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Salcombe vs Ilfracombe (Dave Butt Cup semi-final) (17-10)

Sunday 7 April, 2019, by John Sprague

Revenge is sweet! Having travelled to Ilfracombe last month for the Final of the Devon Junior Plate with a weakened side and getting well beaten, the Crabs were looking forward to competing on more even terms at home with a full side. But oh didn’t they make hard work of it!

Ilfracombe arrived at Twomeads with a big side full of gnarly looking forwards of the sort that sometimes make rugby players wish they had taken up something less confrontational like tiiddlywinks. Some the boys recognised from last month but others were new and if this is the standard of the north Devon side’s reserves, then they are likely to have a bright future when they re-enter the League.

Salcombe made their customary slow start making a mess of the visitors kick off, then conceding a penalty well inside their 22 as they tried to regain the ball. From the resultant line out Ilfracombe drove over with ease wide out for a 0-5 lead as the conversion failed. Within 5 minutes Salcombe found themselves again deep inside their 22 trying to stem the blue tide as Ilfracombe threw the ball about with confidence and got their just reward with another unconverted try to put them 10 points up. Not at all the script Salcombe had in mind.

This woke the Crabs up and from this point on tackles were not missed and rather more ball was secured in all phases of play. Playing into the surprisingly stiff breeze which made out of hand kicking problematic, Salcombe gradually forced their way upfield aided to some extent by the visitors lack of discipline and the inevitable string of penalties that ensued. Winning a lineout on the visitors’ 10 metre line the ball came directly from no 10 Lee Clarke to no8 Matt Hurst who charged through several tackles before handing on to second row Scott Lowry. Lowry with a great deal more pace than Ilfracombe expected from such a big man then burst through a desperate defence to touch  down wide out. Clarke then kicked an excellent conversion to bring the score to 7-10.

Ilfracombe were soon in trouble again with the referee and Clarke made them pay with yet another good kick into the wind for the 3 points to level the scores. By now the penalty count was starting to take its toll on the visitors mindset and their constant complaining allied to their persistent infringing resulted in the inevitable yellow cards. While the visitors were down to 14 men Salcombe capitalised with a fine try from the backs. In broken play the ball came to Charlie Rawlinson who made good ground with a fine break. With the ball being moved smartly along the backs, Liam Wills was left with a 30 metre run in and 3 covering tackles to beat, all of which he managed with aplomb to score under the posts putting Salcombe 17-10 ahead with Clarke’s conversion.

Salcombe then turned round with the breeze at their backs and were expected to put all the pressure on Ilfracombe. But that didn’t happen. Instead the visitors found their inner steel, stopped moaning at or about the referee and put Salcombe under more or less constant pressure for 40 minutes. Salcombe responded with their finest defensive display of the season truly putting their bodies on the line time and again as the visitors mounted attack after attack often within five yards of the Salcombe line. But led by James Cooper relishing playing for once in his favourite no 7 position Salcombe’s line was not crossed and the victory secured. The visiting ref adviser afterwards said he couldn’t remember ever seeing a finer defensive effort at this level of rugby.