Monday 28 November, 2016, by Oli Masters
Salcombe travelled to Stonehouse Creek in Devonport, home of the Devonport High School Old Boys & Plymouth Fijian’s fresh off of a demoralising and attritional home defeat to Dartmouth the previous week and were shorn of several keys players still receiving treatment from that match. Traditionally a fixture that all ways gives Salcombe a tough examination, Devonport Old boys have swelled their ranks in recent years by joining forces with Plymouth’s rugby playing Fijian community hence their now extra-long moniker. An element of the unknown now exists every time you line up against them as you are never entirely sure of the team you are likely to be playing or indeed the style of rugby they will be playing!
This was proved to be especially apt on Saturday when 10 minute before Kick Off the Home side claimed to have 11 players at best, but said they would give it a go being confident they could do some damage with the players they had. Whether this was a smoke and mirrors technique to unsettle Salcombe was unclear but the crabs did well to allay any overconfidence even though the odds seemed a little stacked in their favour. Come kick off the home side had got up to 13 players and after 5 minutes they were up to a full complement, in many ways this suited Salcombe more as they could play the game they had prepared for rather than become side tracked by a perceived surplus of players.
The game started in physical manner with the Crabs seemingly controlling the possession but finding territory hard to come by with a deceptive slope to play up. A pattern seemed to emerge of Salcombe winning good set piece ball in which they were dominant all afternoon but on a wide pitch into a steady wind struggled to effectively clear their lines. This was not helped by losing Number 8 Lowry to injury and the physical manner in which the home side were playing and after several high/dangerous tackles Salcombe managed to get a kickable penalty central to the posts within range of Scrum Half Clarke which drifted just wide of the post. The rest of the first half continued in this fashion with Salcombe winning ball at scrum and line outs, battling out of their half but somehow allowing the dangerous home side backs to counter attack and regain field position, this pattern repeating until half time with the score at 0-0.
Salcombe went into the second half with a slightly renewed game plan and the confidence of knowing that the conditions now suited them. Further line out supremacy particularly from forwards Cooper, Down and the returning Gregson playing in the unfamiliar role of flanker gave the backs a fantastic platform to play from, a couple of times coming very close to breaking the deadlock via a combination of deft handling and direct running not least by the apparently unwell Davey and Wills. A further transgression curtesy of the increasingly erratic tackling style of the home side led to a penalty and a yellow card on the half way line which Salcombe duly kicked for touch. The resulting lineout was gathered and a driving maul set, from here there was only one outcome and the Old boys had no answer to the powerful Salcombe pack with Flanker Hannaford emerging last from the heap of bodies over the line, the conversion added by Davey. The home side then reminded the Crabs about their own skill set and from a Salcombe error a combination of fast hands and feet traveling the length of the pitch sent their bus sized centre over in the corner, conversion missed.
From here Salcombe rallied, the front row of Elliott, Troupe, Cater and latterly Sinnott began to cause all sorts off issues to the Devonport scrum. The lively addition of Bromwich at scrum half and the reinstated and re-invigorated Clarke at fly half the Crabs really began to make the pressure tell and whilst camped inside their opponents 22, great communication and a swift change of direction by the backs from a ruck sent centre Masters over from 10 meters out close to the right hand post, conversion by Clarke.
Salcombe were probably guilty of switching off a little here and poor defending at a ruck gave the Plymouth 15 now at scrum half a gap that was always going to give the pacey full back a head start to the try line and despite a valiant chase back by Parnowski, Winterbottom and Trant was able to score and gave the home side kicker an easy conversion attempt which he duly slotted. Salcombe refocused and played the rest of the game out in DHSOB territory without mistake and with the match finishing 14-12 to Salcombe. In truth this was a full 20 man performance with players playing out of position (Julian & K, Clarke) and returning from injury (Moran) all key in the win. SRFC will now look to put the previous weeks disappointment behind them and reflect on the points they will have proven after today’s encouraging and dogged display. The Man of the Match was Simon Cater in his first match for some time making it look as if he’d never been away (however please don’t tell his wife).