Services' dramatic win tests nerves of admirable Crichton
Devonport Services…24 Truro…17
NEW Services head coach Bryan Crichton is going to need some powerful tranquillisers if he has to watch many more matches like Saturday's.
Services took total control for the first 11 minutes at the Rectory, proceeded to try to throw the match away, then rampaged back to draw level with the visitors, missed a chance to retake the lead and eventually claimed their first win of the season just as the referee was thinking about blowing the final whistle.
Matt Anstis was the early attacking spearhead of a Services side who looked sharper than Sheffield steel from the off, nailing three penalties to give Devonport a 9-0 lead.
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Truro took the game back by the scruff of the neck, scored a penalty of their own, a pushover try which the Services defence seemed powerless to prevent, then scored almost a carbon copy of the first to take a 17-9 lead.
Last season, Services squandered a 13-point lead and lost to Truro with the last kick of the game. History seemed to be repeating itself, but with far more time left on the clock.
Crichton, who took over from former head coach Trevor Brazier in the close season, could be heard urging his players to play simple rugby.
There seems little doubt that he repeated himself in far more eloquent terms at the interval, because Services came out a different team.
Crichton has to take a lot of credit for that, as he jiggled his side about to give it a bit more steel in the centre, but Truro still seemed likely to hang onto their lead as the weather got hotter and Services displayed an annoying tendency to give away sloppy penalties after they had worked their way into promising situations.
Just as the spectators – and probably the players – were thinking about a cool drink in the bar as nothing particularly exciting was happening on the field, something did.
Winger Matt Morrison, who deserved something from the game for his sheer industry and willingness to take the heavy hits his position attracts, got on the end of a penetrating Services break.
Morrison won the footrace to the line to touch down and although Anstis missed the conversion – his single failure of the day up to that point – Services were back in it at 17-14 down.
At that stage, few people would have sniffed at a losing bonus point, but Anstis made up for his conversion miss after Truro – visibly tiring in the heat – were the authors of their own misfortune.
They gave away a penalty wide out left and Anstis slotted his kick over from a tricky angle to tie the match.
Services wouldn't be Services if they didn't leave their supporters without teeth-marks in their hearts and when they conceded a kickable penalty, Truro were odds-on to snatch back the lead.
They didn't, their effort floating harmlessly wide of some charmed Services uprights and Anstis was handed a similar chance at the other end of the field, which he promptly missed.
The ball was batted up and down the field by both sides anxious to keep what they had and it became a question of who was going to wilt from the effects of the heat or the pressure first.
Services, who had wavered on the edge of defeat for much of the game, decided it was going to be the visitors. For almost the first time, the home pack battered their opposition into submission, driving into the red zone and allowing flanker Dylan Crossey, who was somewhere under a pile of bodies, to touch down. Anstis converted to make absolutely sure of the points.
Head coach Crichton admitted that his side had been trying to play too much rugby rather than getting the job done.
Of his first Western Counties win – the opening match saw Services lose 10-9 at Wellington – Crichton said: "It feels amazing, although I think I'm going to have to get some beta-blockers.
"The guys did well – they're still gelling as a team, but I was pleased with the way they worked hard to get back into it."
Director of rugby Dave Oakley said: "The Truro game here last year, when we threw away a 13-point lead, was the turning point in our season.
"We'd just won four games on the trot and we were in good spirits, but we never quite got that back afterwards."
MIKE LEWIS' Tavistock side got off the mark at the second attempt – but the head coach reckons there's still more to come from his team.
Tavvy, back in Western Counties West courtesy of winning Cornwall-Devon last season, were 13-8 up at the break and 21-10 ahead with 10 minutes to go before succumbing to a late Honiton try.
The visitors' winning platform was built by tries from Simon Braithwaite – promoted from the second team – Mark Friend and Charlie Furnival. The rest of their points came from the trusty boot of fly-half Richard West.
Lewis, however, admitted Tavistock started slowly in un-rugby like hot weather conditions.
He said: "It was boiling hot and we were a bit sluggish, although they (Honiton) were slower to start than us. However, we lost the first five games last season and so far we've got one loss and one win, which isn't too bad.
"Our set-pieces were fantastic, as they were last week, but with 10 minutes left, we gave away a succession of penalties and Honiton scored with the last play of the game, so we gave them their bonus point."
The former Plymouth Albion man added: "It's early doors yet to say whether we will be comfortable in this league.
"We didn't play as well as we can do, although we battled for the full 80 minutes, which we didn't do last week.
"There were positives from the game and over the next few weeks we will keep building on those positives."
Ivybridge…18 St Austell…24
BRIDGERS' senior coach Neil Thomson asked his team for a performance against a side many fancy will be competing for honours this season – and got it.
What he and Ivybridge didn't get at Cross-in-Hand on Saturday was a decent rub of the green, although they picked up a useful losing bonus point.
Almost right on the whistle, Ivybridge were pushing hard while the visitors were constantly infringing as they tried to keep their opponents out.
Eventually, the referee got fed up with it and sin-binned two of the Saints players. Ivybridge, who were virtually camped on the visitors' goal-line, felt they should have been awarded a penalty try, but that was not forthcoming.
Thomson, however, was delighted with the application of the home team, although he was disappointed his side didn't come away with anything more than a losing bonus point.
Last season, St Austell were the visitors in Ivybridge's first home match and completely rolled over their hosts. This time, even the Saints admitted they were fortunate to leave with a win.
Thomson said: "I'd said before the match that I wanted a performance from the team, even if we didn't win and I certainly got that. I was absolutely delighted with the performance.
"The players are disappointed, naturally, because they felt they should have won the game. But I would say that it's no disgrace to lose to a team like St Austell, who are going to be up there this season.
"I also think that, despite the fact we've got a very young team, we are going to be able to compete in this league, win, lose or draw. We are going to give it a go this season and the players believe that too."
The Bridgers were 12-5 up at the interval, thanks to tries from Jordan Anderton and George de Mendonca and a conversion from Luke Martell.
St Austell hit back in the second period, feeding off Ivybridge mistakes to go 17-12 up. Martell kept Ivybridge in sight of their opponents via his kicking – his tally included a late drop-goal.
But despite a furious assault on Saints territory at the end, Ivybridge didn't quite have enough to get over the visitors' goal-line.