Barnstaple ruffle feathers of London Irish Wild Geese in National League Three
LONDON IRISH Wild Geese left Pottington Road with their feathers ruffled.
But despite a performance from Barnstaple that would have been good enough to beat many National Three south west rivals, they could not clip the wings of the unbeaten league leaders.
Instead, two tries conceded in four second-half minutes – and two missed opportunities of their own – left Barum on the end of a 33-17 defeat.
Kevin Squire, the director of rugby, said: "We're pretty pleased with the performance.
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"We asked for a response (to the defeat to Exmouth) and I think we got it. The players gave all they had. If they had played like that they would have beaten Exmouth.
"Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say you were beaten by a better team."
As Squire had predicted, Barnstaple were more than a match for London Irish in the forwards – the difference was in the backs.
Bigger, but maybe not as well conditioned as the visitors, Barnstaple had the edge at the scrums and, with Tom Skelding putting in a typically strong performance, in the lineout too.
The visitors' backs were just too slippery, though, no more so than when George Owen skirted round the defence to score the first try after just 30 seconds.
Barnstaple missed too many tackles, but let's give credit to the opposition for that.
Owen, on the left wing, and Lawrence Price, at centre and later full back, had the fastest Irish footwork outside Riverdance.
After Owen's earliest of scores, the Barum faithful in a large crowd must have feared the worst against a side with a big reputation.
Reports elsewhere suggested half a dozen of the Wild Geese side had played for London Irish in the Aviva A League during the week. It was, in fact, just two, No 8 Sam McKinney and replacement prop Charlie Connor who were both on the bench for the Premiership club's second team. While their fans worried, the home players replied positively.
Winston James, the captain who again led by example, ran deep from a stolen lineout only for Will Topps's pass to the overlapping Luke Berry on the right wing to not quite find its target.
Irish put the ball into touch and Barnstaple pushed from the resulting lineout.
James broke off but again his side could not execute the final pass, this time Josh Squire attempting a looping effort that sailed over Linford Brock's head.
Squire had better luck as the referee brought play back for a penalty, knocking over his side's first points.
A deep kick by Topps was then well chased to give Barnstaple a strong position in the Irish half and a long spell of possession followed.
But the visitors were as quick in defence as attack and, aside from a snipe by Ben Vellacott, the scrum half, Barum made little progress, ending up pretty much back where they started.
That inability to turn possession into points proved costly on 18 minutes when Price hopped and stepped past three defenders on the line to score a try converted by Ed Keohane.
Within four minutes, the deficit was back to two points as fly half Mark Lee, having his best game of the season, slipped out of one tackle and weaved past another before feeding Topps.
The full back held off two would-be tacklers and slid in by the posts to leave Squire an easy conversion.
Ten minutes later came the first of two moments, involving the unfortunate Brock, that could have transformed the game.
When Lee sent a long pass to Topps, he shifted the ball on to the overlapping Brock who, faced by two men on the line, probably needed to back his pace on the outside and go low for the line.
Instead, the young wing hesitated momentarily, stood up tall, took half a step inside and was stopped.
When Barnstaple pushed again they were said to have been held up, although the players insisted Sam Roberts had got the ball down.
Four minutes after half time, following an interception by Lee and break by Topps, Brock fumbled a popped-up pass from Squire in the shadow of the posts.
Berry gathered the ricochet to score but the referee was having none of it and awarded London Irish the knock-on – which led to an end-to-end try.
Breaking from the scrum, McKinney was able to get through too many tackles to reach the Barnstaple half.
While Topps, as the last line of defence, did well to delay the inevitable, Owen slipped through a tackle by Skelding to score in the left corner.
Then, on 51 minutes, Price was celebrating his second try, too, taking the ball from a maul to cross despite Topps's attempt to haul him back.
Keohane converted both and from a position where Barnstaple could have led 24-12, it was 26-10 to Irish.
"We don't know whether it would have made a difference (to score one of the tries)," said Squire. "If you get in front on the scoreboard it can do things psychologically, but it's hypothetical."
James broke off a catch and drive for a 59th-minute try, converted by Squire, which gave Barnstaple hope of reeling the visitors back in.
But the outcome was settled on 67 minutes when Tom Eastham, the Irish scrum half, went over in the corner for their fifth try and Keohane converted.
"No one likes losing and we're no different," said Squire, whose players received a good ovation. "The supporters got behind us – they at least knew that we did our best, which is all you can ask for."