St Austell were by far the better side, fully deserving their victory, but this convincing home win will be remembered for all the wrong reasons writes Tony Pomeroy.
The man with most influence on this game was visiting Devon Referee, Zeb Bell. His totally inadequate interpretation of the Laws of the Game frequently frustrated players of both sides. The first half contained two very generous penalty tries – one for each side – and the second half saw two red cards – again one for each side – as the tempers of the players boiled over on more than one occasion.
St Austell dominated the early stages of the game despite playing into a stiff breeze. Bridgwater hardly ever penetrated the home 22 until after about 17 minutes, a loose kick out of defence by St Austell reached Matt Hastie on the home 10m line. He dropped the kick and the ball went so far forward that all the players stopped, waiting for the whistle. Hastie was first to realise that he had not been penalised and kicked the ball deep into the home 22 where it was kicked to touch. From the line-out, Bridgwater set up a driving maul that was collapsed a couple of metres out and the referee awarded the penalty try converted by Stu Heal. Bridgwater had been gifted seven points.
Moments later, a Bridgwater line-out ploy on the home 10m line saw the ball thrown very short to James Bryant. He handed on to Ollie Dunn looping around to the front and he drove 40m through a hesitant defence for an excellent solo try in the corner. Heal’s conversion was just wide but Bridgwater enjoyed a 0-12 lead, albeit somewhat against the run of play.
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Five minutes later, St Austell broke their duck. A couple of penalties in quick succession to the home side saw a lineout some 10 from the Bridgwater line. They set up a driving maul and the referee was consistent in his interpretation by awarding the home side a penalty try when Sam Knights was adjudged to have entered from the side. He was also yellow carded for his sins! Home skipper, Matt Shepherd converted easily.
Minutes later the home side were level when No 8 Adam Kellow touched down following a period of pressure. The conversion was wide.
On the stroke of half time, St Austell moved the ball right from a ruck on the Bridgwater 22. As play moved away, James Bryant was caught with a lovely right hook, unseen by the referee. The ball reached Ben Chenoweth on the wing and he evaded the defence for a try converted by Shepherd and a 19-12 half time lead for the home side.
Nick Spellissy replaced Dan Lang at the interval with Bryan Webb moving to the wing. Shepherd increased the home lead with a penalty in the 2nd minute but Bridgwater held out despite playing into the breeze. With Bryant still feeling the effects of the earlier punch, he was replaced by Scott Woolford.
Midway through the half, home winger Ashley Taylor got a brace of tries, earning a valuable bonus point. The first, converted by Shepherd was a typical winger’s try, finishing off a slick move that saw the ball go through many pairs of hands. The second was a magnificent individual effort. He got the ball well inside his own half on the left and a coruscating run in which he easily evaded a number of defenders saw him score in the opposite corner. A truly great try deserving of more than the five points it achieved.
Minutes later, Lang returned to the fray to replaced the injured Garryn Basson. A home player was yellow carded for an illegal tackle after 27 minutes and this was the catalyst for the mayhem to follow.
St Austell stole a Bridgwater line-out on halfway and attacked the Bridgwater line. Hooker Miles Davey was awarded a somewhat controversial try as Bridgwater were convinced he had not grounded the ball. Shepherd converted after the initial scuffle between the teams had been sorted out.
The referee spoke to the captains on a number of occasions but could not get the players on his side. At one point, he even threatened to yellow card the Bridgwater captain for asking too many questions!
From the kick off a ruck developed on halfway. As the ball was moved away, home flanker, Paul Winterbottom, who had been yellow carded earlier, picked up Bridgwater hooker, Matt Hastie, off the ball and drove him into the ground. He saw yellow again immediately followed by red. It could have been a direct red card.
Bridgwater were penalised for dissent and then another scrap saw the captains again lectured by the referee. The home coaching staff did not help matters as they were constantly goading the visitors. Bryan Webb took exception to their comments and had to be restrained.
Moments later, he was tackled into touch and was seen by the referee to throw a punch at his tackler. In the context of the game, the red card was inevitable.
There was just time for Woolford to be replaced by Bryant following a bang on the head.
The final whistle brought relief to the players and the crowd. The game had not been enjoyable to play in or watch and was not a good advert for the large crowd.
Bridgwater, with a number of enforced changes, were a shadow of the team that had won their last three matches. They were beaten by a better side on the day and a side looking good for promotion at the first attempt. Bridgwater will relish their week off before hosting Chard on March 1st followed by a visit to lowly Sidmouth a week later.
The Chard match will see a visit to Bridgwater of RFU President, Bob Reeves. The game is being sponsored in part by The Bridgwater Former Players and anyone who has ever played for Bridgwater is invited to contact Emma at the club (01278 423900) to order a ticket to the pre-match lunch and have a chance to meet the RFU President.
Tries: Penalty, Kellow, Chenoweth, Taylor (2), Davey
Cons: Shepherd (4)
Bridgwater & Albion
Tries: Penalty, Dunn
Roger Drabble, James Brakes, Garryn Basson, Jon Hill, Dan Lang, Stu Heal, Sam Knights, Lovejoy Chawatama, Matt Hastie, James Bryant, Ali Blundell, Dan Kemmish (Capt), Bryan Webb, Ollie Dunn, Tayler Buller
Replacements used : Scott Walford, Nick Spellissy unused: Simon Martin
Referee: Zeb Bell (Devon RRS)