Sid Chiefs push league leaders all the way
League leaders Taunton were both happy and relieved to leave the Blackmore with two points after this encounter in which the Chiefs matched them in all departments and pushed them hard right up to the end, writes Terry Carter.
League leaders Taunton were both happy and relieved to leave the Blackmore with two points after this encounter in which the Chiefs matched them in all departments and pushed them hard right up to the end. Both teams defied a heavy surface and biting cross wind to produce a fine display of rugby despite the best efforts of a whistle-happy referee to spoil it for all. Both sides suffered from a lack of empathy and disregard for the advantage law by the official. The players did well to keep their focus throughout.Taunton had the better of the first half playing down the slope. In the first few scrums it looked as if the Chiefs were going to be in for a tough afternoon but, as the game progressed, the front row warmed to the task and held their own. The visitors had the edge territorially thanks to some fine tactical kicking by their half backs. They varied their target well and the Sidmouth back three were severely tested. Jamie Wardrop, in particular, was as rock-like as usual in dealing with the problems posed, and was well supported by his wingers, but they frequently had to concede ground and were given precious few opportunities to counterattack.With penalties as plentiful as confetti at a wedding, both kickers had opportunities but found the combination of mud and wind very testing. However, the Taunton centre managed to convert two in the first half hour to edge his side in front. Sidmouth had their moments, most inspired by the strong running of Nathan Hannay with fellow backrow men Nick Mills and Rhys Thomas in support. The best opportunity came from a tap penalty by the ever alert Steve Trim. Tristan Beavis carried the move on into the 22 where the ball went loose and was hacked on. The full back had to fall on the rolling ball close to his line and was penalised for holding on. With all options open to them the Chiefs decided to go for the kick at goal but the attempt drifted wide.Taunton increased their lead just before half time from a scrum just inside the Sidmouth 22. A backrow move did not make much progress but sucked in enough defenders to create some space on the blindside when the ball was recycled. Good handling gave the outside centre enough space to score in the corner. The try was unconverted, leaving the score at 11-0 at half time. Kicking off down the slope the Chiefs started the second half in good style. Another strong run by Nathan Hannay sparked a promising move which almost produced a try. When he was eventually stopped the ball was quickly recycled and moved along the back line. Jamie Wardrop made the extra man and sent Ashley Cooper sprinting down the left wing. He left a couple of defenders in his wake but was eventually brought down a few metres short of the line. With the pressure maintained, Taunton conceded a penalty and Dan Retter opened his side's account with a successful kick.The introduction from the replacements' bench of the strong running Andy Matchett and Jack Pyne added some bite to the Chiefs' game and they continued to dominate in the third quarter. It was Pyne who was on hand, when Steve Trim took another quick tap penalty, to finish the move off with a try in the right corner. The conversion was unsuccessful but the margin was now only three points and Taunton were looking decidedly nervous.It was against the run of play, and thanks to a couple of disputed penalties, that the visitors first increased their lead and then made the game safe. The first was taken quickly and moved wide to an overlap on the right where the winger squeezed in at the corner. The second was kicked to the left corner for a lineout from which they set up a maul. The drive was held but the hooker peeled off on the unmarked blindside to dive over. Neither try was converted.The Chiefs were not finished and a good passage of play earned them a scrum just inside the Taunton 22. Number eight Hannay slipped the ball from the base to Steve Trim who broke down the blindside and drew the full back before timing his pass perfectly to send Ashley Cooper clear for an unconverted try. Taunton were glad to hear the final whistle a few minutes later.