South West 1 West
Bridgwater & Albion 7, Exeter University 12

BRIDGWATER & Albion produced one of their best performances of the season and were deservedly ahead for most of this hard-fought encounter, before the table-toppers stole the game with a late try, writes Richard Walsh.

The visitors attacked from the off but the home defence was more than a match for the students’ relentless moves.

As the half progressed, Albion grew in confidence and after 20 minutes a break down the left was only halted just short of the line.

Shortly afterwards the hosts thought that they had taken the lead, but the referee deemed that the ball had gone forward and the try was not awarded.

The visitors continued to attack at every opportunity, but the Albion defence held firm, and the first half ended 0-0.

Bridgwater started the second half with all guns blazing, and after five minutes they took the lead following a series of pick and goes close to the students line, ending with Rob Thompson crashing over for a try which Stuart Heal converted.

Exeter threatened down the left wing on several occasions, and they were eventually rewarded when hooker Rauf Briler scored a try, but it went unconverted and Albion remained ahead, 7-5.

The hosts responded strongly and five minutes later Number 8 Brad Talbot surged over the line under the posts, but instead of a try the referee awarded a penalty to the visitors.

The students ended the match the way they had started, and with nine minutes to go Matt Johnson scored a try that Ed Hayward converted to give Exeter University a narrow victory, 12-7.

The Bridgy boys gave it all they had and played their hearts out.

The team can hold their heads high because not only were they more than equal to a team who beat them by 40 points earlier in the year, they deserved to run out as winners against the league leaders.

Bridgwater & Albion: Matt Ranson, Ollie Dunn (c), Craig Blyde, Ethan Trebble Westlake, Arron Kelly, Rob Thompson, George Sluman, Brad Talbot, Tom Fournier, Stuart Heal, Kyran Devitt, Luke Plummer, Nik Bradley, Lewis Pleece, Rob Gurnett. Replacements: Dave Norman (used), Jay Owens, John Hill.

Head coach Simon Morrell was full of praise for his side, saying: “We were frustrated by the outcome, but yet again this game was confirmation that we are definitely moving in the right direction as a team.

“Last week at Drybrook we played well but always felt that they had the potential to get the win whereas against Exeter University I felt we played really well and should have won, but things conspired against us, like when Brad Talbot gave away a penalty on their try-line!”

“We are really pleased with our squad and we are starting to see the benefit of the development model that we have got in place.

“There were some exceptional performances from some of the younger players who have developed their games through being involved with the squad from the start of the season, so now we are starting to get a payback.”