Chiefs run league leaders close in thriller

SIDMOUTH 1st XV  21pts  v  EXETER UNIVERSITY 1st XV  22pts 

The Chiefs produced an outstanding performance to push the league leaders all the way to the final whistle in a highly entertaining game, and earn a valuable bonus point in the process.

They had clearly worked hard on the lineout deficiencies, which had been brutally exposed the week before. Not only did they secure most of their own throw-ins, but disrupted the University on a number of occasions.

Once again, the strong and speedy backrow provided the foundations. Also the backline, with Harry Chesteton making his first appearance of the season and Jay Wright an assured presence at fly half, were a constant threat with ball in hand, and defended well against strong opposition.

The Chiefs  kicked off in perfect conditions. The University secured possession and immediately showed their attacking intent. Direct running and quick recycling of the ball had the Chiefs on the back foot. The visitors took the lead after six minutes, when Sidmouth ran out of defenders for the left winger to score on the overlap. The conversion attempt by the fly half rebounded from an upright.

The Chiefs showed their positive intent with a good move out of their own 22. Stuart Bickerstaff made the initial break from the base of a scrum and good handling allowed George Locke to exploit a space out wide.

The forwards were forced to defend desperately at a five metre scrum followed by a series of rucks. They kept the line intact until a penalty enabled them to clear the danger.

When the Chiefs took play into the University half to create some pressure of their own, they were rewarded with a penalty kicked by Jevon Astley-Jones.

Soon after the restart kick, powerful running by Tom Irish and Dwight Pansegrouw took play into the opposing 22. The ball was quickly recycled from a ruck and Jay Wright expoited the disorganised defence to dummy his way through and under the posts. Jevon Astley-Jones added the conversion.

The University had two players yellow carded in the closing stages of the half, but the Chiefs were unable to expoit the numerical advantage.

After the break, the Chiefs fielded the restart kick and produced a slick move on the blindside of a ruck, where Haydn Down timed his pass perfectly to send James Leat on a run up the right wing. He evaded a couple of defenders to take play well in to the opposing half. The students conceded a penalty for Jevon Astley-Jones to extend the lead.

Restored to a full 15, the University turned on the pressure, and they were helped by some wayward Sidmouth kicking. Clearances failed to find touch and tactical kicks were misdirected. One of these was run back and a series of quick rucks produced an overlap for the full back to score in the left corner. Minutes later, the same player finished off a well-executed move form a set scrum in the Sidmouth 22.

The Chiefs lead was restored with a third Astley-Jones penalty, but the University responded almost immediately. Another wayward kick gave them an attacking opportunity. Again, quick recycling in the Sidmouth 22 yielded an overlap for a try on the left wing. The conversion by the fly half would prove to be decisive.

For those watching, this seemed to be a turning point in favour of the students. However, it was the Chiefs who finisher the stronger. A fine handling move looked certain to bring a try but for a handling error. Still, Dwight Pansegrouw, Stuart Bickerstaff and George Locke all came close.

With time running out, the University seemed to have weathered the storm as play moved to midfield. When George Locke got possession on halfway there seemed to be little on. However, he managed to evade two chasing defenders and found the pace to beat the cover into the left corner. The conversion attempt drifted just wide and the students held on to their single point lead.

The Dukes man-of-the-match was Giles Dixon.