Bury halt losing run with narrow victory over bottom side Exmouth
NATIONAL LEAGUE TWO SOUTH: Bury St Edmunds 33 Exmouth 28
In the end it was an unconvincing scoreline, but Bury St Edmunds got the victory they so desperately needed to stop the rot at the Greene King IPA Haberden this afternoon - and importantly, double the gap to the bottom three to six points.
After starting like a steam train by putting 14 points on the scoreboard in the opening six minutes against the basement-dwelling East Devon visitors, it looked like being a rout.
But those two quickfire tries, the first inside 30 seconds via the dancing feet of Chris Lord - who ran from inside his own half - and first-team debutant Arthur Marini's strong run six minutes later, both converted by new signing Glyn Hughes, were to be wiped out by the break.
Much to their credit, bottom side Exmouth, who on the assumption that the regular three teams will go down (complicated by London Welsh's withdrawal from the Championship) were 11 points from safety with seven matches to go heading into the afternoon, did anything but roll over thereafter.
In fact, they were rewarded for a long period of probing in Bury's half with two tries by half-time, sending them into the break level at 14 apiece.
The first came from a long sustrained period of pressure camped in the hosts' half with good play in the forwards rewarded in front of the posts with David Bargent going over.
Their second score, on the stroke of half-time through winger Matthew Ryan, who span out of the clutches of Sean Stapleton's attempted tackle, should have been the warning shot that the Wolfpack needed to kick on after the restart and get their noses back in front.
But instead they were again put under pressure before the relief was palpable when Sam Sterling's 48th minute try - capped with a swallow drive - put them seven points back in front at, with Hughes making it three conversions from three.
A big decision ultimately back-fired on Exmouth when, with 25 minutes left on the clock they chose a scrum 10 metres out from their opponent's try line, instead of kicking for an almost guaranteed three points.
It looked like they were on for the seven to draw level when their scrum-half Ruairi Cushion was put in down the blindside, only for a good challenge to see him just pushed into touch at the crucial moment, in the official's eyes. Some of a home persuasion in the stands thought it was harsh on the visitors.
But it did serve as the Woldpack's wake-up call as they went on to severely test Exmouth's line deep in their opponent's half.
The visitor's resistance was eventually broken in the 63rd minute when swift hands saw the ball moved out wide right with Jarid Wiltshire laying on the final pass for Lord to carry over for his second of the game, though Hughes did not bring up the extras on this occasion.
The next score was crucial in maintaining the game as a contest, and it was Exmouth who proved they were not about to give up the ghost with a seven-point reply to bring the score to 26-21 five minutes later when Daniel Swain ran in down the left after they had secured turnover ball near the half-way line.
With 10 minutes to go Bury looked to quickly close the game out by opting to kick a penalty from 40 metres out, but Hughes' attempt went left of the posts.
It only took two minutes though for the home crowd to celebrate what they knew was a big try in their side's season.
After good ground was gained down the right-hand side, the ball was recycled well out to the left-hand side, and with the numbers in their favour, the Suffolk side had local lad Lord there to provide the finish for his hat-trick. Hughes made no mistake with his conversion from out wide for a 12 point lead.
With just four minutes left the crowd were left stunned when Bury were reduced to 14 men when Sam Sterling was shown a red card for an apparent elbow in the face of his opponent.
It left the hosts on the backfoot for the remainder of the match as Exmouth smelt out the bonus points they so desperately craved.
And, after Bury's numbers were reduced further when captain Tom Rock was sin-binned for holding up play by not rolling off his man, the visitors soon seized their chance.
In what was the last play of the match, three minutes into added on time of the added on time, a final push down the left-hand side saw winger Jack Downie squeeze his way through for a much-celebrated score, converted by the boot of Richard Cadywould - who had not missed a kick all game.
It brought a real sense of anti-climax to Bury's six-game losing run being halted, but they still took away a big five points ahead of another two potentially-crucial games, at fellow strugglers Barnes next week (3pm) - who occupy that third-from-bottom spot three places below Bury - before taking on another side looking over their shoulders in Barnstaple.
Aside from the suspension to be determined with Sterling from the referee's report being submitted to the RFU, the other casualty of the performance was South African scrum-half Donovan O'Grady's enforced withdrawal just before the half-hour mark with what was later confirmed as a hamstring injury.
BURY: 15 Lord, 14 Meyers, 13 Sterling, 12 Rock (c), 11 Wiltshire, 10 Hughes, 9 O'Grady, 1 Trinder, 2 Collins, 3 Coutts, 5 Whetton, 4 (wearing 16) Marini, 6 Ellis, 7 Stapleton, 8 Koroiyadi (Maku). Replacements: Selby, Griffiths, Turner, Micklethwaite, Anderson-Brown.
* For a video interview with director of rugby Gavin Hogg, log back on to this website from 1pm Monday, and don't miss Friday's print edition for an in-depth interview with new signing Glyn Hughes.