On a beautiful day for rugby, the quality of the game did not quite live up to the weather.
Bridgwater made a number of changes from the previous game, with Stuart Heal injured, Ashley Pippard started at fly half and James Kerry replaced Arg Saliarelis on the wing.
They also had to make a very late change as Ollie Dunn was injured in the warm up and was replaced in the squad by Ed Driver who had come to watch and who had not played since September, but luckily had his kit in the car.
To accomodate Driver on the bench, Dan Kemmish moved to No 8 with Tom King and Mitch Windsor on the flanks and Rob Thompson coming off the bench to partner Matt Northey in the second row.
Bridgwater kicked off playing into the breeze and the sun. They dominated the play so much that the game could have been out of sight in the first ten minutes as Cullompton found it very hard to get the ball in their hands. However, the home defence withstood all the pressure and, after 16 minutes, on their first visit to the Bridgwater 22 actually took the lead with a 20m penalty by fly half Adam Pearce when Bridgwater were caught offside. He repeated the feat some five minutes later when Bridgwater were again punished by the referee.
When Bridgwater lost a defensive line-out, the home crowd sensed blood but Bridgwater held out.
Cullompton conceded a number of penalties and just before half time when centre Jack Talbot went off his feet at a tackle and played the ball, he was yellow-carded.
Bridgwater immediately took advantage. The resulting penalty to the corner led to the inevitable drive that was initially repulsed. Bridgwater then moved the ball quickly left for James Kerry to crash over in the corner for the first try of the day. Ashley Honeywell’s conversion was wide to leave the half time score 6-5.
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Early in the second period, Bridgwater were unlucky when an 80m kick out of defence just reached touch in goal to bring play back to the point of kick.
When Mitch Windsor hurt his arm, Ed Driver joined the fray after 51 minutes. Almost immediately, Bridgwater were again penalised for holding on at the tackle giving Pearce another easy penalty. He almost made a hash of it, the ball just creeping over the bar after crashing into the left-hand post. This piece of luck was to prove decisive.
Matt House made his second come-back of the season when he replaced Kerry. Bridgwater then exerted another period of pressure but could not break a resolute home defence.
After 22 minutes, Rob Thompson was yellow-carded for an alleged stamp, a charge he vehemently denied – (after the match, video evidence showed nothing untoward).
Bridgwater then scored a wonderful short-handed try. They exerted pressure on the left without breaking through and so Ashley Pippard essayed an adventurous cross-kick to the right. Lurking out of the wing was the complete Bridgwater front row. Matt Hastie leaped like a salmon and tapped the ball down to the waiting Lovejoy Chawatama. He made a yard of ground and passed inside to James Bryant who crashed over for a fine try despite a number of defenders trying their best to stop him. Honeywell’s conversion was straight and true and with twelve minutes to go, Bridgwater were in the lead for the first time.
Bridgwater conceded seven penalties in the second half and when the referee suggested that Bridgwater were offside just inside their own half, Pearce decided to go for goal from 50m into the breeze. He was short and wide but it was a valiant attempt.
Cullompton tried hard for the winning score, but Bridgwater kept their line intact. With a couple of minutes to go, Bridgwater were again penalised at the tackle and Pearce kicked another simple penalty from the 22 to level the scores at 12-12.
In the final minutes, Bridgwater were pressing hard and Driver was stopped almost on the line to prevent a fairy-tale ending to the season.
After the start they made to the season, Bridgwater will be very happy to end in ninth place in the league with a total of 56 points gained from eleven wins and a draw in their twenty-six matches. Hopefully they will learn lessons for next season. If the whole season had been as competitive as the last few matches, ending the season with three wins and a draw, Bridgwater could have challenged for promotion. Perhaps next season!
Easily said, I know, but they must also learn to live with referees who may not be quite up to the necessary standard and adapt to the referee’s interpretation of the laws of the game.
All players have done their best this year, none more so than skipper, Dan Kemmish who has led the side superbly. Everyone has had their moments during the season and the supporters will all have some good memories to last us through the Summer break.
Thank you to everyone who has pulled on a Bridgwater shirt this season, to the coaches, Kevin Innalls, Simon Martin and Geoff Sluman, to touch judge and kitman, Roger Hake, water boys, Andy and Josh and physio Andy who came to us when Ben damaged his knee.
We hope that most of the players will be staying for next season but to any that are leaving, thank you for your efforts and good luck in your new club.
Pens: Pearce (4)
Bridgwater & Albion
Tries: Kerry, Bryant
Bridgwater Starting Team: Joel Clark, Garryn Basson, Rob Allen, Ashley Honeywell, James Kerry, Ashley Pippard, Dominik Griffin, Lovejoy Chawatama, Matt Hastie, James Bryant, Matt Northey, Rob Thompson, Tom King, Mitch Windsor, Dan Kemmish (Capt)
Replacements: Ed Driver (for Windsor 51), Matt House (for Kerry 56), Nick Spellissy (unused)
Referee: Zerran Bell (Devon Society)