Sidmouth Chiefs land vital win in Cornwall

Sidmouth chiefs at home to Truro. Ref shsp 05-16TI 0084. Picture: Terry Ife

Sidmouth chiefs at home to Truro. Ref shsp 05-16TI 0084. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth Chiefs took a significant step away from the relegation zone thnaks to a hart-fought 11-10 success at the home of fellow strugglers Saltash, writes Terry O’Brien.

The importance of the game to both teams at the wrong end of the table was clear in the intensity shown by both sides.

Also, despite the clogging muddy pitch, both sides played with ambition and good skills to produce an entertaining and exciting match.

In such condition, the team which controls the set pieces, and so possession, usually wins.

The lineouts were evenly contested but, with four changes from the previous game, the Sidmouth pack were frequently under pressure in the scrums and lost a number against the head. Consequently, Saltash had long periods of territorial advantage.

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They were met by a determined, well-organised and disciplined Sidmouth defence, which proved to be the decisive factor in the result.

Saltash took an early lead when the full back kicked a fine penalty from wide out on the left in the third minute.

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The home side continued to dominate the early stages but could not break down the Sidmouth defence, which also showed good discipline not to give away penalties under pressure.

The Chiefs produced an excellent move to take play from deep inside their own half into the Saltash 22.

Backs and forwards combined through several phases, with James Powell and Rory O’Brien making important breaks. The reward was a penalty converted by stand-in kicker and fly half Paul Richardson from a difficult angle for a left footer.

In the absence of captain Dan Retter, who is recovering from a serious operation on his ankle, plus Sam Cavin and Zac Bess, who are on the injured list, Richardson took on the pivotal role with Devon Under 20 scrum half Harry Rumens making his first start for the Chiefs. Both performed well in difficult circumstances.

Saltash were back on the attack from the restart and had the Chiefs under intense pressure for several minutes until the Sidmouth forwards turned over possession at a ruck a few metres short of their line and Paul Richardson cleared upfield.

Play remained in the Sidmouth half and Saltash saw a penalty attempt drift just wide of the upright.

The Chiefs eventually broke out when Paul Richardson took a quick tap penalty just inside his own 22 to start a fine handling move, which took play into the opposing 22. The Chiefs maintained the pressure for the remainder of the half, but could not add to their score.

Three minutes into the second half the Chiefs took the lead with an excellent try. Giles Dixon fielded a clearance kick inside his own half and beat a couple of players on a run down the left wing. He found full back Luke Wells-Burr in support, who was eventually brought down a few metres short of the line. Tom Elliott was on hand to pick up and dive over in the corner. The try was unconverted.

Saltash responded strongly and were soon pressing inside the Sidmouth 22. The Chiefs maintained their strong defensive organisation and did well to resist a five metre scrum and an attempted lineout catch-and-drive. But eventually a second pushover attempt from a five metre scrum was successful, with the number eight getting the touchdown. The full back added the conversion to put his side in the lead.

When Tom Elliott was yellow carded for an offence at a ruck midway through the half, it seemed as if the balance was tipping decisively towards Saltash. But the Chiefs raised their intensity and the home side were unable to add to their score.

Once restored to fifteen men, the Chiefs enjoyed a good period of pressure and almost took the lead when Giles Dixon dived over in the corner on the end of a fine handling move. Unfortunately he was recalled for a foot in touch. However, continued pressure brought a penalty and a yellow card for a Saltash forward. Paul Richardson kicked the goal to give his side the narrowest of leads.

Despite being a man short, Saltash worked their way back into the Sidmouth 22 to put the defence under intense pressure for the final four minutes. The Chiefs defenders matched the intensity and held their discipline until a knock on brought the final whistle.

The result gives the Chiefs a nine point gap from the relegation zone.

On Saturday (February 20), the Chiefs play another vital game when they entertain St Austell kicking off at 2.30pm.

The Quins play Exeter Engineers at Sidford also kicking off at 2.30pm and the third XV travel to play Topsham 2nds.

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