Chard edged out in close encounter with table-topping St Austell
- Credit: Archant
Chard made table-topping St Austell work mighty hard before the Cornish side were able to troop off the Essex Close pitch with a 22-20 success, writes Glyn Hughes.
Chard went into the game sitting fourth in the Western Counties West and on an unbeaten run of seven games.
With the weather and pitch both looking perfect the conditions were set for a great game of rugby and it certainly didn't disappoint!
St Austell kicked off and it couldn't have started much better for the Cornish side for the initial kick was caught by the keen away pack and, after four very direct phases, the ball was cleverly chipped over the top of the flat chard defence. It was not dealt with by Chard and winger Fraser Nottle collected a favourable bounce of the ball to scamper clear to score in the corner.
The conversation was missed, but Chard were 5-0 down after only two minutes and not one of their players had put a hand on the ball!
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From the resulting restart St Austell continued to build through their heavy ball carriers towards the Chard half and after creating an overlap a forward pass was the only thing denying them of their second score of the afternoon after only eight minutes on the clock.
The Chard forwards gradually started to make their presence felt with penalties coming in quick succession from a scrum and a driving maul.
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Niall Crouch sent one of the kicks between the uprights and the first home points were on the score board 20 minutes into the game.
St Austell's back line looked very dangerous every time they had the ball and again winger Nottle found space to score, but a wonderful try saving cover tackle by Huw Edwards and Ben stead denied him yet again.
Chard again came back with purpose and after some nice tactical kicking from Nicholls and Crouch pinning St Austell back the turnover was made and chard were suddenly deep in the away sides half putting together some good phases.
The pressure told and after 25 minutes St Austell flanker Welland was shown the yellow card for repeated infringement and Crouch knocked over the penalty to give Chard a 6-5 lead.
With half-time approaching the game was now very even and there was some excellent defence from both sides with Chard's Dave Biss and Jason Wright heading up the tackle count.
An attempted intercept by Chard winger Jamie Prior on 35 minutes was seen by the referee to be deliberate and handed out another yellow card making the teams equal at 14-a-side.
St Austell used this penalty to their advantage and continued to advance up the field until some slick handling put centre Sam Parsons in for a try in the corner. The conversion was missed and Chard trooped off at the break trailing by four points at 10-6.
It was clear at the half-time talk that the home side really had to take the Cornish side on up front and that is how the second half started.
Chard's scrum was starting to take control and a resulting penalty was narrowly missed.
The continued arm resting between the two sides was intriguing to watch. However, St Austell were armed with a very decent goal kicker in fullback Tucker and in quick succession he pinged over two long distance penalties which took his side into a 16-6 lead with 20 minutes left to play.
Both teams were now exchanging some heavy blows and penalties were again traded with chard missing but Tucker taking his chance to make it 19-6.
With 15 minutes remaining Chard knew that they would have to produce a massive finish to get anything out of the game and the home crowd were not disappointed as some good strong running from centres Brooks and Roberts gave some decent field position and from this the assault from the chard scrum started.
After four penalties and three resets eventually the referee had no option put to award Chard a penalty try and they were now 'back in the contest' trailing by just three points at 16-13.
St Austell however, were not to be discounted at this point as again they made good field position from the re-start.
Some over eagerness from chard gave another opportunity to take the three points and Tucker increased their lead to 22-13.
Although the St Austell forwards looked considerably larger than the home pack it was the Chard front eight that had them moving in reverse.
For the last 10 minutes of the game time and time again the Chard scrum hammered at the line of the Cornish side and in almost identical circumstances the referee had no option, but to award another penalty try to Chard.
What resulted from that scrum was a yellow card for both sides after some overheated exchanges between the front rows and the game was to be played out with 14 on each side with Chard still trailing 22-20 and only three minutes left to play.
In true Chard fashion the 14 on the pitch threw everything they had at the visitors for the last three minutes of the match, but St Austell stood their ground and Chard came up just short on the day losing 22-20.
Chard will be disappointed not to have taken the four points from the league leaders however, on the day St Austell were just a bit more clinical when it mattered.
The Chard side can take massive positives from the effort and endeavour shown and this team is gaining some respect throughout league as a serious threat to all.
On Saturday (November 23) Chard head for South Devon to take on Teignmouth in what will be another hard test with the home sitting in a similar position to Chard in the league table.