Barnstaple dominate again in Boxing Day rugby derby
AS PREDICTABLE as a death in Albert Square at Christmas, Barnstaple were winners on Boxing Day once more.
This year's 38-0 victory was their most convincing in the festive fixture against Bideford since 2007, when they enjoyed a 57-3 win.
Fortunately, Barnstaple's dominance does not seem to be wearing thin on the public. A crowd said to number 925 turned out in filthy weather.
What is arguably the biggest occasion on the North Devon sporting calendar deserves a genuine contest.
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Bideford have built a fine side – one of the best in the club's history – and by the end of this year they may be playing just one division below Barnstaple.
But the gap between the two is as wide as ever and few would bet against a repeat result when the rivals meet again on December 26, 2013.
For that to change, Barnstaple would probably have to stop fielding close to a first-choice XV.
There would be more chance of turkeys voting for Christmas.
And who can blame Barum, who have nothing to gain from giving their rivals a break?
"I don't want to be the first Barnstaple coach to lose to them as I imagine the sack would come the following day," said Kevin Squire before the match.
Even against fourteen men for ten minutes early in the second half – Will Topps sin-binned for what the referee saw as a punch at a ruck – Bideford could not make much impression.
It was the first time they had failed to score a point in the fixture since 2005 and they never really looked like doing so.
Their only chance came in a five-minute spell of pressure before half time but the move was all a bit hurried. When Sam Olde punched the ball on to Josh King, who had one man to beat on the left touchline, it slipped through the wing's hands and bounced off his shoulder.
"It was gutting that we didn't score, we were so close to it," said Kevin Booth, the Bideford coach.
"It was a difficult game but, from a coach's point of view, it was brilliant because we got to see where our frailties are. It served its purpose there.
"The gap has closed in the leagues but you can still see we are miles apart.
"Sometimes that gap isn't highlighted enough. We are totally amateur.Barnstaple have a good set-up and a strong squad and it's nice to pit ourselves against what are effectively semi-professionals."
At least Bideford's enthusiasm for the fixture shows no sign of fading.
"It's a big day for both towns, part of Christmas," said Booth. "There is a massive amount of pride involved. Anyone who has worn the shirt on Boxing Day, including myself, has played to win. We weren't going out to roll over and let them tickle our bellies."
No, but Barnstaple were undoubtedly top dogs, even if Cool For Cats was bizarrely ringing out from the loud speakers in the early stages of the match – rugby played to music will never catch on.
Winston James and Mike Sumner, the flankers, played like pitbulls, snapping out of the defensive line to force errors or drive Bideford backwards.
Barum's tails were in full wag by the 33rd minute with a 24-0 lead.
Luke Berry kicked them ahead with a penalty and then converted tries by Toby Williamson, taking a pass from Topps to dive over in the left corner; James, breaking clear from a maul; and Williamson again after Sumner broke through the midfield and Topps drew the last man.
The game up by half time, Bideford withdrew two of their best players – flanker Dave Evans and lock Richard Norman – and changes by both teams did little to help play flow in a forgettable second half.
After an hour, and with Bideford down to 14 following a yellow card for Jason Gubb, Barnstaple finally extended their lead, scoring twice in five minutes.
Linford Brock slipped out of a tackle and stepped inside the last man to run to the line. With a couple of bets in mind, Brock allowed Gary Turner to finish the try.
Sumner then wrestled his way over the line to cap an outstanding performance at blind-side flanker.
The final whistle was blown ten minutes early as a storm hurtled down the Taw, causing spectators to run for cover, and Bideford captain Andrew Loosemore received treatment for a gash to his head.
The game had been switched from Bideford's waterlogged King George's Field and Barnstaple's players dealt better with the weather on their home ground.
Their handling and kicking in the conditions would have brought a win against many of their National Three south west rivals, let alone a side from Tribute Western Counties (west), two divisions below.
"We just imposed our superiority by playing to our assets," said Squire. "It was a gallant effort by Bideford but they were not able to break our front line and if they did, they were smashed down. In everything, we were a little bit quicker."
So Squire avoided the sack for another year while Bideford's focus returned to further closing the gap in the league structure.
"I asked the boys to go out and play with pride," said Booth.
"It was the performance that counted, not the result."