Western Counties (W)

Wellington 28, St Austell 24

St Austell were the visitors to The Athletic Ground on Saturday in a top of the table clash, writes Allyn Chetland.

The large crowd were treated to a pulsating and riveting encounter from the first to the last minute in a great advertisement for Western Counties West rugby.

The R&Bs made some changes from the previous weekends squad. Full-back Rob Hooper was a late withdrawal attending the birth of his first child with Alex Davey coming in and Martin Walker replaced the unavailable Chris Kitto in the pack.

Playing away from the clubhouse in the first half, the R&Bs had to withstand some early pressure from the visitors and the hosts lost flanker Danny Lee in the opening minutes with a knee injury, replaced by youngster Will Hodgson.

Wellington opened the scoring when scrum-half Dan Goldstone caught the Cornish men napping on the halfway line, darting over for an unconverted try from 40 metres out.

The Saints response was to go through numerous attacking phases and from one such attack, with the R&Bs reduced to 14 men for a 10 minute period, a speculative cross field kick led to the visitors going over for a converted try underneath the posts.

The Saints continued to press but resolute defence frustrated the visitors at every turn.

However, the R&Bs were soon reduced to 13 men following another yellow after a promising attack was halted illegally by a knock on, but the Saints could not capitalise on their numerical supremacy.

With 14 men now back on the field play, Wellington went on the offensive and no.8 Cam Venn bulldozed his way over for an unconverted try to reclaim the lead.

It looked like this would be the last score of the half but home centre Vinny Gordon had other ideas, breaking out of his own half with a breathtaking run.

The Saints covering defence looked like it would stop the attack but a deft chip ahead by Gordon saw the ball gathered by Liam Phillips, who crashed over in the corner for an unconverted try to make the half-time score 15-7.

The Saints started the second period with a penalty to reduce the lead to but Wellington responded by putting together some superb passages of play that stretched the defence to breaking point.

Winger Chris Batts exploited space generated by one such attack, crossing for an unconverted try in front of the clubhouse to increase the lead to 20-10.

The Saints responded with a period of pressure and crossed for a converted try from a driving lineout.

The game was evenly posed at 20-17 when Wellington drilled a penalty deep into Saints territory.

From the resulting lineout, Liam Phillips bumped and danced his way over the line for another unconverted try to extend the lead to 25-17.

The Saints were not finished and crossed for another converted forwards try to get within touching distance of the lead.

With time running out, the R&Bs controlled possession well much to the frustration of the Saints, who gave away a series of penalties.

From one such penalty, Alex Davey smashed the ball between the posts which meant St Austell would have to score a try to win.

From the restart, the hosts stood firm, the Saints gave away another penalty and the ball was duly drilled into touch for an outstanding 28-24 bonus point victory.

The whole squad can be proud of their contributions in what was an excellent, resilient and spirited winning performance.

Will Hodgson came in for particular praise in the club house afterwards in what was only his second appearance for the 1st XV this season.

Next week, the R&Bs have their shortest away trip of the season, travelling to local rivals Wiveliscombe.

League derbies are never easy and this encounter will be no different.

The R&Bs will need the confidence built up over the recent weeks if they are to continue their winning ways in what is sure to be an extremely difficult encounter.

Squad: Richards, Dyke, Marke, Walker (M), Walker (R), Lee, Phillips, Venn, Goldstone, Jarman (C), Batts, Gordan, Hodgson (G), Harney, Davey, Crosby, Hart, Hodgson (W)