Exeter Saracens 15, St Austell 24
ST AUSTELL came out on top in a keenly contested and entertaining tussle with Exeter Saracens at the aptly named Exhibition Fields.
The win was all the more admirable as the visitors coped with injuries and unavailability that stretched the squad to the limits.
Two players picked up hamstring injuries in the warm-up forcing winger Alex Welland to step down from the starting line-up.
Number 8 Steve Howorth started the game but was clearly struggling in the clawing red Devon mud before giving way to the inevitable after 15 minutes.
Both sides enjoyed periods of ascendency but the Saints' disciplined defence and sharper cutting edge made them worthy winners.
Sarries exerted the early pressure as they looked to build on their good home record. The Saints defence stood strong in the early frenetic exchanges and skipper Andy Ashwin's astute pressure relieving kicks started to frustrate the hosts.
The Saints counter-attacking ability was at the fore when winger Sam Tank made an incisive run from just outside the home 22 to score under the posts.
The visitors then gave away a cheap three points when the backs were caught offside to allow centre Dan Dimoline to cut the deficit.
The Saints had several opportunities to extend their lead but a lack of precision in their play let the home side off the hook. A searing run by Matt Shepherd looked to have put winger Ben Chenoweth in for a try but the Sarries managed to drive him into touch just short of the try line.
Right on half time Tank was close to winning a kick and chase but was just beaten to the touchdown leaving the score at 7-3.
The Saints started the second half with a blitzkrieg straight from the kick off led by lock Adam Pearce. With the Sarries defence splintered apart the ball was worked wide for Chenoweth to crash over in the corner.
The home side were finding the Saints resolute in defence but a bit like Cornish buses when a missed tackle came it was inexplicably followed by two others.
Fly-half Matt Hilton took full advantage of the defensive lapses to skip through for a converted try.
Galvanised by the sudden closeness of the 12-10 score line the Saints enjoyed their best spell of the match dominating the home side for the next 20 minutes.
Only spirited defence and some handling errors at crucial times limited the visitors to two tries. Shepherd lobbed a delicate kick over the advancing Sarries only to be hauled back from completing the chase 10m from the try line.
The referee awarded a penalty but not the penalty try most were expecting, further adding to the Saints frustration by not issuing a yellow card.
The simmering sense of injustice drove the players on and the quickly tapped penalty set up a series of storming forward drives that eventually saw Pearce crash over for his first try of the season.
The Saints were now looking to finish the home side off and after several near misses eventually got the all-important 4th try through a well worked catch and drive routine.
The 10m drive to the line provided the springboard for flanker Rob Jeffs to touchdown. The Saints were forced into another change when Chenoweth limped from the field forcing the hamstrung Welland to come for the last 10 minutes.
Centre James Earp was also struggling but showed great courage and commitment to stay on. Not surprisingly the Sarries finished the game on top and deep into time added on, flanker Matt Davies forced his way over for an unconverted try to make the final score 24-15.
This was the Saints' ninth bonus point victory of the season and keeps them top of the league at the halfway stage.
Tomorrow sees the final round of matches before Christmas with Ivybridge the visitors to Tregorrick (2.30).