Any spectator hoping for a good game to start the league season would have been very disappointed with the fare on offer. The game was littered with handling errors and missed tackles. The tackle area was a complete shambles – for which the referee must accept some blame – as he should for making what appeared to be some very questionable decisions throughout the game. He was not a biased referee, just not up to the standard required for the game.
Bridgwater gave league debuts to Frenchman Brice Le Capentier on the wing, Toby Payne at scrum half and Chris Webber at No 8. Le Capentier was quick with ball in hand, but all too often it failed to reach him. Webber, from Minehead, will develop into a class player, particularly as he develops physically and Payne was involved in a positional switch at half time which saw Nick Francis move to scrum half, Ashley Pippard dropped back to full back with the debutant moving onto the left wing.
Playing at loose head prop for Cullompton was former Bridgwater favourite, Andy Isaacs who was playing against a number of former team-mates.
Bridgwater had the bulk of the territory and the ball for much of the game but could make little headway against a firm Cullompton defence. The visitors opened the scoring when the visitors snatched on a loose ball on half way. A speculative cross kick to the right deep into the home 22 found the defence almost totally absent and Marcus Busch crossed in the corner for an unconverted try.
When visiting winger Harry Shadbolt was sin-binned, Matt House kicked a simple penalty. Ashley Pippard almost scored following a kick and chase but the referee, from a distance, adjudged him to have knocked on.
Despite losing far too many line-out throws, Bridgwater had much more of the play and did not deserve to be behind.
Approaching half time, a Bridgwater speculative kick towards the Cullompton line was played by a defender before touching down. Inexplicably, the referee awarded the visitors a 22m drop out instead of a 5m scrum to Bridgwater.
The ball went to halfway where Bridgwater dropped the ball in midfield and Shadbolt cruised in for an unconverted try and a lead of 3-10. This was an expensive refereeing error for Bridgwater.
Bridgwater brought on replacement hooker, Gavin Knight, at half time but in the unaccustomed position of loose head prop. He gave no ground to his opponent and stood up very well to some provocative play from the opposition. He could make the position his own on this showing.Despite rolling substitutions now being able to be used, this was the only change made by Bridgwater. Cullompton, on the other hand seemed to use their full allocation of eight changes, with players moving on and off the field very regularly.
Early in the second half, visiting flanker, Alex Ford, was lucky to remain on the field following a dump tackle on Nick Francis. It appeared very similar to that committed by Sam Warburton in the World Cup but received a very different sanction, only conceding a penalty.
Bridgwater continued to attack and were unlucky when the referee adjudged the ball held up over the line. From the resulting scrummage, Bridgwater gained hope when Chris Webber picked up and broke right, crossing in the corner for an unconverted try which narrowed the gap to 8-10.
Despite looking suspiciously offside at a ruck, Cullompton increased their lead with a quarter of an hour to go when they stole the ball and, moving the ball left, scored a very good try through Lee Powell. Toms converted from the touchline.
Bridgwater continued to take the game to Cullompton, throwing everything into attack, but the visitors’ bonus point arrived following another long range kick and chase out of defence. The ball somehow eluded a Bridgwater defender in in-goal and Busch cruised in and touched down unopposed for his second try.
Cullompton should have increased their lead but managed to butcher a three-man overlap.
Cullompton scrum half, Tom Frankpitt, then got a superb individual try after receiving the ball from a line-out some 45m out and completely outfoxing the home defence. Toms converted again and all that was left was a yellow card for Toms in the final minute and a try for Bridgwater hooker, Matt Hastie, to leave the score 13-29.
Bridgwater would have targeted this as a must win game but will surely have to look a bit sharper with the ball in hand to win at North Dorset, who last season won the Southern Counties South title very convincingly, next Saturday.
Bridgwater & Albion
Tries: Webber, Hastie
Tries: Busch (2), Shadbolt, Powell, Frankpitt
Cons: Toms (2)
Bridgwater Starting Team: Nick Francis, Brice Le Capentier, Garryn Basson, Matt House, Ashley Pippard, Dominik Griffin, Toby Payne, Phil Triggol (rep Gavin Knight H/T), Matt Hastie, James Bryant, Dan Kemmish (Capt), Rob Thompson, Nick Spellissy, Ollie Dunn, Chris Webber.
Reps not used: Matt Northey, Dan Steward.
Referee: Ian Bibey (Dorset & Wilts Society)
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Match report by Tony Pomeroy