MATCH REPORT – SATURDAY 23rd MARCH 2019
By Website Admin
TOPSHAM 44 v TORQUAY ATHLETIC 32
A most unsatisfactory afternoon for Torquay Athletic; not just in terms of the result, but very worryingly in the short term, because of the serious injuries sustained across and including the entire starting front row.
Tics' had beaten Topsham at the Rec. by 48 – 7 back in late November, scoring seven tries in the process – four of which were from close in attacking lineout catch and drives. This return was a different affair altogether, as Topsham shot into a 19 – 3 lead by the 21st minute. The visitors then got the bit between their teeth and responded with two tries, a conversion and a penalty to take a 19 – 20 lead at the half way mark.
However during this time loose head Liam Murray had retired with a badly pulled hamstring and just prior to the break tight head Lloyd Penhalagan's match ended with what appeared to be serious knee ligament damage. Although Torquay had Jon Woodhead (returning after five weeks on the sidelines with a back injury) and prop Josh Lydon to bring on (with Josh Castleton moving across from hooker to prop and Bertie Turner reverting to the No. 2 shirt) the disruption was entirely unwelcome, as Tics had started to show some power at scrum time.
Such handicap was made much worse with about 20 minutes of the match remaining when Josh Castleton himself went down after badly twisting his back in a tackle. Fortunately paramedics were already at the Bonfire Ground, so he could get early attention, but in order to finish the match, whilst such a long period of attention took place, the final quarter of the game was switched to an adjoining pitch, now vacated by a match which had kicked off earlier.
However at that juncture the match had to be played with uncontested scrums at Tics' request, with the result that they had to lose a player and went down to fourteen for the remainder.
With three front line back rowers in Lewis Harben, Jake Bury and Shane Wakeham already out with long term injuries and unlikely to return to action this term, this loss of three front row players in one match must make this the most testing period of Tics' recent playing history and one likely to challenge any Club.
These things said one has to congratulate Topsham on a good all round performance. Their forwards were competitive and their backs slick and fluid. The latter had a quick recognition of space out wide, from where four of their tries came – indeed they did to the visitors what Tics' had done at home two weeks earlier to Tavistock.
Scoring started in the 5th minute when, after a short penetrating carry through the middle the ball was switched left for a winger's try in the corner for 5 – 0.
Following the re-start kick Tops went offside in front of their posts and Mawgan Penrice hit the kick between the sticks for 5 – 3.
In the 16th minute a Topsham chip through centrefield was caught by the kicker to set up good field position, creating an overlap to the right. However the Tops hooker decided to take the ball on infield, slowing the attack at that point, before a switch wide left again saw a corner flag touchdown, followed by a good conversion for 12 – 3.
Scrum half Gavin Blacoe then retired with a damaged wrist. Woodhead emerged from the bench with Isaac Fahey switching from lock to flanker and Jacob Loewy taking the No. 9 shirt.
Further lacklustre Tics' defending saw another converted try for Topsham and a 19 – 3 scoreline in the 21st minute, as Liam Murray limped off.
Then a break by Tics' full back Tom Drake put Tics' in their most promising attacking position to date, although Topsham managed use the left flank to clear upfield to half way by running the ball out. Time then appeared to stand still as Topsham failed to react to a ball on the ground, perhaps anticpating a whistle for their own knock on. Not so Tics' right wing Luke Hedges, who picked up the ball and ran fully 45 metres virtually unopposed to touch down, with Penrice converting for 19 – 10 after 26 minutes.
Foul play by a Tops forward then gave James Wood the chance to kick for position 10 metres out down the left. A safe lineout catch was converted to a compelling drive for the line at speed by Tics' mauling forwards. At the back of this Josh Mackin broke off infield (perhaps too early) and was knocked back. However Tics' retained possession and although Tops defended a number of close in phases Woodhead got his hands on the ball for a second time and his outstretched arm was enough to be awarded the touchdown, duly converted for 19 – 17.
Tops then conceded a sixth penalty just outside their 22', which Penrice kicked for a 19 – 20 lead as Penhalagan was helped off. Half time arrived shortly after.
Tics' recently found momentum saw them start the second half on the attack until a number of unforced handling errors halted progress.
Tops then re-took the lead as Tics' wer penalised for only the third time in the match and a penalty made it 22 – 20 to the home side in the 47th minute.
As the visitors' handling errors mounted up a clearing kick from deep failed to make touch and Topsham backs needed no second invitation to run it back, using confident hands to create another left wing overlap for a 27 – 20 lead with 28 minutes to play.
Tics' then got the ball over the line on a swift breakout, only to be pulled back for a knock on in the build up.
An obstruction offence gave Tops kicker a long range penalty chance, which he took to extend the lead to 30 – 20 and then the home side used the wide right flank to score another converted try, as their slightly built winger went through three missed tackles. 37 – 20.
Tics' then broke out with strong runs by Wood and Spears, before Fahey, following up, got over the line for 37 – 25. However it was in the build up play that Josh Castleton had gone down leading to the eventual switch to an adjoining pitch. Josh was later found to have sustained ligament damage to his back, but no bone injuries.
With Tics' reduced to fourteen men and uncontested scrums Topsham spent the large majority of the final quarter in Tics' half, in attacking mode. It seemed that another try was inevitable when their powerful second row took the ball on in a bustling charge, but Jacob Loewy went low and brought him down just before he would have had a clear run to the line.
Then another missed touchline clearance by Tics' and continued sluggish line speed was punished as Tops ran the ball back and gained a scrum five, which was released to the backs for their final try under the posts, converted for 44 – 27.
Then a 60 metre burst upfield by Spears put Tics' into the opposition half with ball in hand for a rare visit. Ten metres out Tops went offside, but playing advantage Tics' forwards took the ball on with Josh Lydon using his low centre of gravity to squeeze in from short range making it 44 – 32 final score.
A win would have enabled Torquay to reduce the twelve point gap on fourth placed Plymstock Albion Oaks, who were losing at home 20 – 35 to promotion contenders Honiton. With Oaks' still to visit top of the Table Penryn and third placed Bude (both away) there had been a slim chance that Torquay could move up a place in the final rankings – however such now seems unlikely.
Instead the immediate concern is for the injured players and in selection for another away game next Saturday versus bottom side (and already relegated) Withycombe. For the third time this season the East Devon Club were unable to honour a game against Cornish opposition with a valid front row last Saturday.
15 – Tom Drake, 14 – Luke Hedges, 13 – James Wood, 12 – Bertie Turner, 11 – Ben Spears, 10 – Mawgan Penrice, 9 – Gavin Blacoe,
1 – Liam Murray, 2 – Josh Castleton, 3 – Lloyd Penhalagan, 4 – Tom Whitford, 5 – Isaac Fahey, 6 – Ash Sharp, 7 – Jacob Loewy, 8 – Josh Mackin.
Replacements: James Davies, Josh Lydon and Jon Woodhead (all played).
The timing of these additional injuries for Tics' is especially bad as the Extras are now able to look forward to a Merit Table semi-final tie away against Sidmouth Two's – most likely to be played on Sunday 7th April (confirmation awaited). This followed a convincing 3 – 43 away win at Devonport High School Old Boys. Thankfully the fact that Devonport had a squad of eighteen players enabled Manager Rob Harman to give all twenty two of his match day squad some time on the pitch, rather in Tics' colours; instead of having to make up numbers for the opposition (as has happened so many times this season in the Merit Leagues).
In their final Merit Table SW2 game of the season second in the Table Tics' will be at the Rec. on Saturday 30th March v top placed Salcombe – KO 3.00 pm. However providing forward cover for the injury stricken First Team is going to provide a challenge to the Extras over the next two weeks.
Finally the Colts lost by a narrow 21 – 24 margin at the Rec. against a good Crediton Under 18's side, who had had a 100% win record in the competition thus far. Despite this the young Tics have already booked a place in the Plate semi final away to Brixham on Saturday 30/03 with a 2.00 pm KO.
Coach Adam Last reports that this was a pulsating game with the Torquay side playing some of its best rugby of the season.. Excellent interplay saw the home side take a 5 – 0 lead with a powerful burst from centre Noah Hindley getting over the line.
Unfortunately a soft try was immediately conceded as Tics' failed to deal with the re-start kick. Then Torquay regained the lead with a Chris Bogden penalty, as the game went from end to end.
Another home mistake with a failed clearing touch kick saw another try conceded, but a Bogden penalty just before half time meant an 11 – 12 scoreline.
Then Tics went ahead once more when scrum half Harrison Gill pounced on an error by the visiting fly half. Crediton took charge with strong driving mauls, resulting in two further tries before Tics' had the final word with the last play of the match leading to a home try by Gable Ross – but it was not enough to wrest the result from Crediton.