Barnstaple 17 v Wimbledon 15
An eccentric bit of refereeing towards the end of this otherwise excellent game of rugby contributed towards a disappointing result for Wimbledon. First, with 15 minutes remaining, they were reduced to 14 men courtesy of a mystifying yellow card for flanker Niall McSweeney, then un the dying seconds an iffy penalty gave Barnstaple three points to steal a 17-14 win. Most of those present felt a 14-all draw would have been the right result. But in league terms the result was meaningless anyway; Old Redcliffians, the team one above them, won their match, consigning both Barnstaple and Wimbledon to their respective lower leagues next season.
The match was a real game of two halves. After the first ten minutes, during which both sides showing their determination to claim victory, Wimbledon began to get the edge. A neat chip ahead by fly half James Doe 15 minutes in, was gathered by wing Sam Blade, who took two defenders out, then a lovely offload by no.8 Dan Laventure saw Doe dive in for a try and his fine conversion from the touchline put the visitors seven points up. Barnstaple fought back and took play into Don’s 22 but excellent defence (and a missed penalty attempt) saw them leave empty handed and thereafter it was Dons who created most chances, with Blade and a combined York/Ugodolunwa drive coming so close to scoring.
They came out with their tails up in the second half, confidently rejecting a penalty kick at goal after 10 minutes in favour of a kick for a 5m lineout. The pack won good ball and the backs moved it wide, back and forth across the field before the forwards took it up again and a fine drive resulted in McSweeney scoring Don’s second, converted by Doe.
But then the momentum shifted Barnstaple’s way;instead of kicking for territory, as they had in the first half, they ran everything and kept possession well. Despite some outstanding tackling, with replacement Tyler Flashman to the fore, the pressure eventually told and Barnstaple’s wing Speare finished off a strong drive from a 5m lineout to score under the posts, easily converted by no.10 Murphy.
With Dons struggling for possession the home team were now in charge and with five minutes plus injury time remaining, their impressive no. 8 Southworth took advantage of a 5m scrum to pick from the base and crash over for their second try. Murphy’s simple conversion levelled the scores – and then came the messy finish to the game. All credit must go to Barnstaple for an excellent fighting comeback, and to Wimbledon who, after their disastrous start to life in National League 2, still managed to come tantalisingly close to avoiding relegation.
They will now have the summer to reflect on an extraordinary season; after losing their first 14 matches in this league, several narrowly (and a couple they have lived to regret), they made a real fist of it in the second half of the season with eight good victories…several of them outstanding wins against top sides. If they continue to produce performances like those next season, there’s every chance they’ll bounce straight back up to National 2.