Cleve 24, Sidmouth 19

Despite leading for more than an hour, the Chiefs suffered to their fourth league defeat in a row at Cleve as the home pack took control in the second half, writes Terry O’Brien.

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The Chiefs started the game brightly with two fine counter-attacking moves as Cleve were pinned back into their own half. The first set Ben Salter sprinting into the 22, and then Jason Luff was brought down a couple of metres short of the line. A couple of minutes later Luff did cross the line to open the scoring after a sparkling solo run from 30-metres out. Dan Retter added the conversion.

A Retter penalty extended the lead before the Chiefs were subjected to a long period of pressure. The perennial problem of penalties conceded at the breakdown gave the initiative to the home side. However, Sidmouth defended well and Cleve had to be content with a penalty kicked by the full back.

In the 25th minute the referee finally lost patience with the penalty count and sent Neil Barratt to the sin-bin. Cleve capitalised on the extra man to score an unconverted try by their number eight when he burst over from close range on the blind side of a driving maul.

The Chiefs hit back at their next attack with a drop goal by Dan Retter. Then Cleve kicked a penalty to the corner and attempted another lineout catch-and-drive. The Sidmouth pack held them out and turned over possession. The ball was cleared up field where the lead was extended to 16-8 by a Retter penalty in first half injury time.

Another Retter penalty soon after the restart extended the margin to eleven points, but then the balance of the game began to change decisively.

The Cleve pack began to take control and possession for the dangerous Sidmouth backs dried up. The Sidmouth forwards were constantly committed to defending energy sapping mauls and, when the ball was moved away from the forwards, Cleve adopted an increasingly effective kick-and-chase game. Sidmouth were pinned back inside their own half and the Cleve full back chipped away at the lead with two penalties.

The decisive moment came with ten minutes to go. The Chiefs used a penalty clearance to put themselves into a rare attacking position, but an interception in the centre put Cleve back on the attack. The hooker was held up over the line, but at the resulting scrum the Sidmouth eight were shunted back for a pushover try, which was converted to give Cleve the lead for the first time. They kept a strangle hold on the game before extending their lead with a penalty in the last minute.

Midway through the league campaign, Sidmouth have just four wins to their credit but remain clear of the relegation zone thanks to a haul of twelve bonus points, two more than in the whole of last season.

On Saturday the Chiefs entertain Cullompton in a festive local derby. The kick off at the Blackmore is at 2.30pm.

The Quins travel to Cullompton for a Merit Table game. Meanwhile, the Colts have a week off before the start of the Devon Colts Cup Merit Table, which they enter as East Devon table winners.

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