MATT RICHARDS scored a try with the last play of the game, which veteran Matty Anstis converted, to secure Devonport Services II a dramatic 31-30 victory over Saltash and book them a place in the Lockie Cup final.
Saltash had been big favourites to reach the final for a second year running after losing just one game all season.
And they looked on course for a comfortable victory as they scored three unanswered first-half tries and were 18-0 up with nearly 60 minutes gone.
But, as both teams made changes, momentum and decisions started to go against them and once Services got a try their confidence appeared to grow and suddenly they sensed they could turn the game around, which they did.
Devonport fly-half Anstis, who yet again has been persuaded out of retirement, proved the difference on the night with a perfect kicking display, a try and a couple of assists
Saltash, in contrast, out-scored Services on tries, but were only able to convert one of their five touch-downs, which proved costly.
The Cornish club were also probably not helped from having only just got back from an Easter tour to France.
Head coach Steve Down did feel their overseas trip had probably taken its toll on his side.
“I think we just lost our energy, which was probably a hangover from the tour we have just been on,” admitted Down.
“The majority of the lads who were out there had just come back from France and a three-day bender and the energy was just not there.”
He added: “It was well controlled for most of the game and we looked really clinical and dangerous when we were on top, but then we just slipped off a few tackles.
“They (Services) ran and carried hard and as we tired and just slipped off a few tackles they got a bit more front-foot and Matty (Anstis) is always going to kick his kicks. He was keeping them in the game.”
Services head coach Ben Russell said: “We had a very young side out there and that second half was brilliant.
“We were 15-0 down at half-time. We were actually playing the better rugby but we were a bit soft in defence and we were letting them get front-foot ball and that is hard to defend and they scored three tries.”
But Russell was delighted with the second half and said: “I have to applaud that great bunch of lads, led by Matty, to come back and win it. It was amazing and it is cracking that they are in the final.”
Services II started well and had most of the territory in the opening 15 minutes, but Saltash looked good in defence and then scored with their first real bit of pressure in Devonport’s half, with prolific winger Will Morton showing his pace down the right.
Seven minutes later then got a second try when young hooker Rob Walsh scored on the left after some good passing following a strong run through the middle by lock Devon Bennett-Murray.
Saltash were then ruled to have been held up over the line but they did score with the last play of the first half when the powerful Bennett-Murray forced his way over following a line.
They had a great chance to score a fourth try early in the second half after some really good pressure and passing. They did eventually get a penalty in front of the posts 10 metres out. They opted for the three points rather than try for another try and so went 18-0 up.
Services did not look like they could force their way through Saltash’s defence, but in the 59th minute Anstis was adjudged to have got the ball down over the line near the posts, and he easily added the extras to make it 18-7.
Five minutes later it became a one score game when Anstis put a kick through and Toby Knowles was ruled to have got a hand to the ball just before it went out of play.
Saltash then picked up a yellow card and Anstis kicked the resultant penalty to make it 18-17.
The visitors had looked shocked by what had happened in the space of eight minutes but they did regroup and even though they were a man down they scored a fourth try courtesy of prop Ben Simmons. Lewis Stuart did convert this one to put his side 25-17 ahead.
But back came Services with Richards scoring in the left corner and Anstis crucially converting from the touchline.
It did look like Saltash had sealed the win when Morton scored his second touch-down of the night in the 78th minute. However, that try was not converted and so it left the door open for Services.
Saltash, who had never been behind in the game, tried to play safe and just keep the ball for the final couple of minutes, but with time up, they were penalised in possession by the referee and Services went for the corner. From the line-out they threw the ball inside and there was Richards to dive over under the posts for a simple conversion for Anstis.
Services II will now play Tavistock in the final next Wednesday.
Saltash, meanwhile, will now turn their attentions to their national Papa John’s Community Cup campaign where they will meet league rivals St Ives at Moorlands Lane on Saturday.
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