Bridgers' stunning comeback is a shock for title contenders
IVYBRIDGE came back from the dead to snatch victory from under the noses of a team who are reckoned to be title material this season.
Bideford – until Saturday holders of a perfect 5-0 record – swept imperiously into a 14-point lead by half-time, then were pegged back by a furious Bridgers response in the second period.
There looked no way back for Ivybridge after they squandered an early 10-3 lead and were threatened with annihilation by a visiting team who looked unstoppable.
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Luke Martell had given the home side a massive boost with a try, converted by Adam Bradley, then the home team handed back the initiative to Bideford, who couldn't believe their luck when the Bridgers committed hari-kiri in defence.
On both occasions, Bridgers' full-back Tom Scoles and his defensive colleagues were outpaced by the Ivybridge attack. While the second could not be entirely laid at Scoles' door, the first certainly could.
The Bridgers' full-back tried to boot a speculative punt into his half to safety. Ninety-nine times out of 100, the ball would have ended up in the nearby arterial road. This occasion, unhappily for the obviously distressed Scoles, was the 100th. The ball ended up squarely in the stomach of Bideford centre Patrick Sanders, the fastest player on the field. Sanders gripped the ball like the early Christmas present it was and ran in unopposed for his try from 20 metres out.
Bideford's pack drove over for another try and converted it to make 24-10 and added another seven-point score before the break. Centre Sam Kingscott dragged Ivybridge back into the match with an unconverted try, but with the home side trailing top dogs Bideford by 14 points, there were few punters in the crowd who would have bet his shirt on what happened next.
For Ivybridge roared like lions in the second half, none of them louder than the previously subdued Scoles, who nearly atoned for his earlier error with a searching run which ended with him being bundled into touch, just inches from Bideford's try line.
Fly-half Martell got the Bridgers' ball rolling again with a cute kick back into Bideford territory after one of many home attacks had been repulsed. From the ensuing confusion in the visitors' ranks, centre Tommy Newman skipped through three tackles to score under the posts and Bradley converted to bring the score back to 31-22.
That would have given the Bridgers a losing bonus point had the score stayed that way until the end, but the home team had their collective heels on Bideford's windpipe and had no intention of taking them off.
Bradley nailed a penalty, then Ivybridge launched yet another attack which saw the ball swing to first the right, then the left. New boy George Wilson crashed through from his second-row position to score and although Bradley could not land the conversion, the Bridgers were two points from a famous victory.
Ivybridge's kicking machine was handed another penalty attempt – from a long way out – as Bideford committed one offence too many for referee Colin Ashwood's liking.
There have been few occasions when an Ivybridge crowd has been muted, but the seconds leading up to Bradley's kick was one of them. The Bridgers centre retained both his nerve and his ability to land ridiculously long-range kicks and sent the ball between the posts to signal a frenzied party on the sidelines.
Too many times this season, Ivybridge's opponents have been party-poopers and Bideford seemed set to become another team not getting a Christmas card from Cross-in-Hand.
They were awarded a just kickable penalty with seconds to go but the ball dropped short of the home crossbar and Ivybridge had won one of their most memorable victories for years.
Head of rugby Paul Setter admitted afterwards: "That win has been a long time coming and it's always nice to beat a team which is top of the table.
"At half-time, I asked the lads to give me 110 per cent and they did just that. It didn't look good in the first half, but they (Bideford) scored two tries off our errors and they thought they had it in the bag."
Senior coach Neil Thomson added: "They (Bideford) are an excellent team, but we did really well. We were 18 points down at half-time, but we won the second half 18-0."
TAVISTOCK coach Lee Webber admitted his side couldn't handle a physical Penryn team as the Sandy Park side slumped to a heavy defeat.
The Western Counties West new boys did at least lift a four-try bonus point from a bad day at the office, thanks to a hat-trick by wing Charlie Furnival, added to by number eight Mark Friend. Fly-half Richard West added the rest of Tavvy's points with his boot.
Webber said: "They (Penryn) are a physical side and we didn't tackle very well. It wasn't a very good performance by us. We didn't have a very physical side out and we've got to improve this week as we've got (top side) St Austell this weekend."
Exeter Saracens…6 Devonport Services…53
SERVICES zipped up to joint fifth place in the table on the back of their best away win for years.
The Devonport side picked up maximum points at a club which had been on a good run up to the moment they ran into a Services juggernaut which took them apart in the first 20 minutes.
Head coach Bryan Crichton paid tribute to his side applying what they had been doing in training to the pitch.
He said: "Sometimes we've tried to play too much rugby and we tried not to do that on Saturday and keep everything simple and we scored three, really quick tries and two penalties. We let them back into the game a little, but it was a good, confident performance."
Crichton, who took over the head coach's role at the Rectory in the off season, added: "There's always things to improve on, but they guys really put themselves on the line. It's been a long time since we put 50 points on a side away from home."
Services ran in seven tries with Charlie Attis collecting two, Jack Martin, Jason Flower, Matt Morrison, Pana Ratu and Manowa Tokoisuana.