Monday 6 December, 2021, by Oli Masters
Following the previous week’s bonus point victory, Salcombe traveled to Exeter Athletic for the first time in the club’s history with some momentum, but knowing that this week’s opponents represented a step up in quality.
The pre-game run through and warm up all going to plan, Salcombe had the better of the opening exchanges but sadly this fell apart in familiar fashion with athletic scoring 2 quick fire tries. Tries annoyingly that could have been carbon copies of the tries conceded against Dartmouth last week. This seemed to kick the Crabs into gear slightly with some fierce defence forcing the home side to spill possession more than once, frustratingly however a loose pass in attack saw the Exeter 10 snaffle the ball and score from inside his own half. Not to be deterred, Salcombe redoubled their efforts upping the intensity with some quickly recycled ball. Powerful running in the centres, then linking with number 8 Eoghan Grace allowing him to power over from 10 yards out. Salcombe conceded another try, this time from a lack of concentration whilst turning their backs on a quick penalty and 7 easy points for Athletic. The end of the half belonged to the Crabs however, as pressure of a restart forced defenders to ground the ball over their own line. The resultant try line drop out only going a few feet forward caught everyone, aside from Liam Wills, napping. Wills nearly got to the line himself but was just short and, showing the sort of deftness only provided by years of experience, managed to flip the ball to his younger centre partner Jordan Tebb for the easiest of his abundant recent tries.
The Half time score was 24-12 to Exeter with Salcombe far from down and out but playing into a wind that was not insignificant. The second 40 minutes was far more attritional than the first with neither team getting much of an advantage, second half substitutions once again making a big difference for Salcombe and keeping them in the game. This week those substitutions were the returning Marco Alfano-Rogers and former skipper Darren Hopkins both putting in a huge shift and making telling contributions.
Realistically however the game turned when Salcombe were forced to go down to 14 men for failing to provide a further front row replacement and therefore requiring uncontested scrums. Captain and Hooker Toby Woods ably made the case that the misfiring and challenging scrums were a result of the increasingly boggy surface and not Salcombe’s inability to scrummage. The referee however wasn’t buying it and was heard to remark “if you’re having scrum problems I feel bad for you son, but you got one or two problems and the pitch ain’t one”.
Exeter with the numerical advantage then added another 12 points to their tally which would have been more were it not for some robust Crabs tackling. The last play of the game though belonged to Salcombe in what may have been their best passage of the game eventually forcing a scrum on the Athletic 22. Number 8 Grace plucking the ball then swatting various defenders away to score a sublime solo try and end on a high for the visitors.
In the end Exeter were deserved winners and are clearly very capable team, but Salcombe will come away ruing what might have been were it not for some crucial and numerous mistakes.
Notable performances were from returning players Hopkins and Alfano Rogers along with a new mobile looking Matt Hurst stepping up first into the second row then prop when called upon. All three played hard and will be welcomed back with open arms as and when their availability allows. Man of the match was Player Coach Grace who dominated every collision he was involved in and led from the front in a game that was a steep learning curve for this developing Salcombe Team.