Rugby: St Austell turn on style to beat Chard
AFTER two successive away games, St Austell finally got their home campaign off and running in fine style with a bonus point victory over Chard.
The pre-match excitement for the first SW1 game at Tregorrick was palpable and the large Tregorrick crowd were not left disappointed by a thrilling contest.
It was a real clash of styles, with the Somerset side using their powerful pack to great effect while the Saints looked to run the ball whenever possible.
In the end the home side's diligence in defence and pace in the loose blunted the Chard bludgeon.
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The Saints were anxious to stop the trend of conceding early tries, so took the game to the visitors from the off. The early signs were good with the Saints playing a high tempo game that was starting to stretch the visitors' defence.
A lack of care with the ball in contact and over competing at the breakdown meant ceding the initiative back to Chard.
From one such occasion, Chard were able to launch a powerful rolling maul from a lineout that moved menacingly towards the try line.
The Saints' defence held firm and eventually cleared the danger but it was very much a sign of things to come.
The breakthrough came on 20 minutes when flanker Paul Winterbottom broke the gain line to feed Dan Pearce.
The mercurial full back mesmerised two defenders before putting in skipper Matt Shepherd for a try in the corner.
Shepherd turned creator when he ripped the ball from a Chard carrier to send winger Ashley Taylor away for his first try for the Saints. The conversion by fly-half Shepherd put the home side 12-0 ahead.
Chard then laid siege in the Saints 22 for 10 minutes as their forwards looked to pound away at the home defence.
The Saints repelled four successive lineout catch and drive routines before a turnover allowed the home side to clear their lines and relieve the pressure.
On 36 minutes, Winterbottom stole a Chard lineout and the ball was spread across the back line for outside centre Curtis Newberry to score in the corner.
Back came Chard and their persistence with the catch and drive finally paid off when they crashed over for a try on the stroke of half time.
Their cause was undoubtedly helped by a yellow card for Winterbottom for repeat offending.
Chard started the second half strongly determined to fully exploit their numerical advantage.
The Saints had just about held their own against the bigger Somerset pack in the first half, but it was clear in the early exchanges the balance had tilted in Chard's favour.
Chard looked to have scored under the posts, but were guilty of celebrating too soon, allowing Shepherd to heroically prevent the ball from being grounded.
The reprieve was short-lived, from the resulting 5m scrum Chard shifted the ball wide to score in the corner to take the score to 17-10.
The next score would be crucial and with the Saints back to a full complement they started to press forward roared on by an exuberant home crowd.
After several near misses, the pressure told when flanker Ian Venner found a gap to score. Shepherd converted.
Chard to their credit hit back determined to at least secure a losing bonus point.
With the clock ticking down the pressure on the home line was mounting until a turnover under the shadow of the home posts.
The ball was passed to Dan Pearce in the in-goal area and with the whole of Tregorrick shouting for the ball to be kicked to touch.
The full back spotted a gap and accelerated through it, jinking and side stepping passed would-be tacklers in the 22 before hitting open space to outpace the entire Chard backline to run the length of the field and score in the corner.
It was the ex-Bude man's first try for the Saints and he fully deserved the standing ovation as the packed stand rose as one.
This game was always seen as a key test as many SW1 sides have powerful well drilled packs like Chard.
During pre-season the coaches and players worked hard to adapt the style of play to cope with less possession and defensive structures.
To score five tries and not bend under pressure is an excellent return and a suitable tribute to ex-club chairman Bernie Shepherd, father of Saints skipper Matt, celebrating his 70th birthday.
This Saturday afternoon the Saints are on the road to face Sidmouth (3pm).