Former Premiership winner Phil Dollman broke St Austell hearts with an injury-time penalty that saw Sidmouth snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at Tregorrick Park on Saturday, writes Gareth Davies.
Dollman, who just 18 months ago was part of the Exeter Chiefs’ double-winning squad, held his nerve to kick a magnificent three-pointer after referee Danny Robbins pinged Adam Kellow for a high tackle 30 metres out.
But this wasn’t the only late drama as just moments before, Matt Shepherd thought he had won the game for Saints with a magnificent penalty of his own.
However, with Sidmouth winning the ball back from the restart, there would be one final twist in the tale with Dollman’s ice-cool intervention handing Saints a first defeat on home soil for well over two years.
Before the Devonians made the trip across the Tamar, Saints’ pre-match preparations were dealt a blow when influential skipper Miles Davey was ruled out with a hamstring injury. There were further changes for Saints in the pack as Dan Job returned in the front row at the expense of Brandon Haque whilst Rory Jago came in for Andy Inch.
Behind the scrum, Saints’ explosive back division, which scored seven of the nine tries in the 52-0 demolition of Old Patesians last time out, remained unchanged.
In testing conditions, which made free-flowing rugby almost impossible due to the persistent rain that fell throughout, Saints fell behind after just 13 minutes. A barnstorming run from Sidmouth prop Matt Ewings put the visitors in range and with lock Rob Griffin picking up from the base of the ruck, he duly dotted down. Dan Retter kicked a routine conversion and Saints were 7-0 down.
Shipping the game’s opening try seemed to wake the hosts up and they were soon in range. After a series of close-range phases, play was switched to the wing where Alex Welland saw off the attentions of Rory O’Brien to score. Shepherd was the width of a post away from converting but his kick crashed back off the woodwork.
The rest of the opening stanza was a real War of Attrition with both teams’ defensive units on top and at the interval, Saints went in behind by two points.
However, within the first 60 seconds of the second half, Saints were in front when Shepherd kicked a penalty after Sidmouth were penalised by Robbins at the ruck.
At this point, it was expected that Saints would dominate as they have done in every other home match this season but Sidmouth had other ideas. The visitors dug in well and shut down Saints’ main attacking threats.
Just shy of the hour mark, it was Saints’ turn to incur the wrath of Robbins and Retter matched Shepherd’s earlier accomplishment to nudge his side back ahead.
The game remained on a knife edge until 10 minutes from time when George Locke cut through the home defensive rear guard to score and despite Retter missing the conversion, Sidmouth had stolen a real march.
But Saints aren’t in with a chance of a second successive promotion by fluke and they showed enormous heart and courage to drag themselves back into the match. Four minutes from time, Shepherd kicked a penalty deep into the Sidmouth 22 and after a successful line-out drive, Saints were rumbling towards the line.
Merry whistle blower Robbins adjudged that the hosts had grounded the ball with Jago the man credited with five points. Shepherd lined up the conversion but just as he started his run up, a gust of wind blew the ball off the tee. Because he had started to move towards the ball, Sidmouth raced from the posts and despite Shepherd’s quick thinking in trying a drop goal, the crucial extra points were not added.
It was cruel luck on Saints who after being second best for long periods, had somehow clawed their way back into the game as ticked down.
When the clock moved into the red and much to the frustration of Sidmouth, they shipped a penalty some 40 metres out. Knowing three points would put them in front, Saints opted for the posts. Shepherd, with the ball held on the tee by Chris Ashwin, lined up the kick some 40 metres from the posts.
And to the delight of yet another bumper home crowd, he just managed to clear the cross bar. The jubilation was short-lived however as anything Shepherd could manage, Dollman was equal to as the Welshman’s effort saw the points head back to Devon.
Saints: Shepherd, Boyer, Ewudzi, Plummer, Welland, Ashwin, Boyce; Job, Grigg, Nicholson, Vian, Kellow, Jago, Marriott. Replacements: Taylor, Noott, Bees.
Tries: Welland, Jago. Pens: Shepherd (2).
Sidmouth: Retter, O’Brian, Locke, J Emmett, T Mead, Dollman, Grainger; Ewings, Reid, Down, Armstrong, Griffin, Salter, Down, H Emmett. Replacements: Unsworth, Derryman, E Mead.
Tries: Griffin, Locke. Con: Retter. Pens: Retter, Dollman.
Referee: Danny Robbins (Cornwall)
[Featured images: Dave Phillips]