A LATE Kieran Down penalty secured Devonport Services a narrow 17-16 victory over Old Centralians at the Rectory on Saturday in their final home match of 2022.
The win has moved Services back up to third in the Regional One South West table ahead of a meeting with fellow top four side Brixham next weekend.
But Services supporters and players will still be wondering how they got away with picking up four points against Old Cents on Saturday.
Devonport were definitely off the boil in freezing conditions at the Rectory.
They made mistake after mistake against a team that had beaten them in Gloucestershire at the start of the season. Services’ handling was below par, they struggled to gather any high balls, they didn’t chase kicks well and just kept taking the wrong options. But somehow they got away with it thanks to two great tries by winger Matt Neyle, three good kicks from Down and some strong defence.
“It was four points and that’s the best way to sum it up,” said Services head coach Ben Russell.
“It has been proven again that we don’t give up and go right to the end.
“But to be honest, they deserved to win it. We left hundreds of points out there. We just didn’t execute and our basic skills weren’t very good, but full credit to Old Centralians. They were tenacious around the breakdown, they slowed our ball down, they were testing the referee and they fully deserved to win the game.
“But we just kept on going and kept on going and got four points.
“It is a win, but I have asked the players to have a good look at the video and have a good look at themselves and look at what we left out there as they need to take ownership.”
Services, keen to bounce back from last week’s defeat at Camborne and to pay Old Cents back for their win in September, made a great start and scored a try in the opening two minutes of a game where both teams surprisingly played in blue.
The hosts attacked well from kick-off and after multiple phases they eventually found Neyle on the right who used his speed to run down the wing and run in under the posts for an easy conversion for Down, who had come back into the team at fly-half in place of Richard West.
But Old Cents instantly hit back with a try almost from the restart courtesy of back-row forward Nathan Stroud.
The Gloucestershire side had boosted their ranks in the summer with the signings of England Sevens and England Counties back-rower Jack Preece and utility back Liam Hemming from National One side Cinderford and they really put Devonport under pressure.
The visitors missed a penalty on 10 minutes but four minutes later they did go in front with fly-half Wayne Mulhern kicking a long-range drop-goal.
Services were their own worst enemies in the opening 20 minutes and kept gifting Old Cents territory and possession with mistakes, but they did defend well.
The hosts did have a good bit of pressure themselves just after the midway point of the half but could not make it tell.
However, Old Cents, with Preece impressing at the back of the scrum, always looked threatening and Dylan Daley had to help make a try-saving tackle in the 30th minute on Solomon Farrer after Services again dropped a high ball, which was a common occurrence in the first half.
Eventually the Gloucestershire side’s pressure did tell and Hemming went in to score in the right corner after Devonport failed to deal with another high ball to give his side a 13-7 lead.
Services had a great chance to cut the gap just before half-time. Joe Daley was just inches away on the right before they hosts switched the ball left. There were gaps in Old Cents’ defence but Devonport took the wrong options and wasted the opportunity.
Services, with flanker Harrison Cooper-Meadows showing up well on his home debut, were better in the second half but did not really look like scoring until Neyle, who was always a threat, scored a try almost out of nowhere on the left and Down brilliantly converted to put his side one point ahead.
However, Devonport did not get their exit right from the restart and had to spend four minutes defending their line, which they did really well and eventually got a penalty to relieve the pressure.
Yet 10 minutes from time, Old Cents went back in front with a Hemming penalty.
That seemed to wake Services up and they found some urgency, but they still kept making mistakes.
They got a penalty seven minutes from time but rather than kick for goal they went for the corner only to mess up the line-out.
But they did get one more chance when they were awarded another penalty almost in front of the posts four minutes from time and Down made no mistake to seal the win for his side.
Ivybridge were left heartbroken after a penalty with the last play of the game cost them victory against second-placed Chew Valley.
The Bridgers, who had won their last three games, ended up going down 30-29 to the Somerset club at a chilly Cross-in-Hand.
However, despite the agonising defeat, Ivybridge did move up to fifth in the table after picking up two bonus points.
But Ivybridge were left feeling that it should have been five points rather than just two.
“Obviously we are really disappointed to lose at home,” said director or rugby Jamie Tripcony.
“But I think Chew Valley showed just how and why they are second in the table. They played some really good stuff. They have some strong ball carriers, but it was unfortunate for us as they game was there for the taking but we just couldn’t convert it at the end.
“It was to-and-fro all game – they would score, we would score and there was some great rugby on display.
“It was just a disappointing way to end quite a lively game.”
Tripcony said his team were not just satisfied with pushing a title-chasing team right to the end.
“Pushing a top team probably isn’t a positive as you want to win those games,” he said. “But we did get two points out of the game so we are 11 points from 15 so far in this block of four games before Christmas.”
Chew took an early lead with a penalty from full-back Tom Bryan.
Matt Grieveson then missed one at the other end but on nine minutes the home side did go in front when Tom Scoles crossed in the corner and Grieveson added the conversion.
Joe Webb scored the first of Chew’s tries to put them 8-7 before Grieveson kicked a penalty for Ivybridge after Ben Watts had come close.
In a real end-to-end affair, Chew responded with a try in the corner by winger Liam Evans to make it 13-10.
Ivybridge had a great chance to go back in front just before half-time with a late line-out but Chew defended it really well.
After the interval, Ben Collins scored an interception try for the hosts to put them 17-13 ahead.
But every time one team scored the other responded and straight away Chew crossed for another try, this time from a maul, to go three points up.
Ivybridge had prop Wes Vermigle yellow carded in the 68th minute but two minutes later Chew were also reduced to 14 for 10 minutes and the hosts were awarded a penalty try put to put 24-20 ahead.
But then Chew were awarded a penalty try themselves and Ivybridge were given another yellow card as the visitors went 27-24 in front.
Ivybridge looked like they had won the game when, after Scoles had been held up, centre Kristian Davis went over after the hosts had run back the drop-out well. Grieveson unfortunately could not add the conversion so Ivybridge were 29-27 up with just 30 seconds to go.
And agonisingly they were penalised at the restart and Bryan kept his nerve to kick the penalty and win the match for his side.
REGIONAL ONE WESTERN WEST
PLYMSTOCK Albion Oaks moved up to seventh in Western West thanks to a 27-12 away victory over struggling Paignton.
It was Oaks’ first win on their travels at level seven and has boosted their hopes of staying up.
Plymstock had lost six games in a row, but they have now won their last two and are now seven points clear of second-from-bottom Paignton, who have played the same number of games as them.
Oaks had a number of players back this weekend, including Lewis Paterson, who started at fly-half, and Andy Porter, while Chey Bryce made his debut at hooker having joined the club as a player-coach.
But it was Paignton that actually went in front when fly-half Richard Champion scored an unconverted try.
However, the rest of the half belonged to Oaks with Alex Chapman, Corey Jamieson, Tom Goodman and Lewis Paterson scoring tries. Pete Keanie, who has moved back to number eight from centre in the last couple of weeks, converted two of them as the visitors led 24-5 at the break.
After the interval, Paignton cut the gap with a try by scrum-half Dewald Stoop, which David Siddall converted.
But Oaks did not let the hosts score anymore and Keanie kicked a penalty to move his side three scores clear.
LEADERS Tavistock dug deep on Saturday to avoid a major shock at bottom side Brixham II and open up a 13-point lead at the top of Counties Two Devon.
The Sandy Park club had to come from behind in the second half at Astley Park to win 27-20.
Tavistock, who had beaten Brixham 79-0 at home in September, had travelled to south Devon missing a host of players, including George Hillson, Charles Bowden, Ethan Lamerton, Dan Redstone, Toby Teague, Andrew Craddock, Andrew Schuttkacker and Jack Giddy.
But they started well and went 7-0 up with a try by Jake Le Gassick, which Jack Easton, playing at scrum-half, converted.
Brixham hit back with an unconverted try before Tavistock got a second touch-down through veteran fly-half Andy Yates, which Easton converted.
Brixham kicked a penalty to make the half-time score 14-8.
And, after the break, the hosts went 20-14 in front to put Tavistock under pressure.
But, with forwards Hammy Kerswill, Seb Cox and Jack Osborne leading from the front, Tavistock dug deep and managed to find enough to win the game thanks to an Easton penalty and a late try by Jack Lewis.
“We gutted it out,” said Tavistock head coach Joel Caddy.
“We probably let ourselves down a few times in the game with some strange decisions but we got the five points.”
Caddy felt Saturday’s match may have done his team some good and has shown them that they cannot take any opponents for granted as they bid to win promotion.
“They had a different team to when we played them before but so did we,” said Caddy. “We had a backline who had never played together before.
“We can’t grumble too much as we got five points. We held our nerve and people put in some big shifts.
“We have now put 13 points between ourselves and everyone else. They do have games in hand but we have got the points. I would certainly rather have the points and the other teams do have to play each other.”
In the same division, Ivybridge II’s three-match winning run came crashing to an end as they were beaten 45-5 away at Exeter Saracens. Mark Truscott scored Ivybridge’s only points at Coronation Field.
Devonport Services II also suffered an away defeat as they went down 27-10 at North Tawton.
In Counties Two Cornwall, title-chasing Saltash’s game at Helston was postponed due to a frozen pitch, while Liskeard-Looe moved up to sixth by beating Newquay Hornets 15-0 at Lux Park.
COUNTIES THREE DEVON AND DEVON MERIT TABLE
TAMAR Saracens bounced back from their home defeat at the hands of Plymouth Argaum last weekend by beating Salcombe 22-7 away on Saturday.
Sarries did manage to get four tries at Two Meads, but did not have a regular goalkicker so only managed to convert one of their touch-downs.
The five points they collected keeps them three points ahead of Argaum, who were handed a walkover by Totnes.
“The boys were outstanding,” said Saracens’ director of rugby Pete Lethbridge. “It was a really, really good performance and I was really chuffed for the boys.
“We ended up down to 13 men at one point after picking up two yellow cards, but our defence was outstanding. It really was a great performance from all the guys.”
Prop Adam Corbett gave Sarries the lead with a catch-and-drive try before Rhys Garbutt, who had to play on the wing rather than in his usual flanker position due to late drop-outs, scored an interception try which Ieaun Llewellyn converted.
Full-back Joe Wyatt then scored a solo try with a chip-and-chase to make it 17-0.
Fifth-placed Salcombe did pull a converted try back before half-time but Sarries, despite having Joe Staniforth and Llewellyn yellow carded just before and after half-time, did not let them score anymore and they sealed the win with a Tom Hicklin try from a catch-and-drive move.
In Counties Three Devon East, OPMs took advantage of Crediton II’s not having a match to move back to the top of the table.
OPMs battled hard in cold conditions on Dartmoor to beat Okehampton II 23-19.
The Old Boys had been 20-5 up at half-time, but Okes hit back in the second half and the game became very tense and the home side were unhappy that there was not more time added on by the referee.
Fly-half Matt Smale gave OPMs an early lead with a penalty but Okes hit back with an unconverted try.
But the rest of the first half belonged to OPMs. First, Smale kicked another penalty before flanker James Glasson scored their first try to make it 13-5.
Then four minutes later winger Kallan Malone scored another try for OPMs, which Smale converted to put his side 15 points ahead at the break.
But in the opening 22 minutes of the second half, Okehampton scored two converted tries to make it 20-19.
Fred Smale then kicked a penalty to relieve the pressure for OPMs before the referee blew up for full-time.
OPMs are now four points ahead of Crediton II, who do have a game in hand, and are 17 points ahead of third-placed Okehampton II.
In the Devon Merit Table, Plympton Victoria claimed their biggest win of the season with a 39-10 victory away at OPM Jesters.
Plym Vic scored seven tries at King George V Playing Fields with Ethan Pringle, James Bore, Lewis Jeffery, George Cosford, Connor Turner, Seth Young and Josef Spencer all crossing the whitewash. Spencer also kicked two conversions.
The win has moved them up to second in the table behind Kingsbridge II, but they have played more games than Torquay Athletic II in third.
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