Bitter Barnstaple v Weston-super-Mare clash may not be over
THE BOOT of James Mackay, the Weston-super-Mare fly half, settled this National Three south west clash – or did it?
Barnstaple's complaint over the uncontested scrum that took place on the Weston five-metre line after 35 minutes of Saturday's match at Pottington Road may yet see the result decided in an RFU committee room rather than from Mackay's kicking tee.
Matches between these teams seem to have developed a bitter edge and the latest was punctuated by physical scuffles on the field and verbal ones off it between the more vociferous spectators.
A skirmish over a scrummage is only likely to spice up the rivalry ahead of their next meeting.
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Barnstaple admit that in the second half they were a clear second best to a strong Weston team who deserved a 31-13 win that took them up to second place in the table.
But it is hard to argue against the home team's claim that they would have added to a 10-7 lead had their eight been allowed to push against a five-man pack.
Instead, referee Richard Harding mistakenly called an uncontested scrum despite a spare Weston prop watching from the touchline.
Barnstaple would have been good value for the try they feel would have inevitably come.
If Weston were surprised to find Pottington Road remained a green and pleasant land after setting off from snowy North Somerset, they were shocked by the heat of Barum's start.
Tom Skelding, whose appearances have been curtailed by illness, volunteered to play when Kele Taofinu'u pulled up with a calf strain in the warm-up. And the experienced lock was straight into the action, leaping high to claim the ball from the kick off.
Steve Perry, the fly half, then flung a trademark miss-pass near his own 22 and from there it was all about Linford Brock.
Switched recently from wing to outside centre, Brock was in more familiar territory as he took off down the right touchline, handing off tackle after tackle before finishing his 12th try of the season.
From kick off to try in just 45 seconds.
Weston had a fleet-footed back of their own in Harry Jones and he picked his way through the heart of the home defence to level the scores in the tenth minute. Mackay's conversion nudged Weston into the lead.
Weston were equally quick in breaking from the defensive line and they forced errors from Barnstaple.
The screw was turned, though, as Barum took a scrum against the head; Will Topps and Toby Williamson bungled an overlap on the left wing; and Winston James was held up by two tacklers on the line.
Under mounting pressure, it was Weston's discipline that buckled before their defence.
Paul Morrissey, the open-side flanker was sin-binned, then George Sparks, the No 8, followed him.
Against 13 men, Barnstaple scored from a catch and drive – hooker Sam Roberts coming up with the ball.
A massive shove at a scrum in the 34th minute did not quite bring a third try but it did result in a third yellow card for Weston, this time shown to prop David Swann.
It was easy to see why Barnstaple were convinced they would have scored had the scrum Weston were awarded when the home side knocked on in the 36th minute been contested.
Instead, the visitors overlooked the presence of prop Phil Hobbs on the touchline – accidently or otherwise – and were allowed to clear the danger.
Morrissey and Sparks had returned by the second minute of stoppage time when, after Barnstaple had been penalised at a (contested) scrum, Jones overlapped on the right wing to score his second try.
Mackay missed the kick, for the only time in the match, and Barnstaple were able to take a slender lead into half time when Topps knocked over a penalty from the last kick of the half.
If Weston had felt they got the thin end of the wedge of penalty calls in the first half, it was a complete turnaround in the second.
Mackay, the division's leading kicker, landed three-pointers in the 48th, 53rd, 62nd and 67th minutes to turn a 13-12 deficit into a 24-13 lead.
"Of the four penalties Mackay kicked, I had no complaints about three of them," said Kevin Squire, Barnstaple's director of rugby. "They were awarded as a result of them being in front-foot situations."
Mike Sumner, Barnstaple's blind-side flanker, was sin-binned for the last of those offences.
It was shortly before he returned that Weston attacked at pace from a scrum and Dave Burge, their hooker and captain, forced his way over to wrap up the win.
"It was a great game between two very well-organised sides," said Squire.
"We played really well in the first half. In the second half, they showed what a quality side they are.
"They had a more pragmatic approach and kept hold of the ball better.
"They played through their big forwards and their size and power wore us down.
"They were controlling the game and all credit to them for that."
Barnstaple's Devon Senior Cup semi-final at Sidmouth has been rearranged for March 16.