Fitting end to challenging season for Sidmouth Quins
By Mark Bishop
29th Apr 2022 | Rugby
By Mark Bishop
Barnstaple 2nds 38, Sidmouth Quins 5
The Quins set off for the long journey to Barnstaple to conclude their first season in Merit Table 1, to face a Barnstaple side that had already secured a top-two finish, only losing three matches in the process and whose first team ply their trade two divisions higher than Sidmouth.
With Sidmouth travelling with 17 players (five of which were final year colts), no backs replacement, an unfamiliar back-line and a new-look back-row, you could be forgiven for expecting a landslide. However, that was not the case and the full-time score flattered the hosts and did not reflect the Sidmouth performance for much of the match.
Skipper Tom Butler won the toss and decided to play with the strong tailing wind in the first half. The first ten minutes were stale-mate with both sides showing they were up for the fight and with the referee keen to stamp his mark on proceedings featured two yellow cards, one for either side. The first was for Sidmouth when Adam Squance was rightly adjudged to have deliberately knocked the ball on to prevent a Barnstaple try, but that was followed five minutes later by one for Barnstaple who lost their Number 6 for a cynical late hit on Archie Bagwell.
The other feature of the opening exchanges was the Sidmouth forwards being uncharacteristically dominant in the scrum, with the front row of Richie Hull, Neil Barratt and Dan Payne easily having the measure of their opponents, but the usually reliable Sidmouth lineout failing to function effectively due to the wind.
With and steady stream of penalties at the breakdown, Squance on fire kicking out of hand and the fact that the wind removed the option for Barum to kick out of defence, Sidmouth were able to keep Barnstaple pegged deep in their own half for much of the first quarter. It was from one of Squance's monster kicks that Sidmouth finally broke the deadlock, he found touch ten metres from the Barnstaple line, from the lineout Sidmouth set up a maul and crashed over the line, but the ball was knocked on in the process giving Barnstaple a defensive scrum. With a forward in the sin bin, the Sidmouth pack mounted an eight-man shove and pushed Barnstaple off their own ball, allowing Number 8 Henry Thomas to pick up from the base of the scrum and power over to give Sidmouth a well-deserved lead. Squance was unlucky with the wind taking his conversion attempt just wide.
Sidmouth didn't take their foot off the gas and when another Barnstaple forward, in the more than ample shape of their second-row, was shown a yellow card, Squance sent another howitzer deep into the Barnstaple 22. However, this time the move did not go to plan, and Barnstaple stole the ball and mounted a counter attack. Despite some excellent scrambling defence, good interplay between forwards and backs created an overlap on the wing, and the full-back out-paced the cover to score in the corner. The conversion was missed, 5-5.
Sidmouth kept on creating chances and spent much of the remainder of the half in Barnstaple territory with one of the moments of the match coming when Number 8 Thomas, hearing the call of "BOX BOX", channelled his inner scrum-half and fired a 50:22 from the base of a ruck that Ben Youngs would've been proud of! Along with a solid kicking game, well organised defence regularly foiled the Barum tactics of trying to run out of defence, with colts flankers Yan Mercan (making his first ever start in the back-row) and Noah Innes-Kruger, along with centres Mike Milburn and Ethan Mead, leading the tackle count. Crucially though, Sidmouth couldn't add to their points tally, too often being the architects of their own downfall as missed lineouts or poor discipline at the breakdown let Barnstaple off the hook.
This was highlighted when, with Sidmouth on the attack, the ball was shipped wide deep in the Barum 22, but Squance's pass was intercepted by the Barnstaple winger who set off for the line, good tracking back by fly half Lewis Hole brought him down, but he found a team mate in support who kicked ahead. With the ball rolling towards the Sidmouth line, it looked like a certain try, but wing Kade Haymen, had other ideas, playing with a damaged ankle he had tracked back fully 80 metres to outpace the Barnstaple chasers, regain the ball and evade two tacklers to set up a ruck from which Squance could clear the danger.
It looked as if the sides would go into half-time even, but with one minute of the half to play, a collapsed scrum saw Richie Hull leave the field with a neck injury, and from the ensuing re-set scrum Sidmouth were penalised. Barnstaple took the penalty quickly and broke into the Sidmouth 22, although the Sidmouth defence, led by Butler and Innes-Kruger, repeatedly knocked the Barum forwards back from the goal-line. Eventually though, the pressure told and resulted in a try for their centre, despite a valiant effort from Mercan putting the most painful part of his body on the line in an attempt to prevent the ball being grounded! The conversion was successful to give Barnstaple the half-time lead 12-5.
Not being clinical enough in the opposition 22 has been a frustrating factor in the Quins attack this season, and on another day, they could have expected to be three or four tries to the good with such dominance of possession and territory. Something to work on for next season.
Barnstaple kicked off the second half and were straight on the attack, winning a lineout in the Sidmouth 22, again the Sidmouth defence stood firm in the face of repeated attacks from the Barnstaple forwards, but eventually a long pass from the fly-half found the full-back in acres of space, to go over in the corner for his second try. The conversion was missed.
From the kick-off the Barum full-back was on the scoresheet again, this time with a brilliant piece of individual finishing at pace, taking off from his own ten metre line and leaving five defenders in his wake to score under the posts and complete his hat-trick. The conversion was successful, 24-5.
Somewhat shell-shocked, Sidmouth regrouped and it is to their credit that they stopped the floodgates opening, remained competitive in the loose and created chances of their own. One such chance came when Lewis Hole, relishing the space having switched from fly-half to the wing, latched onto a pass from Ethan Mead and exploited a gap in the defence on half-way, he beat two more would-be tacklers, only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle.
With the lineout still inconsistent and the loss of the scrum dominance of the first half, Sidmouth were starved of quality possession and it was often only because of good work by Scrum-half Archie Bagwell and Thomas at Number 8 managing to clear the ball from the back of a retreating scrum, that the backs were able to have any ball to attack with.
Barnstaple then extended their lead when the combination of wind, and the cruel bounce of the oval ball allowed the Barnstaple centre to follow up a speculative kick into the Sidmouth 22 to score near the posts. The conversion was successful, 31-5.
With the result no longer in question, Sidmouth threw caution to the wind and should have scored what would have been the try of the match. Hayman took the ball on the Sidmouth 22, he found Mead, who drew two men and put Bishop through the gap between wing and outside centre, but this was one sprint too many for the 39-year-old hamstrings as the sniper took aim, sending him falling to the ground, but not before he had offloaded to Hole who set off down the wing. Roared on by the travelling support he took play into the Barnstaple 22, drew the cover and passed back inside to Mead, he was tap tackled five yards short, but as he stumbled, he managed to get the ball away to Bagwell, who just failed to cling on to the final pass with the line at his mercy! So near and yet so far!!!
With no backs replacement, two injured forwards left on the bench and numerous walking wounded, Sidmouth were there for the taking, but a valiant effort from all in green restricted Barnstaple to just one more score, for you've guessed it, the full-back who scored his fourth and Barnstaple's sixth try with the final attack of the game, making the final score 38-5 to the men in red, but with Sidmouth pride restored after a disappointing showing in the home fixture earlier in the season.
Man of the match was Henry Thomas who was immense in attack and defence, scoring a try, winning turnovers and sneaking in a 50:22 for good measure! Honourable mentions go to Will Cockayne-Cotrell who turned in another mature performance beyond his years, featuring numerous powerful carries, tackles and more than a couple of turnovers. Noah Innes-Kruger who like every great Number 7, never took a backwards, was a nuisance at the breakdown and certainly didn't look like he was making his first senior start.
Kade Hayman who was playing through the pain barrier, tackled everything that came his way and seamlessly stepped in to fly-half when required. Archie Bagwell, who continues to surprise team-mates and opponents alike when it comes to tackling bigger men and debutant Mike Milburn, who certainly seemed to relish being back in the centre "where he belongs" carrying directly, leading the defensive line and frequently stopping the Barnstaple attacks before they could get going.
We should also mention the three musketeers Will Thomas, Tom Osborne and Rhys Davis who travelled to provide vocal support (and constructive criticism) despite being injured, and were often louder than the partisan home crowd.
Decked out in shirts that would make Ace Venturer blush, the Quins headed for the fun bus home and a fitting end to what has been a challenging but hugely enjoyable first full season in Devon Merit Table 1 with plenty to build on for next season.
Thanks to the backroom staff of Boffer, Stu Cavin, John Hamill, Mike Dance and physio Jamie Wride for there efforts this week and throughout the season, and it would be rude not to mention the efforts of kipper Tom Butler and Neil Barratt in getting teams out on the pitch in a season that was hugely disrupted by Covid.