Sunday 17 December, 2017, by John Sprague
It always looked on paper that this was going to be a big ask for the Crabs who, with only 2 league wins this season, were taking on the unbeaten league leaders. 20 minutes in Salcombe were 9-8 ahead in an evenly contested match, courtesy of two Lee Clarke penalties and , mirabilie dictu, a well taken dropped goal which had the small frozen crowd were hoping for a miracle. But it was not to be as the visitors worked out that their way forward was via their heavy and well drilled pack rather than their backs who were getting nowhere in the face of resolute Salcombe tackling.
The visitors opened the scoring with a penalty before Lee Clarke replied and then dropped his goal to give Salcombe a 6-3 lead. But following an offside decision Buckfastleigh kicked for the corner, won their lineout and in an impressive and disciplined drive they swept the home defence aside for an unconverted try wide out. Clarke then kicked another penalty to give Salcombe the 9-8 lead.
An impassioned team talk form the Bucks’ skipper clearly had its effect as the visitors played with more urgency setting up good field position when they were awarded another penalty. Once again they opted for the kick and the line out but intelligently Salcombe stood off the line forcing Bucks to run the ball rather than set up their favoured maul. Unfortunately communication broke down and a number of Salcombe players did not appear to know quite what was happening allowing the visitors sprightly prop to touch down by the posts. The conversion succeeded and was briskly followed by another penalty to bring up a half time score of 18-9 to Buckfastleigh.
The second half started with Salcombe reduced to 14 men following an extravagantly late tackle and though they defended well, they ran out of numbers enabling Bucks to score a converted try to bring the score to 25-9. All afternoon Salcombe had tried to get good ball to Anthony Squire making a welcome return home so that he could use his pace to break the Visitors defence. This now happened as the left winger set off on a mazy run that took him up to the 22 before being stopped. But the ball came to Kieron Clarke, one of the few people who could keep up with Squire, who galloped over for the try which his brother then converted.
With the score at 25-16 to Bucks they were clearly nervous that this match might get away from them and their no 10 clearly decided that they were not going to get anywhere trying to break the Crabs’ line. With none of his forwards near it was now his turn to drop a goal giving Bucks a 28-16 lead. This was further extended when the visitors got a pushover try which they converted.
But at 35-16 down Salcombe now scored the try of the match. Following good possession the ball came to Crabs’ Skipper Neil Elliott moving at surprising pace for a veteran before he linked with fellow prop Dan Sinnott. Sinnott surged down the right wing with Oli Masters outside him dancing dangerously close to the touch line. In an exquisitely timed pass worthy of Henry Slade at his best Sinnott got the ball to Masters for the run in. Unfortunately the conversion missed but the score moved to 35-21 to Bucks. A final Bucks penalty took the final score to 38-21 to the visitors.
This was a great display by the Crabs without several of their heavier forwards. The pack was greatly outweighed but the front five with James Cooper and Kieron Clarke in the engine room and Elliott, Sinnott and the outstanding Jay Hannaford in the front row fought their corner, in Cooper’s case literally on occasion, and were all over the park. Oli Masters was declared Salcombe’s man of the match for an outstanding defensive display and his well taken try but all the backs worked hard in defence limiting Bucks to scoring only via their pack.