Mike Peek’s try gave Barnstaple the win on the Boxing Day derby scoreboard – but the moral victory went to Bideford.
After years of heavy defeats, no one could have complained had Bideford finished all square with their old rivals.
But Peek scrabbled over the line from a 62nd-minute scrum and Matt Down added the conversion to give Barnstaple a 10-3 win. It was the closest margin since Barum won 11-7 at King George’s Field seven years ago.
More than 1,000 streamed into Pottington Road for this afternoon’s game but they were not treated to much of a spectacle. Although the tedium of scrum after scrum was at least interrupted by harum-scarum rugby from both sides.
Barnstaple seemed intent on putting on a show for the big crowd but it was Bideford who appeared more well drilled.
While the home side had a pack who had never played together before, the visitors made only three changes to the team who had beaten Okehampton in a county cup tie on Saturday.
They have become used to soaking up pressure following their promotion to Tribute South West One and their defensive game helped force error after error from the misfiring Barnstaple players.
An attempt by Barum to run the ball out of their own 22 saw Bideford take the lead in the 14th minute. Will Topps, taking a long pass from Steve Perry, was penalised after a strong tackle by Andrew Baxter and Olly Wickett put the kick over.
Back in the Bideford half the penalty count was beginning to mount and Barnstaple gave Down the chance to level the scores in the 27th minute.
Some knockabout rugby broke out around the half-hour mark with the ball being run this way and that. The only result was a match-ending injury for Bideford’s Ben Westaway after making a tackle on Rob Elliott. Westaway was having a good game at scrum half but his replacement, Jacob Nash, kept up his standards.
The penalties led to a sin-binning for Baxter in the 37th minute but Barnstaple could not put points on the board while he was off.
They might have had a try two minutes before half time had Ryan Brend, with one man to beat, not slipped.
Brend became a key player as Barnstaple looked to raise the tempo in the second half, but not before Wickett had struck the crossbar from a penalty won at the kick-off.
Luke Berry, on for Tom Heard on Barnstaple’s left wing, looked set to score the game’s first try after fellow replacement Scott Warren had pilfered the ball from a ruck, but he was halted by the referee’s whistle for a forward pass.
Brend then sliced through the Bideford defence but was stopped by a superb tackle from Nash.
Finally, Barnstaple found a way through in the 62nd minute. Bideford’s forwards looked to have done their job as the ball rattled around among the back row’s feet, but lively No 8 Peek managed to get hold of it and darted round the side to score.
In years gone by that might have signalled an opening of the floodgates. This time Bideford maintained their performance throughout the match, showing their mental and physical fitness has improved with their rise through the divisions.
They could have chipped away at the lead with a couple of penalties awarded in the Barnstaple half but instead went for broke.
It nearly cost them when Topps spotted a chance to attack from his own 22. After combining with Berry, the full back chased his own kick but was narrowly beaten to the ball by James Buckland who had a fine last 15 minutes.
Running through the heart of the Barnstaple defence, the wing was looking for options when his feet were taken out from under him by Down’s desperate tackle.
Like Barnstaple, Down had done just enough to deny Bideford.
Barnstaple: Will Topps; Ryan Brend, Rob Elliott, Ryan Carter, Tom Heard; Steve Perry, Matt Down; Mark Berry, Shane Maddock, Ashlee Crouch, Adam Lloyd, Tom Skelding, Gary Turner, Jon Down, Mike Peek.
Reps: Jerry Darley (for Lloyd ht), Scott Warren (for J Down ht), Luke Berry (for Heard 51), Linford Brock (for Elliott 51), Jake Meredith (for Turner 71).
Scorers – try: Peek. Con: M Down. Pen: M Down.
Bideford: Chris Snell; Sam Olde, Andrew Baxter, Luke Hoyle, James Buckland; Olly Wickett, Ben Westaway; George Snell, Dave Evans, Paul Thomas, Jono Mock, Harvey Brown, Sam Griffin, John Mills, Simon Bright.
Reps: Jacob Nash (for Westaway 33), Matt Dennis (for Griffin 54), Richard Norman (for Mills 58).
Sin-binned: Baxter (37-47).
Scorer – pen: Wickett.
Referee: Will Thomas.