Despite this pointless defeat, Bridgwater made the return trip form Cornwall with their collective and individual heads held high writes Tony Pomeroy. Last season, St Austell were in the promotion chase whilst Bridgwater were somewhat lower in the table but on the evidence of this match, the positions could be reversed this time.
Bridgwater’s nemesis in this match was discipline. As early as the twelfth minute Bridgwater were reduced to 14 men when second row, Ali Blundell, in attempting to ruck out his opposite number, Adam Kellow, made contact with his head. Devon referee Zeb Bell, whilst accepting the home player entered the ruck illegally, had little option but to show Blundell a red card. Also, a needless penalty given away deep into injury time deprived Bridgwater of a deserved losing bonus point.
The bright side of the afternoon were the performances of two newcomers to the ranks. At full-back, James Martin, who only flew in from Australia on Wednesday, looked a very good player indeed. His handling was generally very good and his tackling saved seemingly certain tries on more than one occasion. As he settles down he will become a very potent force. At scrum half, Ollie McGeown belied the fact he was playing colts rugby last season. He looked very assured and confident and is sure to be another star of the future.
Bridgwater had the better of the opening exchanges as both sides struggled to shed their cobwebs but it was the home side on the scoreboard first. From a scrum on their own 10m line, scrum half Sam Tank broke clear. He made much ground before, as the ball went loose, flanker Paul Winterbottom gathered and romped the 20m to the line. Andy Ashwin converted to give the home side a 7-0 lead.
Minutes after this came the Blundell red card. Bridgwater cleared the immediate penalty danger and many petty squabbles broke out as players of both sides vented their anger. The result of all this was a yellow card for home flanker Jack Grigg.
With the teams on equal numbers for ten minutes, Bridgwater showed their mettle and pressurised the home side. Firstly a McGeown braek was halted close to the line and then new skipper, Ollie Dunn stole a lineout and made 30m. When the home defence were penalised, Stu Heal kicked a simple penalty.
Minutes later, Rob Allen, who ran powerfully all afternoon, scythed through the home defence. He handed on to debutant Martin who advanced the cause before handing on to Nick Francis who hung onto the pass by his fingernails and crossed for a fine try under the posts. Heal did not miss and Bridgwater were in the lead at 10-7. Straight from the kick off, A St Austell player was tackled in the air as he caught the kick off and Ashwin landed the penalty from 30m.
This was the final score of an entertaining half.
Bridgwater exerted early pressure in the second half but Heal could not convert a 40m penalty. Ollie Dunn then led from the front and took play to the home line before Bridgwater were penalised.
Oscar Tregenna, a half time replacement for James Brakes intercepted a poor home pass and hared for the line but the home defence held out.
Just like the first half, St Austell broke the stranglehold with a 50m break by full back Dan Pearce to put his side on the attack. They spurned a kickable penalty ion the quest for a try and they were rewarded when, from a scrum in the Bridgwater 22, No8 Rob Jeffs picked up and fed Tanks who benefitted from the missing Bridgwater back row forward and ran in unopposed for a try converted by Ashwin.
Heal then injured his ankle in a tackle and limped off, his afternoon finished. Brakes returned to replace him. St Austell immediately got their third try through flanker Grigg but Ashwin showed mercy and missed the kickable conversion. Bridgwater then lost flanker, Bryan Webb, also with an ankle injury and he was replaced by George Sluman. St Austell were now in control and looking for the bonus point try.
However, Bridgwater had other ideas. They ran the ball from near their own line and Francis made good ground up the left touchline. The ball eventually reached number 8, Nick Spellissy, who had performed miracles to keep up with the movement and he had just enough gas to get to the line for a great team try. Jervis Manupenu converted to register his first points since his return to the club from North Petherton.
At 22-17, Bridgwater felt they were still in the game. Rob Allen again burst through but despite exerting much pressure, Bridgwater could not score again. With a couple of minutes to go, Pearce again made a 60m break from his own line. The resulting tackle again saw a little disagreement among the players. Bridgwater were penalised at the ensuing scrum and following a lineout were penalised again for offside at a ruck in front of the posts. Ashwin duly kicked the goal to condemn Bridgwater to a eight point defeat and rob them of a well-deserved bonus point.
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After the game, players, coaches and supporters were all upbeat about the performance and all felt that this was a game that could have been won. Next week they host Thornbury and will be looking for a win to kick start the season.
Tries: Winterbottom,Tank, Grigg
Cons: Ashwin (2)
Pen : Ashwin (2)
Bridgwater & Albion
Tries: Francis, Spellissy
Cons: Heal, Manupenu
Bridgwater & Albion Team
James Martin (debut), James Brakes, Rob Allen, Stu Heal, Nick Francis, Jervis Manupenu, Ollie McGeown, (debut) James Bryant, Gavin Knight, Scott Woolford, Ali Blundell, Dan Kemmish, Bryan Webb, Ollie Dunn (Capt), Nick Spellissy.
Subs used : Oscar Tregenna, George Sluman, unused : Joe Bussell
Referee: Zebben Bell (Devon Referees Society)