesday and a Thursday and it can look fantastic, but put contact in there, a bit of aggression and an opposition that don’t know what you are doing and it is completely different.
“We will get as much out of it as they did, but I thought they were fantastic. I thought they played a real simplistic game that was really effective and they put us on the back foot for long spells of the game.
“I felt there was plenty we can improve on and I’m sure they will say the same.
“But the important thing is we are playing rugby again. I thought it was a great run-out.”
Oaks’ player-coach Aiden Taylor said: “It was a good game.
“Yeah, it was a bit scrappy, but the first 30 we really came flying out of the blocks and I don’t think they expected that. I don’t think they liked our physicality.
“We kept knocking them back when they were knocking on the door and then they just didn’t execute when they went wide. They just kept making mistakes – knocking the ball on – which isn’t like them. That might be just rustiness, but we were just there or there abouts all the time.
“The second 30 (minute period) we put on lads that have never even played rugby before in their lives and we were in their 22 for most of it.
“Services are two leagues above us and I don’t think we did anything wrong out there. We put a decent performance in against a good side – they did have that many missing.
“But I have to be honest, it (adapted rules rugby) was absolutely brutal to play. It was really hard work, but I enjoyed it.”
Oaks, playing down the slope in the first period, opened the scoring in the 13th minute when Joe Brearley picked up a loose ball that Services had dropped and ran in from 24 metres.
Six minutes later Services blew a gilt-edged chance when they knocked on 10 metres out with the try line at their mercy.
And Oaks made them pay by going up to the other end and scoring a second unconverted try courtesy of Tom Richards to make it 10-0.
That was how the score stayed until the first change of ends on 30 minutes.
Within five minutes of playing downhill, Services got back into the match with a converted try from former Oaks winger Matt Nayle.
The visitors were reduced to 14 men two minutes later for a high tackle but they held out with a man less and just before the end of the second period they took the lead with a try from Luke Berry.
The teams changed ends again for the final third and 16 minutes from full-time Oaks went back in front with a try by new prop Harvey Dunn.
That seemed to kick-start Services and five minutes later Keane Whittaker scored what ended up being the winning try.
Oaks, though, could have snatched it late on but they knocked on in a good position.
Services will now play South West Premier side Ivybridge at Cross-in-Hand on Boxing Day, while Oaks have a game pencilled in against Devon One outfit Tamar Saracens on January 16 – the week before the RFU’s cluster competitions start.
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