Exmouth's hopes shattered by late Barnes score
PUBLISHED: 10:18 29 April 2015 | UPDATED: 10:18 29 April 2015
Exmouth's hopes of a swift return to National Division Two were shattered by an extra-time defeat by Barnes in the play-off game, writes Conrad Sutcliffe.
The Imperial Ground was packed with more than a thousand spectators for the game, Exmouth’s chance to go straight back up to National Two at the first attempt.
This time last year the Cockles were licking their wounds after being relegated back into National Three South West with just five wins to their name.
When Exmouth were 15-0 up at half time it seemed they were well on their way.
Barnes got back to 15-14 down and a ding-dong second half unfolded, which reached the fourth minute of stoppage time with Exmouth 22-19 up.
Barnes kicked a penalty, the game went into extra time and 19 of the 20 minutes added on had been played when Barnes scored their winning try.
The immediate mood in the Exmouth camp was on of desolation, but director of rugby Chris Wright said the players should be proud of what they have achieved this season.
“It won’t feel like much of a consolation straight away, but you have to look where we were just a short time ago and where we are now,” said Wright.
“I says huge amounts about the commitment and togetherness of the squad that virtually the same group of players have turned things round dramatically in a year.
“This season we have hardly been out of the top two or three all season and only lost five games. We only won five last season.
“Everyone is feeling empty right now, not just because we lost but because of the way we lost.
“The game was eminently winnable, but fine margins can make a massive difference and that is what happened to us.
“We destroyed Barnes in the first half and could have been 22-0 up, which would have been game over, I am sure.
“Mark Wathes ‘scored’ what looked like a perfectly good try under the posts when we were already 15-0 up. It was given held-up in goal and we were not able to score from the scrum.
“Then, when we were 22-19 up with seconds to play we were awarded a line-out and threw the ball in crooked.
“Scrum to Barnes, we were penalised for something and their kicker got it over despite shanking it pretty horribly.
“Had the ball gone in straight, it just needed looking after for a few moments and the game was won.
“It is those fine margins that make such a big difference.”
Once the game went into extra time the pressure was always on Exmouth.
The teams had scored the same number of tries and kicked the same number of conversions. If it stayed level, Barnes would go through as the away team.
So Exmouth had to score, whereas Barnes didn’t.
To legitimise their victory, Barnes scored a try in the corner from the final play of the game. But as Wright said: “We had already lost it by then.”
George Meadows kicked a penalty on three minutes then added the goal points to an interception try by Richard Bright on 17.
The lead stretched out to 15-0 when a kick poked into the corner evaded the chasing Bright, but bounced back for Wathes to collect and run in.
Barnes got back to 15-14 with 57 minutes played thanks to a couple of converted tries.
On 66 minutes Exmouth lost Chris Bentley to the sin bin. Barnes kicked the penalty into the corner, set up the driving maul and go over for a try and the lead for the first time.
Back came Exmouth with a drive to the line of their own. When it fell on the floor the referee ruled penalty try and Richard Cadywould converted for 22-19 to Exmouth.
And that looked like being enough until Tom O’Toole’s 84th minute penalty sent the game into extra time.