St Austell 43, Ivybridge 17
ST AUSTELL delivered an early Christmas present to their supporters in the shape of an emphatic six-try victory over Ivybridge at Tregorrick Park on Saturday.
It means the Saints go into the Christmas break eight points clear at the top of Western Counties (West) after Bude's surprise 5-5 draw against second-placed Bideford.
The Saints proved too strong for a spirited Bridgers side who battled to the end to ensure the scoreline remained respectable.
The home side threatened to run away with it in the first half, although it was a much more even contest in the second period.
Nonetheless winger Sam Tank still ran in a hat-trick of scores, including two contenders for try of the season, to take his tally to 14.
The home side started strongly and Ivybridge were having to man the barricades to keep the Cornishmen at bay.
The breakthrough finally came on seven minutes when lock Sean Haley burst through a line-out, with the defence in tatters centre James Earp drew the last man before slipping the ball to Alex Welland.
The winger then cruised over for an excellent score, which Matt Shepherd converted with ease.
The well drilled Saints' pack were dominating the scrums and enjoying great success with the rolling maul.
A 15m drive was held up just short of the try line but the ball was quickly recycled to allow Earp to turn provider again, this time putting centre partner Ian Venner in for a try under the posts.
The Bridgers finally got into Saints' territory giving them some respite from the first quarter onslaught. A neatly executed passage of play created the space for fly-half Luke Martell to hit the visitors' first points with a deftly taken drop goal.
The Saints hit back and had two glorious chances to increase the score before finally securing their third try.
A driving maul saw the ball quickly released to the backs who bewildered the visitors' defence with an array of decoy runners.
Full back Treve Murley hit the line at pace but was just held up short, the ball was laid for Shepherd to gleefully scoop it up to score and convert the try.
The Saints were given a quick reminder that the game was not over yet when after some good driving play prop John Morgan crashed over.
Centre Adam Bradley's conversion made the half time score 21-10, a much closer margin than expected given the home side's early dominance.
A much improved Bridgers' side were having early success in curtailing the home attacks as they looked to keep the ball tight. That was until a turnover ball in the middle of field allowed the Saints to score a wonderful try that seemed to go through every single pair of hands in the side.
Play zigzagged from one side of the pitch to the other and back again, with brilliant interplay between forwards and backs. Ivybridge just simply ran out of defenders as Sam Tank sprinted in under the posts.
The Saints were perhaps guilty of basking in the afterglow of a great try as it allowed Ivybridge to maintain a foothold in the game.
The visitors ground out the hard yards to allow Matt Finn, another member of their front row union, to crash over. Bradley again added the conversion to make it 28-17.
It was not long before the Saints were back in the groove again, but if Tank's first try was a product of great teamwork then his second was one of his own fruition.
An extravagant kick and chase over the defence allowed the diminutive winger to touch down in the corner.
On the hour mark Saints endured a mini-crisis with three injuries forcing number 8 Steve Howorth, prop Mark Martin and full back Treve Murley from the field in quick succession.
Skipper Andy Ashwin wisely opted for a penalty kick rather going for touch to allow the side to settle with the changes. Shepherd secured the three points before slotting in as full back to allow young Marcus McCoan to come in at scrum half.
The changes did not disrupt the home side's play as the Saints looked to add to their tally. Welland touched down only for the score to be chalked off for a forward pass.
The breakthrough came and it was that man Tank again who finished off another exuberant back-line move. Shepherd broke through from full back to play an outrageous "one-two" with Venner before feeding McCoan whose perfectly timed pass to Welland which allowed him to burst through. Drawing the full back he played in Tank to touch down in the corner. Shepherd's touchline conversion made it 43-17.
Bude's surprise 5-5 draw at Bideford means that the Saints go into the Christmas break eight points clear at the top.
The Saints return to Western Counties league action with a tough away trip to Kingsbridge on Saturday, January 5.