Tuesday 5 April, 2022, by Oli Masters
Salcombe came into this fixture having been undefeated in their last 5 outings and some thought there might be the sniff of an upset against an Exeter team who had been unpredictable of late.
Any such thoughts were swiftly put to one side however as Athletic came out firing with a fast and expansive style of gameplay that Salcombe struggled to match in the opening quarter. This open and quick attacking structure paid early dividends for the away team who scored 2 converted tries and left the Crabs reeling with a huge amount of work to be done in both defence and attack otherwise an embarrassing score line was surely on the horizon.
A substitution and a shift in positions saw Salcombe change their defensive patterns in order to put pressure on the Athletic backs to try and stymie their enthusiasm to run the ball from all areas. This coupled with a brutal display first up tackling from centre Will Oram put Exeter on the back foot and led to the first sustained period of pressure on the Exeter try line. Frustratingly and not for the first time this season no points were gathered but it showed that Salcombe could exploit some vulnerabilities from the visitors. The opportunity to exploit such a chance came when fly half Eoghan Grace read perfectly a wide pass mid Exeter attack to intercept and race clear from his own half, the conversion was successful (L Clarke) and suddenly Salcombe had a foothold in the game.
The second half was far more even with Salcombe arguably being the better side despite conceding a try from a quick tap penalty that could have been better defended. Spirits were not dampened however and the momentum was with the home side despite the set back. A Lee Clarke Penalty made the score 10 - 21 and everything to play for. Hard running from forwards Keiron Clarke, James Lake, Jay Hannaford & Ben Goodman set a dominant tone that Exeter really began to struggle with, this platform gave the backs some moments to show their own quality in attack thanks to the centre partnership of Oram and Charlie Rawlinson. The crabs got their reward with 10 minutes to go when a penalty kick to the corner resulted in a gathered line out, the driving maul eventually splintering and Neil Elliott emerging with the ball to gracefully pirouette out of several tackles before driving over the line (conversion L Clark).
Despite 2 yellow cards for Exeter, Salcombe couldn’t quite get that last score they were desperately searching for and the match finished 17 – 21 to Athletic and Salcombe getting the losing bonus point. As disappointing as it was not to nick the game at the end Salcombe must take heart in the fact that in this game around, had they not these circumstances surely would have led to a cricket score. The Crabs also played some of their best attacking rugby all season against an extremely capable team who gave no leeway at all and looked to break out at all times. This shows the progression at Two Meads this year and should be a target to replicate in the last 2 matches of 2021/2022 season.
There were many notable performances, Neil Elliott showed that age is just a number with an explosive performance, Eoghan Grace at 10 dictated the tempo and gave the opportunity for those around him to play and full back Mark Parnowski who looked dangerous throughout keeping the opposition on their toes with counter attacking runs and clever kicking. Man of the Match however went to Will Oram who had clearly got out of bed on the wrong side that morning, seemingly making it his personal mission to try and fill Derriford A&E with a succession of ferocious (and legal) tackles, this gave Salcombe the impetus to go forward and not simply soak up each wave of attack setting the foundation for a solid fightback.
Thanks as always to Nick LV from LV Catering for the post game meal, the ladies running the raffle and serving the dinner, the bar staff and to the U11s who looked great in their kit pre game. The players would also once again like to thank the vocal and supportive crowd who were in attendance, numbers were enhanced by Salcombe Town FC who didn’t have a game this weekend and the added encouragement was a real boost. The crowd this year at Two Meads has grown and grown and the players are truly grateful for the support.