Minehead Barbarians 26, Old Redcliffians 2nd XV 22
MINEHEAD finished the season on a high note with an exciting win in a match where both sides were in contention until the last minute.
They got off to a great start when centre Mark Symes intercepted as Reds tried to run the ball out of defence, from his initial break the ball was spread infield through several pairs of hands before reaching lock Leigh Parker just inside the 22.
Parker has been one of Minehead’s success stories this season and he gave a further example of his strength, power and determination as he ploughed through the defence to power over for his seventh try of the season.
Wes Pooley converted but it was not long before Reds showed that their strength lay in the threes.
Having won good lineout ball inside their own half, their centres combined to draw in the defence before releasing their left winger who sprinted home to score an unconverted try wide out.
Worse was to come, after constant Minehead pressure, poor handling gifted the ball to the impressive Reds No 13 who scored a great individual try as he left everyone in his wake from his own 22 to put his side ahead at 10-7.
The Minehead pack has played really well as a unit of late and the return of lineout jumper Ben Willes enabled them to secure their own ball and take full advantage of their strength and mobility in the loose, putting the tenacious Reds defence under constant pressure before No 8 Richard Henson made the final yard for the first of his three tries. Wes Pooley obliged with the conversion to put Minehead back in front at 12-10.
As half-time approached, the Minehead pack again proved unstoppable, rucking on for a good 15 metres up to the line where Henson was once again on hand to claim the try; Pooley converted for a 19-10 lead.
Any thoughts this score might have proved conclusive were immediately dashed when Reds again took advantage of poor Minehead handling to break and score wide out. Fortunately, Reds were lacking a goal kicker leaving things in the balance at 19-15 to Minehead at half-time.
Having started with Rhys Walker at No 9, Minehead were forced to make changes when Jake Pound was injured, bringing Warwick Wilcox on to the wing with Walker taking up his more familiar role at full back and the vastly experienced Justin Harris moving to No 9.
Minehead fly half Wes Pooley was enjoying the quality possession won by the pack and the extra length of his new partner’s pass as he set up some great attacking moves down the narrow channels. This gave the marauding Minehead pack the space and confidence to work well together in series of close handling movements in which Scott Howe, Ryan Lewis and Ryan Nunn figured prominently.
For a while, they were in complete control and Wes Pooley went close on two occasions before releasing full-back Kyle Lewis who made good ground before the pack took over again.
Ryan Lewis was held up and Leigh Parker almost scored his second but, once again, Henson was the man to get the vital touchdown, leaving Pooley to add the conversion. This gave them a winning bonus point and meant the opposition would have to score twice in the remaining 10 minutes to get back in front.
Instead of closing the game out, Minehead were guilty of some ill-advised high risk attacking plays which, although exciting to watch, gave the home crowd too many anxious moments and when the Reds scrum-half seized upon loose ball to score a fine individual converted try under the posts, narrowing the gap to four points.
The pressure was really on and just when it looked as though Minehead were back in control, they gifted Reds a three-man overlap and it seemed they must score to sneak in at the death.
Fortunately, the Reds centre took the wrong option and cut inside where the threat was snuffed out by Ross Bradley to leave the jubilant Barbarians winners 26-22.
Valid claims to the man of the match award could be made for Wes Pooley for his kicking and constant probing, Ben Willes for supplying vital lineout ball, Leigh Parker and Ryan Lewis for their efforts in the loose.
But it would have been harsh not to name hat-trick man Richard Henson who, in addition to his three tries, was in the thick of everything as he is every week.
Minehead: K Lewis, J Pound, R Bradley, M Symes, T Bishop, W Pooley, R Walker, S Howe, R Lewis, R Parsons, L Parker (capt), B Willes, J Harris, R Henson, R Nunn, W Wilcox, D Harris, L Brereton.