SALTASH’S long unbeaten league run finally came to an end on Saturday when they went down 32-17 away at Counties Two Cornwall title rivals St Ives.
The Ashes had not lost a league match since March 5 – a run spanning 15 games.
And they will be frustrated that they lost this one – and even more annoyed that they did not even pick up any bonus points.
They definitely should have returned with something from their trip to west Cornwall.
They had enough chances to get a fourth try – they had one disallowed and had a great chance with the virtually the last play of the game – but it was just one of those days for the Moorlands Lane side.
They lost four players to injuries during the match, including centre Danny Snook in the opening four minutes, captain Jay Moriaty and influential number eight Ryan Rayner, who had to be helped off with a suspected broken ankle. They also did not really get the rub of the green from the referee, missed 10 points from the kicking tee and just did not make the right decisions at the right time in an enthralling contest between two strong teams.
St Ives, who matched Saltash’s physicality, deserved a lot of credit for the way they defended and for their well-worked tries, which nearly all originated off set-piece moves.
But Saltash were left kicking themselves afterwards as they dominated the line-outs and, particularly in the second half, had more territory and possession.
Head coach Steve Down said he was ‘very frustrated’, but insists the loss is not the end of the world as there are still many games to go in the season.
Saltash have dropped down to second place in the table, four points behind new leaders St Ives.
“This does not define the season by any stretch,” insisted Down.
“It is a bit of a set-back in terms of momentum – that was the end of a 15-match league unbeaten run – but we have a lot more to bring and give.”
He added: “There were just far too many mistakes from us and far too many injuries, which cost us our shape.
“But credit to them, they have a very good defence. I think their defence stopped us from getting on the front foot and they were very competitive at the breakdown.
“I think the biggest thing for us was the breakdown. We didn’t win that area.
“Perhaps we didn’t get the rub of the green from the referee with some of the decisions, but we had opportunities.”
Down added: “The score didn’t really reflect the match, but I don’t think some people played their best games – maybe the occasion got to them a bit.
“I think our decision-making went begging a bit.
“We did lose two of our leaders on the park. We lost James Moriarty and then Ryan Rayner, who are big leaders and big decision-makers.
“Yet everyone we brought was capable of doing a job but they just didn’t play to their full potential.
“I feel frustrated as I don’t think that was Saltash’s best game by far. I think we have had much stronger games.
“I think there were a few things that threw us off in terms of preparation.
“But I think we will learn a lot from watching the video and I’m sure we will come back stronger.
“We have a fairly tough run in now until Christmas and it would be good if we can roll our sleeves up and stay competing.”
The game was less than four minutes old when Snook had to leave the field and while Saltash were still regrouping, St Ives were awarded a penalty that the experienced Grant Thirlby kicked.
Saltash had the chance to level just minutes later after good pressure from the restart, but Ryan Cruickshanks – one of three kickers the visitors tried – missed the attempt at goal.
The hosts then went 8-0 up when speedy winger Jordon Jeffrey, who had a day to remember, scored the first of three tries on the left after St Ives switched play fast from a middle of the park line-out on the right after Saltash had been penalised while attacking.
The Ashes were then penalised as they tried to attack from a five-metre scrum before they did finally get a try. From a maul, second-row Devon Bennett-Murray broke down the blindside and he showed great speed to avoid a couple of tackles and score in the right corner.
However, St Ives responded with another Jeffrey try in the left corner after Saltash had lost a line-out and home half-back Adam Harris did brilliantly to break before sending a long pass wide to his winger. Thirlby converted to make it 15-5.
Saltash, though, finished the first half strongly. Lewis Stuart missed with a penalty effort on 32 minutes before the visitors cut the gap to just three points with a try in the corner by Moriarty after Lewis Wells and Will Morton had both come close. Stuart did convert the conversion from the touchline.
But the Ashes could hardly have asked for a worse start to the second half. Within two minutes, St Ives had been awarded a penalty try after some clever play by Harris and the visitors had Bennett-Murray sin-binned.
However, suddenly Saltash came to life and they really put St Ives under intense pressure. Moriarty thought he had scored a second try but the referee ruled it out.
The visitors continued to keep the pressure on, despite losing centre Greg Eatwell to injury, and they were rewarded when number eight Rayner got the ball down over the line after a good driving maul to make it 22-17.
The momentum at that point looked firmly with Saltash, but almost out of nowhere, St Ives went two scores up again. After Thirlby had missed a long range penalty, St Ives got a scrum out on the right in the middle of the park. From the set-play they quickly switched the ball left and there was Jeffrey again to go over for his hat-trick. Thirlby added the conversion to make it 29-17.
Saltash did camp on St Ives’ line for about 10 minutes after that. They tried everything they could to get a fourth try and to move to within seven points. Wells did actually get over the line but could not ground the ball.
Deep in injury-time, St Ives got a penalty and Thirlby kicked it to make sure Saltash could not get within a score.
But the visitors, who were Cornwall’s team of the month in October, still had a chance to get a bonus point try. They got penalty after penalty but just could not get over the line and their day was summed up by going for a five-metre line-out with the last play of the game, only to knock the ball on.
In Counties Three Devon West, struggling Plymstock Albion Oaks II were beaten 35-15 away at Paignton II, while in the Ellis Trophy, Devonport Services III beat Saltash II 57-0.
In the Devon Merit Table, Plympton Victoria were left kicking themselves after losing 28-26 to the University of Plymouth at King George V Playing Fields.
With two minutes to go, Plym Vic were 26-21 up and had the chance to go two scores up with a penalty almost in front of the posts. But rather than kicking it and guaranteeing the win, they tapped it and did not make it tell and the students eventually went up the other end of the field and scored under the posts.
“A bit of naivety cost us the game,” admitted Plym Vic’s Chris Hunt.
“We already had the bonus point for scoring four tries so we should have gone for the three. It was pretty much a sitter.
“Also in the last 10 minutes instead of just keeping our hands on the ball we put in a few kicks that allowed the students to run it back at us.
“I think we should have won as we did play very well. We scrummed well and it had to go uncontested for a spell in the second half.
“It was not a bad day at the office but we know we should have just seen it out.”
Kieran Simmons, Jordan Blair and Joe Spencer were among Plym Vic’s try scorers as they picked up two losing bonus points. Blair also kicked three conversions.
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