DEVONPORT Services will be joining Ivybridge at level five next season after securing promotion from South West One West with a nerve-wracking 24-22 win away at St Austell on Saturday.
Services headed down to Cornwall knowing a bonus point victory would guarantee them a top two finish.
And they did just that thanks to tries by Richard West, Chey Bryce, Dylan Daley and Toby Knowles to finish as runners-up behind Chew Valley, who just pipped them for the title by one single point after they beat Thornbury 34-26.
Yet, despite dominating Saturday’s match for large spells, Services could easily have lost it at the end as the referee found nearly 15 minutes of extra time.
St Austell cut their lead to one score with a late try by former Plymouth Albion captain Kyle Marriott and then camped for nearly 10 minutes on Services’ line attempting to snatch the bonus-point win they needed to leapfrog their Devon visitors and secure promotion themselves.
The hosts had three kickable penalties in the dying minutes that would have won them the game, but just a victory was not enough for them as they also needed the fourth try. So they twice went for the corner and then took a tap penalty to try and get over the line and get the full five points they needed.
But Services, despite having key forward Mike Rickard sent off for a second yellow card in the closing stages, defended amazingly to hold on to the win.
When the referee finally did blow his whistle at nearly 5pm, there were tremendous scenes of joy from the Services players and large number of supporters who had travelled down to Cornwall.
Devonport’s head coach Mike Lewis, who had announced last month that he would be standing down after Saturday game, said he was a ‘nervous wreck’ during the match, but said the win would live with him forever. It was Lewis’ second promotion with Services, having got them out of Western Counties West in 2018.
“It was just so exciting to see the ref blow that final whistle,” said Lewis.
“I think I was told to stand in the technical area about 30 times during the game, but I just needed to walk as I was a nervous wreck half the day. I wasn’t nervous until about 10 minutes before kick-off and then I was a wreck.
“I just had all that nervous energy but that all left when the final whistle went. Then it was just elation that I felt. I did have a tear in my eye, but it was mainly elation.
“It was just fantastic to see everyone jumping on each other and all the supporters running on the pitch. It is a moment I will never forget – absolutely never.”
He added: “All week we were saying we were going to win. Some people have said it was written in the stars and it was meant to be.
“We just had that feeling we were going to win. It would have been nice to have done it a bit more convincingly or with a bit more possession, but we have done the job – we did what we needed to do.
“At the end, they needed the extra bonus point which is why they played and played rather than kick for goal and it was nerve-wracking, especially when Rickard got a second yellow for what seemed like a legitimate rip. I think we all thought, crikey that could be it as we still had another five minutes to defend our line. But our defence was immense.
“It was all hands to the pump at the end there and 1-18 all played their part and were phenomenal.
“We conceded three tries but we have defended the best we have all year.”
Player-coach Richard West, who had a massive match at Tregorrick Park, claimed the seeds for Services’ impressive season, which has seen them win promotion and claim the Devon Senior Shield, were sown in the summer when the team entered and won the P&D Cricket League Cup.
“The momentum for this season was carried in by the lads winning the P&D Cup in the summer,” said a delighted West.
West was the man that got Services going in Cornwall, scoring their opening try on the left after former Plymouth Albion star Matt Shepherd had put Saints in front with an early penalty.
And it got better for Services, who totally dominated the scrums, with further tries by Chey Bryce, from a catch-and-drive move, and a great one in the right corner from scrum-half Daley. That put Services 19-3 up and looking in total control with their scrum unstoppable.
But just before half-time they let St Austell get back into the game slightly and the hosts took full advantage to cut the gap to nine points with a converted try from a catch-and-drive move by Charlie Nicholson.
Services did lose their way a bit at half-time and in the second half they found themselves down to 13 men for a spell after both Rickard and Rikki Bentham collecting yellow cards for professional fouls.
St Austell, who also picked up two yellow cards during the match, cut the gap further with a try by Shepherd.
But, despite being two men short, Services crucially got a fourth try courtesy of fit-again Toby Knowles after a great break through the middle by West.
That try meant that St Austell had to win by more than seven points or get try scoring bonus point themselves, which decided the game in the end.
Late on Marriott got one back for Saints before they lay siege to Services line. Devonport could not believe where the referee found all the extra time from, but somehow they hung on for possibly the biggest league win in their history.
SOUTH WEST PREMIER
IVYBRIDGE had to settle for a ninth place finish in the South West Premier after a narrow 38-35 home defeat to third-placed Hornets.
The Bridgers played well in their final match and could easily have ended their season with a victory over one of the top teams.
But that has been Ivybridge’s story all season. They have lost six games this season by one score and also drawn another. And just one more win would have secured them a top six place.
“Unfortunately, we just found ourselves on the wrong side of the scoreline in a real tight game,” said director of rugby Jamie Tripcony.
“We started really well but then the game kind of went to-and-fro really. It was just one of those really close games. I think it was a good one for a neutral.
“We kind of kept ahead, but we lost two players to the bin first half and that took a lot out of us.
“We did have a chance towards the end but the players had put everything into it.
“Fair play to Hornets, they showed why they are in the top three. They took their chances well and scored some great tries.”
He added: “The guys played exceptionally well. It was just those small percentages, which we need to work on in pre-season and hopefully next season they will go our way.
“We just have to rest and recuperate the players that have played a lot of games after two years out. We have to remember that it is just great to be back playing rugby again.
“We are going to have to work hard, enjoy playing our rugby and hopefully get even tighter as a group so that those one or two per cents start coming our way.
“But there are absolutely things to celebrate at the club this season, like the ladies, the colts reaching the Devon final, the second team winning the Merit Table for the first time since 1996 and also two junior teams reaching Devon cup finals. The club is in a good place, but we don’t want to stand still – we want to keep progressing forward.”
Ivybridge did pick up two points on Saturday. Cam Setter scored two tries for the hosts, while Adam Northcott and Tom Scoles also crossed the whitewash, with Sam Brown kicking three penalties and three conversions.
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks just missed out on a top four finish in the Cornwall/Devon League after losing 51-22 at home to Pirates Amateurs, who secured the title with their victory at Horsham Fields.
Oaks gave the Pirates a good run for their money in the first half and there was only four points in the score at the break.
But the Cornish club knew they had to win to be crowned champions and they pulled away in the second half to beat Topsham to the title.
Oaks defeat, along with Bude’s narrow 19-16 win at Withycombe, meant they dropped down to fifth, just two points behind Bude.
But Plymstock were more than happy with how their season had gone, considering all their changes after the pandemic.
“I am chuffed with how the season has gone,” admitted head coach Dan Parkes.
“It has been tough with Covid as people have been ooing and aahing about whether they are coming back to rugby or not and seem to do what their families want.
“We have the players here to do good things. It is just about getting the commitment levels up.
“We had six colts out there (on Saturday) and they did well to be fair.
“But you could tell they (Pirates) had confidence from being at the top of the division – and they played like that as well. All credit to them, they played well.”
The Pirates went 13-0 ahead in the opening 20 minutes with a converted try by Archie Piltcher and two penalties by Rhys Brownfield.
Oaks cut the gap to 13-7 when powerful number eight Ryan McKibbin forced his way over from close range.
Brownfield kicked another penalty before McKibbin, who the Pirates really struggled to handle, scored a second try to leave the half-time score at 16-12.
Early second half tries by Brownfield and full-back Ben Wragg settled any nerves for the Pirates.
But Oaks’ star man McKibbin got his hat-trick on 63 minutes to keep the Pirates on their toes.
Former Plymouth Albion player Rhodri McAtee then scored under the posts for the visitors before youngster Chris Dunstan scored a fine try for Plymstock in the right corner.
However, the Pirates pulled away in the dying minutes with further tries by Josh Semmens and Calum Gardner.
Tavistock went into their final game already certain of finish sixth, but they turned on the style to beat Newquay Hornets 49-16.
It capped a good week for Tavistock, who had won the Lockie Cup for the first time in 25 years in mid-week.
Tavistock ran in seven tries at Sandy Park on Saturday, with co-captain Martin Budden getting two.
Fellow co-captain George Hillson, back after missing Wednesday’s cup final due to illness, also went over for a customary try, with Jake Le Gassick, Hallam Bourton, George Cole and Conor Packwood also crossing the whitewash.
Saltash ended up ninth in the table after ending their season with a six-game unbeaten run in the league.
They capped an encouraging end to the campaign with an impressive 45-12 home win over North Tawton, who had to settle for 10th place after the defeat in Cornwall.
Saltash did the damage on Saturday in the first half as they stormed into a 33-0 lead.
Dale Thompson gave the Ashes the lead after just two minutes with a try which was converted by Kieran Down, who had missed Wednesday’s Lockie Cup final.
Experienced forward Lewis Wells put them further ahead nine minutes later with a converted try.
Saltash continued to press hard and only determined defensive play by North Tawton kept their line intact.
However, youngster Andy Walsh touched down on the left wing following a good team move after 27 minutes.
The visitors tried to get back into the game, but two tries in three minutes by the dangerous Will Morton put Saltash firmly in command at the break.
The second half was more evenly contested and when Saltash were reduced in numbers by receiving two cards in quick succession North Tawton took advantage to score.
Eleven minutes later Kieran Down jinked his way through for an unconverted try before Will Morton completed his hat-trick for Kieran Down to convert to complete the home scoring.
North Tawton went over for a late converted try, but it did not take the gloss of another good performance by Saltash, who will now be looking forward to next season after the way they have finished this one.
OPMs snatched fourth spot in Devon One after they edged out Old Techs 19-10 in a hard-fought Plymouth derby match at Weston Mill.
It was a good way for head coach Rick Orkney to go out after he announced beforehand that he would be standing down from his role.
“We played quite well, but we were a little frustrated we did not score a few more tries. We butchered a couple of chances.
“But it was a fitting end as we played quite well.
“They (Techs) had a lot of ball, but we defended well and when we ran it we were quite good. Maybe we weren’t quite at our best, but we were okay, and it was a nice way to end.”
Asked if he would have any regrets about standing down, he said: “I probably will have in September. I think second week in September I will probably think it is the worst decision I have made, but at the moment I am really looking forward to a break.
“I know I am going to miss it as it is such a lovely club with such nice people, but I do need a bit of a break.”
Techs were leading 10-5 at the break. Fred Smale had put OPMs ahead with a try but then Kyle Hookway scored for the hosts, which Tom Ryan converted. Ryan then kicked a penalty to edge his side further ahead.
But in the second half the highly-rated Smale scored a second try, which Sam Matts converted, before Ollie Summerill crossed for the visitors and Matts converted to deny Techs even a bonus point.
Techs ended up seventh in the table.
“Their full-back (Smale) was the difference,” said Techs chairman Dave Evans. “He scored two tries and without him I don’t think they would have won.
“But it was a good game – a hard-fought one – which could have gone either way.
“Fair play to them, but we were a lot better than when we played them at their place.”
He added: “It has been a bit frustrating standing on the touchline this season as I seem to have constantly been saying we could or should have won this game or that.
“But it has been such a stop-start season that it has been hard to get any momentum, plus we have had totally different team out most weeks.
“We just need to get a bit more consistency. We finished mid-table, but had hoped for a bit higher, but hopefully we can do that next season and build on a okay season.
“One thing we are proud of is that we have fulfilled every fixture and not given anyone a walkover, even when we have struggled for players.”
Tamar Saracens had to settle for fifth place after losing 35-7 at home to a strong Exeter Athletic side on Saturday.
The game was only 14-7 at the break, with Ryan Currie scoring a try for Sarries, which Lew Swatton converted, but Exeter pulled away in the second half.
“They turned up with a very strong side and I think we were just lacking a bit of fitness,” said Sarries’ Pete Lethbridge. “We were also just a bit lacklustre in the forwards.
“We were in it at half-time, but they just had more strength in depth on the day.
“It has just been one of those seasons. It has been so hard just trying to get the same side out and put things into place.
“Hopefully, next season we will all know where we are and what we are actually playing for and it will be better.”
Plymouth Argaum ended on a high with a 34-24 win over third-placed New Cross at Bickleigh Down.
Argaum finished ninth in the end, but they will be pleased with how they have progressed during the campaign.
They proved particularly strong at home and beat the likes of South Molton, New Cross and Exeter Athletic at Bickleigh Down.
On Saturday they were boosted by having Joe Walker available and he scored a hat-trick of tries.
There was also a try for teenager Preston Wilkins as well as forwards Tom Mann and Karl Sullivan, with Cheyenne Edwards kicking the rest of the points.