Sidmouth rugby players got their first opportunity to test out the work on the training ground in match conditions when they visited Western Counties team Okehampton. They will be satisfied with the result, if not the final margin, and the overall performance of the squad available.

One of the concerns last season was the disparity between performances at the Blackmore and away from home. Both warm up games have been arranged away in order to address this issue. With that in mind, this game was a success. The team maintained intensity for the full 80 minutes and kept their line intact. However, they will face much sterner tests against South West league opposition, and will need to improve their play in the set pieces, if they are to achieve the desired improvements. They were constantly under pressure in the scrums, and too many lineouts resulted in scrums.

However, there were many pluses, particularly the running and handling in the backs and the support play and tidying up of the backrow. Dan Retter got the line moving well, centres Tristan Beavis and Tom Hodge ran hard and gave their wingmen opportunities. Tom Whelan had an excellent game at full, and was well supported by his wingmen in setting up several very effective counterattacks. In the backrow, skipper Sam Richardson led by example, and the experience of Dan Trim and Rhys Thomas was vital in support play and maintaining momentum. Meanwhile, what Wade Cooper and Charlie Davies lacked in experience, they made up for in energy. Though the front five were under considerable pressure, Jack Pyne was an effective ball carrier and Sam Sowden’s mobility saw him pop up in several handling moves.

Playing down the slope, Sidmouth took the lead after seven minutes, when Okehampton lost possession on halfway. A good handling move found Sam Meadham on the left wing. He cut inside and made ground into the 22, where the ball was quickly recycled from a ruck and moved to the right. Accurate passing found Tom Whelan joining the line to cut through and score wide out.

Meadham was in the action again soon after when he chased a Dan Retter kick to set up a strong attacking position. Steve Trim forced his way over from a ruck near the line but was unable to ground the ball. Retter’s kicking continued to trouble the defence and keep his side on the front foot. Try number two came from a scrum just inside the Okehampton 22. Sam Richardson broke left and sent Steve Trim through a gap. The number eight was then on hand to take the scoring pass. Neither try was converted.

The Sidmouth line came under sustained pressure in the closing minutes of the half but the defence held firm to maintain the 10 point advantage at the break.

The lead was fragile as Sidmouth turned to play up the slope, but their line was rarely threatened. The Okehampton backs did not have the fire-power to unduly threaten the Sidmouth defence. They resorted to kicking, which only served to give the Sidmouth backs opportunities to counterattack, which they did with enthusiasm. Okehampton had to work hard to prevent any further scores with several last ditch tackles. Sidmouth should have capitalised more on the attacking positions gained but lack of control in the set pieces prevented them from sustaining the pressure.

The Goss brothers, Matt at scrum half and Barney on the wing, proved to be effective replacements. Matt made an instant impact with a fine break at his first scrum and was a lively threat throughout his time on the field. Brother Barney came closest to increasing the score when he was tackled into touch a couple of metres short of the line.

On Saturday the players should face a tougher test when two squads travel to Wellington. The Somerset side finished third in Western Counties West last season, and will be one of the favourites to win promotion in the coming campaign.

At the Blackmore the Colts entertain Barnstaple Colts in a warm up game for their revamped Merit Table competition. The kick off is at 3.00pm.

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