A huge crowd, estimated at over 800 watched an enthralling local derby that kept everyone on edge throughout writes Tony Pomeroy.
For the third time in four weeks, Bridgwater failed to convert a substantial lead into a final victory. Bridgwater had to be content with a single losing bonus point whilst North Petherton took a maximum of five points. The minimum eight points lost in the last month would have put Bridgwater near the top three in the table.
This was the defining ‘game of two halves’. Which ever team played down the considerable slope at Beggars Brook also had the benefit of the breeze behind them and, consequently, at least three quarters of the play was in the lower half of the pitch.
Prior to the match, there was a minute’s silence in memory of Somerset RFU County President, David Smith, who died as the result of a road accident on the way to assess a referee at Worcester last Saturday.
North Petherton won the toss and elected to play up the hill. Bridgwater’s kick-off was too long and from the resulting scrummage, the visiting pack took charge. After 3 minutes, a 20m driving maul saw Petherton infringe and Stuart Heal opened the scoring with an angled 22m penalty.
After seven minutes, Ollie Dunn made a searing 30m break from midfield. The ball reached Arg Sariarelis on the left wing via Rob Allen and the winger raced over in the corner. Heal’s conversion from the touchline was superb, making the score 0-10.
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North Petherton then lost experienced centre James Carter to injury with the even more experienced Tito Elisara, North Petherton’s player coach, replacing him.
A 60m kick by Sam Knights put Bridgwater back on the attack. North Petherton knocked on in midfield and the ball quickly reached Joel Clark who broke straight through the Petherton defence. However, his joy was short lived when he realised the referee had failed to allow the advantage and blown for the knock on. Little did we know the effect of this decision on the final result.
North Petherton came back into the game and the normally reliable Harry Roberts missed a wide-angled penalty.
Heal then hit the post with a penalty he would land nine times out of ten before North Petherton managed to butcher a very good try-scoring opportunity. The Oaks stayed on the attack and a Jervis Manupenu chip to the corner was gathered by Mike Stevens who scored wide out. As Bridgwater centre, Matt House, was knocked out in the build-up to the try, Roberts had to wait for the conversion but missed it. House was replaced by Roger Drabble who went to full back with Ash Honeywell moving to centre.
Heal then missed a speculative dropped goal with Bridgwater on a penalty advantage but landed the subsequent penalty from 35m.
On the stroke of half time, Knights kicked high towards the home 22. The defence fluffed the catch and Clark gathered the loose ball. He evaded the remaining defenders and scored under the posts giving Heal an easy conversion and the visitors a 5-20 half time lead.
Early in the second half, Heal increased the lead to 5-23 when the home side infringed at a tackle.
The game then totally changed. North Petherton exerted great pressure on the visitors’ line and were rewarded with a series of penalties. The scorned any penalty kicks at goal preferring to go for the tries. Eventually the referee’s patience ran out and with the award of yet another penalty, Bridgwater No 8, Nick Spellissy, had an enforced ten minute break.
Immediately, the home side made their numerical advantage count with a driving maul that saw Pete Dickens get their second try, again unconverted.
James Bryant, suffering from a dead leg, was replaced by Joe Bussell at prop.
As soon as Spellissy returned to the field, another North Petherton driving maul saw Greg Charlton score their third unconverted try.
A couple of minutes later, Bridgwater kicked loosely out of defence, Roberts caught the ball and handed on to Charlton who sprinted 40m down the touchline, evading many attempted tackles to get a bonus point try for the Oaks with yet another unconverted try.
Bridgwater made a rare foray into North Petherton territory with a 40m run by Sariarelis. They were awarded a penalty but, into the breeze, elected to kick for the corner. Unfortunately for the visitors, North Petherton stole the ball and relieved the danger.
With 38 minutes showing on my watch, Rob Allen was penalised for a high tackle and sent to the sin bin. Three minutes later, Bridgwater were penalised and North Petherton went for the win rather than the draw. They kicked to the corner and set up a driving maul from the lineout. Bridgwater managed to hold the ball up over the line and the visiting supporters were amazed to see that there was still time for a 5m scrum to Petherton. My stop watch was now showing over 43 minutes had been played – but the referee is the sole judge of time.
From the scrum, North Petherton drove Bridgwater back over their own line and James Cox touched down to give North Petherton the lead for the first time in the game. True to form on the day, Roberts missed the conversion but was delighted to hear the final whistle as his kick sailed wide of the posts.
Bridgwater players could not believe what had happened yet again but the home players and supporters were overjoyed. Credit must be given to North Petherton for the way they came back in the second half and the fact that they scored five tries to Bridgwater’s two but for Bridgwater, it was a difficult pill to swallow.
Next week, both teams face Cornish opposition. North Petherton, now second in the league, travel to Camborne who are in fourth, whilst Bridgwater, who drop to 7th in the table, entertain league newcomers, St. Austell, who are currently in third position (kick off at 3-00pm).
Tries: Charlton (2), Stevens, Dickens, Cox
Bridgwater & Albion
Tries: Saliarelis, Clark
Cons: Heal (2)
Pens: Heal (3)
Harry Robers, Mike Stevens, Damian Griffin, James Carter, Gavin Hancock, Jervis Manupenu, Ben Tracey, Mike Coles, Sam Williams (Capt), Pete Dickens, James Cox, Greg Charlton, Toby Harris, Carl Brown, Aaron Gibbs.
Reps: Tito Eliara (used), Miles McNeile , Kyle Prescott (both unused)
Bridgwater & Albion
Ash Honeywell, Joel Clark, Rob Allen, Matt House, Arg Saliarelis, Syart Heal, Sam Knights, Lovejoy Chawatama, Matt Hastie. James Bryant, Ali Blundell, Dan Kemmish (Capt) , Tayler Buller, Ollie Dunn, Nick Spellissy.
Reps: Roger Drabble, Joe Bussell (both used), Joe Stradling (unused)
Referee: Brian Perry (Somerset)