Sidmouth Chiefs stay top thanks to their outstanding defence

Sidmouth at home to Kingsbridge. shsp 49 18TI 6047. Picture: Terry Ife

Sidmouth at home to Kingsbridge. shsp 49 18TI 6047. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

For the second game in succession, Sidmouth Chiefs had to rely on their outstanding defence to avoid defeat and come away with two league points to keep them at the top of the table as they drew 11-11 with visiting Wellington, writes Terry O’Brien.

Three handling errors in the opening minutes handed the early initiative to the visitors.

And, with their scrum in disarray, they were soon desperately defending inside their own 22.

They did well to keep their line intact until the eighteenth minute, when the influential Wellington number eight broke from the base of a scrum in front of the Sidmouth posts. When he was tackled, the ball was quickly recycled, and a long pass found the left winger in space to run over in the corner for an unconverted try.

From the restart kick the Wellington backs took advantage of a disorganised Sidmouth defensive line to launch a handling move, which took play from their own 22 deep into the opposition half, where they were awarded a penalty kicked by the full back.

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At the next Wellington attack, Nick Mills was yellow carded for handling in a ruck and the Chiefs were in total disarray. Fortunately, they heeded the wake-up call.

Instead of kicking for goal, Wellington opted for a scrum. The Chiefs pack resisted eight minutes of non-stop pressure, including three five metre scrums, before they were awarded a penalty enabling them to clear up-field.

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The closing minutes of the half were played in Wellington territory. The pressure was rewarded with a penalty kicked by Rory O’Brien in injury time.

The Chiefs kicked off for the second half and conceded a penalty almost immediately and a long touch-finder put Wellington on the attack. The Sidmouth defence had to withstand another siege.

A try-saving tackle by Rory O’Brien gave the Chiefs the throw in at a lineout near their own line. A superb catch-and-drive followed by a clearance kick took play into the Wellington half, where the Chiefs enjoyed their best spell of the game.

By now the Sidmouth scrum had gained parity and lineout mauls were putting the opposition on the back foot. A good handling move sent Luke Wells-Burr sprinting into the opposing 22, where the forwards took over with a series of pick-and-drive plays. They crossed the line, but the ball was held up. From the resulting scrum they kept up the pressure. Ollie Pyne was tackled into touch a metre short of the line.

Eventually they had to be satisfied with a second Rory O’Brien penalty.

From a scrum just inside the Wellington half, the ball was moved quickly to the backs. James Powell made a clean break through the centre before timing his pass perfectly to Luke Wells-Burr. The winger still had plenty to do but his pace took him over in the corner. The try was unconverted, but the Chiefs had the lead.

The last ten minutes was played out with Wellington on the attack and the Chiefs defending desperately. A couple of probing kicks by the fly half were well covered by the back three and a crucial strike against the head by Ollie Derryman at a five-metre scrum provided much-needed relief.

Deep into injury time, the referee judged that James Powell had deliberately knocked the ball on just outside the 22. The Wellington full back kicked the penalty to level the scores.

On Saturday (February 16) the Chiefs travel to Bideford.

At the Blackmore Field the Quins entertain Bideford 2nds kicking off at 2.30pm.

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