Bideford edged out by St Austell in Western Counties showdown
St Austell took control of the Tribute Western Counties (west) title race this afternoon with a 21-15 win at Bideford.
The top two went into the King George's Field showdown level on 83 points. But after a compelling encounter watched by a crowd of more than 300, it is the Cornish side who hold the advantage.
They are now three points clear at the top with a game in hand, away to Wellington next Saturday.
Bideford will regret the fact Pat Sanders missed all five of his kicks at goal, but they will also know they were marginally second best to a St Austell team who looked strong in all departments and secured the win with two tries in an eight-minute spell in the second half.
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Chris Snell, the Bideford scrum half, scored two tries in the opening half an hour. The first came at the back of a catch and drive and the second when he charged down St Austell's attempts to clear from a five-metre scrum and reacted quickly to dive on the ball.
That opportunistic try put Bideford 10-6 up but was already against the run of play as St Austell had come back strongly from conceding the first.
They had briefly gone ahead after a dropped goal from Andy Ashwin and a penalty by Matt Shepherd and were only denied a try by some excellent defence from the home team.
Four minutes after Snell's second try, St Austell regained the lead with a catch-and-drive of their own, Paul Winterbottom getting the final touch.
Bideford's frantic defending seemed to be taking its toll as St Austell's forwards gained superiority at the set pieces in the second half.
When Bideford lost the ball at a 54th-minute lineout, it gave Shepherd the opportunity to slip out a fine offload for wing Alex Welland to dive over in the left corner.
St Austell were firmly on top as lock Adam Pearce went close and Winterbottom was held up over the try line.
They broke through again in the 62nd minute when Shepherd darted away from a scrum and, having been brought down close to the line, recycled the ball for Pearce to power over.
Bideford, 21-10 down, raised their game for the final ten minutes.
They moved within striking distance when they drove from a lineout and Matt Dennis, on for injured No 8 Simon Bright, burrowed through to score, meaning a converted try would snatch a one-point victory.
Sam Olde, their fleet-footed wing, suddenly came into the game as Bideford looked for a moment of inspiration. But the top try scorer was forced to run from deep and St Austell were too canny to give him even a hint of a gap to sprint through.
Finally, with Bideford exhausted, and John Mock and James Starkey down injured, they were penalised at a ruck and St Austell were able to put the ball out to secure the most important of their 18 wins this season.