Exeter Saracens 31, Withycombe 19

Withycombe went out of the Devon Intermediate Cup, but not before they had pushed their higher league hosts all the way, writes Jamie Roach.

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Not for the first time this season Withy were slow to get into the game and this was a prime factor in them conceding a brace of early tries, both of the softer nature, that saw the Exeter side into a 14-0 lead.

Eventually Withy got their act together and were son showing that they had the wherewithal to comfortably deal with all that Saracens could throw at them.

This despite the controversial sin binning of number-eight Mike Richards. Shortly after his re-introduction, Richards made his presence felt by snaffling an opportunistic try from a pick and go five metres out.

Though the scoreboard remained static, the game was a neutral’s delight: Withycombe taking the opportunity of a cup game to run the majority of their penalty and free kick decisions, as well as the venomous edge endemic to local derbies.

On his return from exile in the centre, John Parkin in particular proved to be a persistent thorn in Sarries’ side from quick taps and in broken play. If nothing else, the display showed that in addition to the pace of Mike Symons, Parkin’s ingenuity gives Withy an embarrassment of riches at scrum-half. Another quick tap was to give Withy their next score, this time Mike Richards going quickly form the scrum base and being unlucky not to be awarded a try after grounding on the line; Jamie Rose made sure by dotting down from the ensuing ruck and Withy went into the break just two points adrift at 14-12.

At half-time the Withycombe team talk was of building on their gathering momentum. For all their demonstrations of competence though, they failed to follow through with execution, starting the second half as slowly as they started the first.

Saracens scored from the first play as Withycombe backed off the two or three big runners that defined Sarries’ attacking game. They capitalised on some woeful defending shortly after to make it 31-12, with hopes of a Withycombe comeback looking lost.

Credit to Withycombe though, they never gave up. Positives included the strong Withycombe scrummage which was unfairly penalised time and again, and the debut of Jamie Roach who acquitted himself well under considerable duress.

Withycombe enjoyed a fruitful ten-minute spell in the second half, starting with a turnover from the industrious Jack Pugsley, with Mike Richards putting in a highly improbable grubber kick from the halfway line which gave the lightning quick Will House the simplest of finishes to finally break his 1st XV duck with a try!

Pugsley’s conversion meant that with 15 minutes remaining, two more tries would win it for Withy, and a fantastic break from the ensuing kickoff gave them hope, only for a pass to go astray five metres out with the try-line begging.

At the next scrum, Withycombe were again controversially penalised and the pressure was relieved; it was to be the last meaningful action in a highly entertaining game.

In all likelihood Sarries were as good as anything in Withycombe’s league; the game was there for the taking but ultimately inconsistency robbed them of an eye-catching scalp. It’s back to league action this Saturday with a Raleigh Park meeting with mid-table OPMs.

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