St Austell 26, Devonport Services 20
ST AUSTELL returned to winning ways with a four-try salvo to earn a bonus point victory over Devonport Services at Tregorrick Park.
The Western Counties (West) leaders were made to work hard over a resilient and well-drilled Services side but always just had the edge when the ball was worked wide.
The Plymothians were happiest when the ball was kept tight leading to an intriguing forward battle which the visitors edged in the first half and the Saints shaded in the second.
The game kicked off in bright autumnal sunshine, a welcome respite from the heavy rains that caused last week's postponement.
The hosts started strongly looking to gain early momentum with some direct running. The pressure told when a trademark bulldozing run from number eight Steve Howorth caused panic in the visitors' defence.
Matt Shepherd slotted the 30 metre penalty with ease for the first score of the afternoon.
The game settled in to a stalemate with both defences on top so it took something different to break the deadlock. Fly-half Andy Ashwin spotted the Services defence had moved up quickly so delivered a perfect lob over the top gathered by Alex Welland.
The winger showed great strength and speed to burst past the full-back to score an unconverted try. Patience is a virtue as the saying goes and the home side's desire to quickly build on their 8-0 lead proved their undoing.
A succession of needless penalties meant the early impetus was lost and in a blink of an eye the Saints were pinned down close to their line.
A Services attempt at a rolling maul from a lineout catch and drive was easily repelled but they scored nonetheless with surprising and consummate ease.
Niall Stokes was hauled down as he charged forward, but the hooker was the first to react when no ruck formed around him to trot unhindered under the posts. Fly half Matt Anstis completed the conversion to bring Services back into the game.
The Saints responded well hitting the visitors with a succession of high tempo attacks. With more and more defenders being pulled in from the fringes the home side eventually worked an overlap for Welland to romp over for his second unconverted try.
The wing man was enjoying a purple patch and was desperately unlucky not to secure a hat trick.
Great work by centre James Earp, supported by Howorth and flanker Paul Winterbottom, worked Welland into space but play was called back with the try line beckoning for a marginal forward pass.
With half time approaching Anstis kicked a superb long range penalty following an offside. An early hit by Services at a scrum led to a free-kick, not for the first time the visitors' prevented it from being taken quickly.
The referee had enough, the kick was turned into a penalty and the mark moved forward 10m. Shepherd took the three points to allow the Saints to close the half 16-10 ahead.
The home side started the second half at a rate of knots and immediately put the visitors under intense pressure. Services defence was creaking but just about holding and Saints looked to finish them from a 5m scrum.
Rugby requires the basics to be completed well and with the home side too focused on executing a set move, Services nicked the ball against head to clear their lines and frustrate the home side.
With the hour mark approaching Saints finally got their reward following when a 15m rolling maul crashed over the try line.
As the bodies were peeled away it was Shepherd who came up with the ball but the scrum half was unable to convert his own try.
The Services struck back with venom and laid a blockade in the Saints' 22m, the home side were diligent in defence but the pressure was beginning to tell.
Prop Peter Rowe took one for the team when he was sent to the touchline cooler as the defence became more desperate.
The pressure told in the end when centre Pana Ratu slipped over with Anstis converting putting the visitors back in contention at 21-17.Despite being down to 14 men the Saints started to move with purpose and the game was made safe by a wonderful try from the returning Ben Chenoweth.
Out since September with injury the wing man received the ball just inside the Services' half and blazed a trail through a tiring defence to win the game and the bonus point.
All that was left was for Anstis to slot a penalty with the last kick of the match to secure a losing bonus point for the away side.
Victory maintains the five point gap over second placed Bideford, who remain firmly on the Saints' coat tails.
Tomorrow sees the halfway point of the season as the Saints travel to Exeter Saracens (2.30 pm).