Eleventh hour points scupper Barnstaple
A GAME that seemed to be Barnstaple's for the taking was snatched from them with virtually the last kick.
Redingensians fly half Guy Swadling kicked a penalty from the half way line in the 79th minute at Pottington Road, to leave Barum on the wrong end of a 24-23 scoreline and ruing missed opportunities.
Director of rugby Kevin Squire praised his new-look team for an outstanding effort in front of the home fans for the first time.
Although Barnstaple will take heart from having run a team hotly tipped to top the table so close, they will know they must win tight games like Saturday's if they have real aspirations of being in contention for promotion come April.
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And if truth be told Redingensians didn't quite live up to their billing as title favourites, rarely threatening the home try line, though that could be seen as a measure of the quality of Barum's defence.
That defence was led by flankers Gary Turner, returning to the side for the first time this season, and Kele Taofinu'u. The Samoan powerhouse also proved effective in attack as one of Barum's most powerful ball carriers.
The game started in glorious sunshine with not a breath of wind in the air, ideal conditions for the two kickers. And it was the visitors' kicker, Swadling, who was given the first shot at goal, nudging Redingensians ahead after the Berkshire side's pack worked their way up the field before earning a penalty.
Swadling added a second penalty to put Reds 6-0 up before Barum started to come into the game.
To the surprise of many it was the smaller home pack who started to get the upper hand, earning a shot at goal which Josh Squire nudged just wide from near the touchline.
Squire again pushed a penalty just wide minutes later before he got Barum on the board after 23 minutes.
Ten minutes later the home side were ahead.
A scrum in the shadow of the visitors' posts saw the ball moved right to full back Will Topps. Although he couldn't quite force his way over the line second row James Lewis did, after a series of short pick and drives.
Squire added the extras for Barum to lead 10-6 at the break. Just moments into the second half Swadling cut the lead to one point with a drop goal but Barum bounced back 15 minutes into the second half.
They went 17-9 up when a wide cut-out pass from Squire freed Toby Williamson down the left touch line. Although Williamson was tackled just short after stepping inside the last man, the ball was recycled, moved right and tight head prop Joe Bussell crashed through the Redingensians defence, ignoring a three man overlap just outside him.
Despite being brought down just short Bussell popped the ball up to hooker Sam Roberts who dived over. Squire again converted.
That prompted a fight back from Redingensians, who mounted an attack on the Barum line. A series of five metre scrums were well defended by the home pack but the mounting pressure saw Redingensians' winger Steve Bryant left unmarked on the left touchline and he was sent clear to score in the corner by Swadling.
Swadling converted to cut the Barum lead to a point but Squire soon extended it again with a penalty on 67 minutes.
Barum then went for the kill and looked likely to score with a driving maul. But the ball was spilled forward and Swadling kicked clear. Barum right winger Linford Brock was unable to get to the ball in the air and a wicked bounce saw it end up in the arms of Bryant.
Despite Barum scrambling in defence a series of running offloads saw centre Josh Smith slide into the corner and put Redingensians ahead for the first time in the half. Swadling missed the tough conversion to make it a one-point game.
Barnstaple again came back and retook the lead when Squire kicked a penalty on 77 minutes.
They then tried to close out the game, keeping possession on the half way line. But they weren't able to hang on long enough, referee Richard Harding giving a contentious penalty against skipper Winston James.
James appeared to have been tackled high as he went to ground but no penalty was given. To add insult to injury James was also adjudged to have held on by Harding, despite many of the Barnstaple team feeling the tackler hadn't released James.
Up stepped Swadling and from 50 metres he made no mistake, the ball passing just inches over the cross bar.
"It was a really big call from the referee which went their way," said Squire.
"I feel so sorry for the players. We played out of our skins and were desperately unlucky not to get a result.
"Redingensians are widely regarded as a top side in the league and are boldly predicted to get promotion.
"To play the top team and pretty much play them off the park for 80 minutes, it bodes well for the future."
Barnstaple travel to Amersham and Chiltern on Saturday.