Brixham spoil Mark Berry's day as Barnstaple captain
HE MAY have been a reluctant captain, but Mark Berry was one kick away from really enjoying himself in the role.
Instead the day ended in disappointment for Berry, who was whistled up when regular skipper Winston James went down with a back injury.
Ben Lovell's 79th-minute penalty went spinning between the posts to give Brixham a well-deserved 18-16 victory and deny Barnstaple an equally well-deserved, if unexpected, 16-15 one.
"I enjoyed it but I would have enjoyed it more if we had won," said Berry.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
"It's not something I want to do all the time, I would rather concentrate on my own game.
"Captaining Barnstaple is hard work, there are a lot of vocal players in the team."
As one of the few senior players left standing, Berry, 33, was the obvious choice to lead out the team.
"It was a very disappointing finish (to the game) but, overall, I was quite pleased – with the team we had available," he said.
"We have got a lot of injuries.Some of the players who played on Saturday wouldn't have dreamt of playing at home against Brixham but I thought they all did very well."
Five were missing through injury and unavailability from the team who started the previous week's defeat to Weston-super-Mare.
They included James and this season's leading try scorer Linford Brock.
But it was scrum half Ben Vellacott, on duty for the Exeter Chiefs academy side in their 10-5 win over Saracens, who Barnstaple perhaps missed most of all as his replacement, Ross Williamson, had a difficult afternoon.
The pre-match focus had been on the front row of the scrum and Berry's battle with Ryan Hopkins, the former Plymouth Albion prop. But it was from the back that Brixham's match winner emerged.
Barnstaple had no answer to the running of Jarryd Harris, the bullish No 8, who scored two tries.
Berry had been described by his director of rugby, Kevin Squire, as "the best loosehead at this level" who would be "more than a match" for Hopkins.
Squire was right, there was nothing between the two for the hour they locked horns.
It was on the other side of the scrum, where Phil Gordon's troublesome back allowed him to last only 26 minutes, that Brixham had the edge, without ever truly dominating.
"Unfortunately, Phil got injured and that was a massive blow to us," said Berry.
"They had a good, experienced front row and Nigel East (Gordon's replacement) is not a tighthead, he has always played at loosehead or hooker, so to come on and play there he did very well. I couldn't fault him for his effort.
"Tactically, they played the referee very well and we were a little bit naive."
Barnstaple led through Luke Berry's 19th-minute penalty when Gordon's back gave out.
Within seconds of going on, East was going backwards towards his own line. Harris broke away from the scrum and powered through to score under the posts.
Lovell added the conversion for a 7-3 lead that was cut to 7-6 when Berry kicked a second penalty, awarded at a scrum.
Unable to get out of their half, Barnstaple were lucky to reach half time only one point behind.
Matt Crosscombe, roaming from the left wing, posed almost as many questions as Harris with his strong running, while Jamie Shone, Chey Bryce and Kyle Browne all fumbled the ball with the try line beckoning.
There was a further let-off when Lovell hit the post with a penalty, but the home side might have led at the break.
After they ran a penalty from their own 22, Luke Berry made a break towards the line but was brought down just short after delaying a pass to Toby Williamson outside him.
They had done enough to earn a penalty but Berry, like Lovell before him, struck the post.
Brixham went close to a try from the tail of a lineout early in the second half and extended their lead on 49 minutes with a Lovell penalty.
But, handling and kicking so much better, Barnstaple began to enjoy the territorial advantage.
Berry again got close, this time from a chip and chase after the impressive Matt Gohl stole a lineout, before reducing the deficit to one point with a third penalty.
That hard work was undone in the 65th minute when Steve Perry hurled a pass somewhere near Will Topps's left ear and the full back knocked on.
Harris ran from the scrum before appearing on the end of the line to beat Topps into the left corner.
Tom Heard added his name to the Barnstaple injury list with a broken nose and Kele Taofinu'u, who had played 48 minutes at blind-side flanker with a calf injury, was sent back on to stand at inside centre.
And yet Barnstaple came back again with another spell of pressure that finished with the home support roaring their side into a 16-15 lead with ten minutes of normal time remaining.
Topps, whose end product has been questioned in recent weeks, left no one in any doubt as he burst out of the line, past three defenders and scored under the posts to leave Berry an easy conversion.
Brixham were always likely to get another chance – in fact, they had five.
Lovell fell short with a long-range penalty, then three scrums on the five-metre line raised the prospect of a penalty try as the home pack were twice penalised.
From the third it was Brixham who pushed too early and Barnstaple were able to clear.
It only relieved the immediate danger, though.
As the ball squirted out of a ruck on the ten-metre line, referee Carl Bennett dismayed Barnstaple by penalising them for using their hands – and Lovell made no mistake this time.
"After the first half I thought we were really lucky to still be in the game," said Mark Berry.
"In the second half, we played a lot better but the penalty count hurt us. That's something we really need to work on."
If quality prop forwards are like gold dust for all clubs, Berry becomes more precious to Barnstaple with every injury.
He may not want the captaincy long term, but the Barum faithful will be delighted to hear he is prepared to remain a front-row fixture.
"At every club, props are very limited and we are certainly struggling," said Berry.
"I try to stay as fit as possible, but I will see what happens at the end of the season. If I don't pick up any injuries, I would like to think I can carry on."