Barnstaple's delightfully dull progress in Devon Senior Cup
BARNSTAPLE made delightfully dull progress to the Devon Senior Cup final.
After ending their six-game losing streak in National Three south west with a patchy victory over Maidenhead, they must have enjoyed being so dominant in Saturday's semi-final.
From the first scrum it was clear Barnstaple's pack was too strong and well-drilled for Sidmouth, of Tribute South West One (west).
So they honed in on the weakness, forcing penalty after penalty and each time opting to reset the set piece.
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The tactic frustrated the home supporters but Barnstaple could have played any number of ways and still won the game.
In tricky conditions – the pitch markings were barely visible through the mud – they merely chose to focus on the area of the game where they were vastly superior.
"The crowd wanted us to pass the ball around a bit more but it wasn't the day for that," said Kevin Squire, the director of rugby, after the 41-12 win.
"I spoke before the game about imposing our superiority.
"We dominated the scrum because of our technique – that's why I'm so pleased.
"We spend so much time on technique and when you get a performance like that it's great."
The travelling supporters might have done a double take after glancing at the team.
Winston James, Barnstaple's captain and one of the best open-side flankers in National Three south west, was lining up at outside centre. And Ross Williamson, usually a scrum half, was out on the left wing.
It soon became clear there was no reason to worry.
Sidmouth barely got out of their own half in the first 20 minutes and Kele Taofinu'u revelled in James's usual role.
After a slaloming run by Ryan Carter, Rob Elliott, on the right wing, was denied a near certain try by an excellent tackle from Ben Dobson.
A scrum resulted and, by the time he had penalised the Sidmouth pack for a fourth time, referee Chris Newton decided to sin-bin prop James Perry and award a penalty try, which Luke Berry converted.
There was no respite for poor Sidmouth whose restart kick failed to go ten metres, resulting in another scrum on the halfway line.
For a moment, Barnstaple looked intent on driving Sidmouth all the way back to the try line.
Eventually, though, the ball came out and Will Topps nearly found a way through in the right-hand corner.
When the forwards let the backs get involved, Topps, the full back, was linking up well with fly half Steve Perry and on 21 minutes he ran unopposed through the middle before passing to Williamson who put James in for a diagonal run to the left corner.
Only some stubborn Sidmouth defence kept Barnstaple out after Elliott had got within sight of the line, but he barged through in the right corner on 28 minutes after possession was stolen at a lineout.
Then, five minutes before half time, Elliott made another run down the right and offloaded for Topps who was brought down on the line but still managed to get the ball over.
In the last minute of the half, Sidmouth made a rare visit to the Barnstaple 22 and a lofted pass found Jack Pyne, the No 8, overlapping to score.
Leading 22-5 at half time, Barum already had one foot planted firmly in the final.
There was no doubt at all by the time James, restored to the back row, had completed a hat-trick in the 64th minute. First he was driven over in a maul, then he scored a pushover try following another series of scrum penalties and a yellow card for Sidmouth's Matt Lovesy.
"The forwards worked so hard and Mark Berry (at prop) did really well. I have never seen the team that dominant," said James, whose starting place in the back division was a return to his colts days.
"It's not something I'd like to do all the time, I didn't feel like I was doing enough.
"It was nice to have a bit of a change but I like the No 7 shirt too much."
Hooker Matt Farrington won a race to get on the end of Dan Retter's 71st-minute chip to score Sidmouth's second try, converted by Tom Whelan.
Unsurprisingly, though, the game finished with Barnstaple driving forward at a scrum.
This time the ball was spun out and Perry kicked over the defence for Elliott to score his second try.
A regular scorer for the Development XV this season, he is still a long way off the top of the first team's scoring charts.
Topps leads the way with 15, ahead of the injured Linford Brock on 14.
But, after scoring five tries in three games to take his tally to ten, James had a warning.
"It would be nice to overtake Toppsy," he said. "I think he's a bit nervous."