Fly half Pat Sanders guides Bideford clear at top of Western Counties table
A FAULTLESS performance by Pat Sanders guided Bideford five points clear at the top of the Tribute Western Counties (west) table.
Sanders, a summer signing from Torrington, has been used mainly at centre this season.
But after being asked to step up to fly half, he landed six out of six kicks and set up a try for Andrew Loosemore to be named man of the match after a 34-13 win over Okehampton.
With St Austell's match at Wellington postponed, the bonus-point victory took Bideford clear of their promotion rivals.
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Dave Harris, the Chiefs manager, said: "Pat didn't do anything wrong in what was a pressure game for him.
"At the moment, we are in the ascendancy.
"Points on the board is better than having games in hand at this stage of the season."
With Olly Wickett still sidelined by a shoulder injury and Stefan James unavailable because of work commitments, Sanders was handed the No 10 shirt. He quickly settled, landing a penalty in between a dropped goal and penalty from opposing fly half Carl Poynton as Okehampton took a 6-3 lead.
Just as Bideford found their feet in the game, they lost lock Richard Norman to a yellow card for illegal use of the boot.
They were not knocked out of their stride, though, as Simon Bright scored the game's first try from a catch and drive.
Bideford's 14 men then added a second score when James Buckland weaved a path through the Okehampton forwards and cruised over the line.
With his side back to full strength, captain Loosemore, returning at centre after injury, took an offload from Sanders to crash over.
The fly half's three conversions brought up his half century of points for the season and gave Bideford a 24-6 half-time lead.
That may not have been as secure as it seemed given Okehampton came back from 27-0 down at the break to draw 27-27 in the sides' previous meeting in October.
Sanders helped ensure there was no fightback this time with a penalty and the conversion after prop Paul Thomas scored his first try of the season from a rolling maul.
With Bideford replacement Andrew Baxter yellow-carded for catching an opponent with his boot, Okehampton's Rob Fishleigh went over from a planned scrum move.
James Starkey, the hooker, joined Baxter in the sin bin for killing the ball but Okehampton were unable to add to their score as their winless run was extended to six matches.
"I couldn't see Okehampton coming back like they did at their place," said Harris.
"They didn't look like they had it in them. They were well beaten."
Bideford have a break this weekend to rest up ahead of crucial matches against Penryn, away on March 2, and St Austell, at home on March 9.