09:59PM, Saturday 07 March 2020
Maidenhead 43, Barnstaple 14
Maidenhead once again saved their very best rugby for the visiting league leaders as they swept to a convincing 43-14 win over Barnstaple at Braywick Park this afternoon.
Maids have made a habit of taking the scalp of the table toppers on home turf in recent seasons, and they once again lifted their levels to play with an intensity that the visitors simply couldn't match.
The home side came into the game off the back of a two-week break, following their disappointing 24-22 home defeat to Okehampton. But, with their first choice front three of Andy and Mark Darlington playing alongside Myke Parrott at the front of the pack, they controlled the game from the outset and showed few of the frailties from that Okehampton loss.
Barnstaple look home and hosed in the race for the title, despite this comprehensive loss, however, Maidenhead can take great heart from their display and use it as the benchmark for their remaining games as they look to finish in second and earn a play-off match for promotion.
There was an intensity and physicality to their play from the very first whistle, but they maintained their discipline throughout as their rivals lost their cool. Three Barnstaple players were shown yellow cards while a spate of infringements allowed Ed Keohane to kick them out of the game in the second half.
By that stage Maids had built up a healthy and deserved 19-7 half-time lead, which could and probably should have been even greater.
Dave Cole got the ball rolling with the first try of the afternoon, picking the ball up from the base of the scrum and shaking off a couple of half-hearted tackles to touch down beneath the posts. Keohane slotted the conversion to give the home side a perfect start.
For much of the remainder of the half Maids were camped inside the Barnstaple half, and the scoreline began to reflect that dominance when Ben Mitchell held off a couple of tackles before releasing a pass out wide for full-back Jaryd Robinson to sprint in off the wing and go under the posts. Surprisingly Keohane fluffed the conversion, but Maids were now in full flow, skipping past tackles and building pressure on the Barnstaple line.
Just before the half-hour they went over again when Keohane produced the perfect grubber kick into the corner which Mitchell pounced upon just in front of Robinson. Keohane then made amends for his earlier miss with a brilliant conversion from wide on the left touchline.
It looked like Maids were in the mood to put the game to bed before the interval but instead they allowed the leaders to score with their first attack of the game. Barnstaple had seen very little of the ball inside the Maids' 22 but they took their chance when Luke Berry stretched out to touch the ball down under the posts. The conversion made it 19-7, and, with the wind set to be in their favour in the second half, gave them every chance of clawing their way back into the contest.
However, Barnstaple showed little of the form that's taken to them to the top of the South West Premier league in the second half in a laboured display littered with ill-discipline and poor decision making.
Their second half fightback simply didn't materialise and, when Brendan Darley was shown a yellow card for a nasty forearm to the face of the impressive Joe Brawn, Keohane kicked Maids' lead out to 22-7. Kyran McManus was the next to test the referee's patience, tackling the man without the ball under pressure to hand Keohane the chance to make it 25-7.
Darley atoned for his earlier misdemeanour when he forced his way over to score Barnstaple's second try of the afternoon, but the final quarter of the game belonged to Maidenhead.
An instant response saw the ball worked out wide for the sprinting George Blewitt to dive over in the right corner to secure Maids a bonus point try and make it 30-14. While Keohane kept the scoreboard ticking over a few minutes later with another penalty after Elio Mandozzi was spear-tackled to the ground by Adam Lloyd. The player trudged off for the remainder of the game after collecting his side's third yellow.
Maids then put the icing on the cake in the final minutes. Keohane slotted his fourth penalty of the half to make it 36-14 before Scott Prince got his customary try at home, darting down the left wing before wrong-footing his tackler to touch down. Keohane produced his best kick of the game to round off a wonderful display that should give the side the confidence and belief they need to go on and secure second place in the division.
The win was enough to move them back above Okehampton into second on 59 points, while one of their main rivals for a play-off spot, Weston-super-Mare, slipped up against Newbury Blues.
Next up for Maids is a trip to Bracknell on March 21.
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