Okes yet again had to travel minus numerous front liners, particularly hard hit in the second row with no-one fit for selection. This caused the Okes to be even lighter up front than usual, providing the home eight with a marked size advantage. They used this to good effect, particularly at set scrum time. The other main difference between these sides was how clinical each was when in the red zone. The Cockles took virtually every scoring opportunity that arose, whilst the Okes failed on numerous occasions to provide the coup-de -grace.
The first half was a fairly even affair, the Okes held slight advantage possession and territory wise but couldn't reflect this through the scoreboard. Solid defence from both sides throughout the first fifteen minutes kept the match scoreless in grey overcast conditions. It was already evident that there were contrasting styles on show. Oke preferring to move the ball wide and use their pace to stretch the large home pack, whilst the hosts opted for a more direct scrum, linout, maul style of rugby. The weight advantage up front paid its first dividend for the home side after 16 minutes, when a catch and drive effort was grounded by prop Tribble and converted by fly half Meadows for a 7-0 lead.
Okes then got into their stride and for the next twenty minutes held sway. Half breaks from Messrs Armitage, Espin and McGrattan all looked promising, but loose passes or risky offloads ensured they proved fruitless. However on 25 minutes the Okes strung together several phases of impressive play, as they stretched the home defence sufficiently to score the games outstanding try. After several forward rumbles and probing of the short side, the ball was finally swept right across the backline. Demonstrating great timing and hands, they put right winger Ryan Lee away on the overlap and he wasn't to be stopped. Unfortunately the conversion slid wide, but at 7-5 Okes were looking reasonably comfortable against their more experienced opponents.
Into the last ten of the first period Okes were soon indebted to fullback Richie Friend who pulled off a try saving tackle and turnover to prevent a home score. As the half ticked into its last five minutes, Okes were forced to defend stoutley on their own five yard line. When they forced a scrum turnover it seemed the danger was gone. Unfortunately this was the Okes achilles heel for once, and the hosts drove the visitors off their own put-in to create a score for back rower Armstrong under the crossbar. The conversion was an easy one and Okes now trailed 14-5 on the cusp of the interval. After the restart the Okes had a lineout in home territory with little time remaining. Yet again though the Okes allowed a score virtually on the changearound. Exmouth countered from deep, and once they had set up camp in the Okes twenty two, a try via a froward rumbled seemed inevitable. It arrived as expected via another try from Tribble after sustained forward pressure. The conversion was awry but the Okes turned around harshly 14 points down.
Now with the slight breeze, Okes restarted knowing the required an early score. They went on to spend virtually the whole second forty in Exmouth's half. Long periods being spent camped deep within the home side's twenty two. However Okes were guilty at times of white line fever, and too often tried to batter their way over the line which played into the larger home sides hands. Credit where it's due though, Exmouth defended strongly throughout, never making it easy for the Okes to cross the whitewash. However they did still manage to cross it twice, but on both occasions the ball was forced loose in the act of grounding to prevent certain scores, after fine efforts from both center Rhys Palmer and fly half Dan Fogarty. Okes also forced numerous penalties, but opted against kicking any additional points with the margin still sat at 14 points.
Cruelly as the match approached the last five minutes, Okes were punished for their profligacy. On a rare sortie into Okes half the hosts took advantage of tiring Oke defence, to once more bash their way over via their front five. This time lock Pape being the beneficiary. The Okes did come once more, and so nearly scored on the final whistle through the aforementioned Fogarty effort, but luck was once again not on their side. The final whistle blew and the hosts knew they had been in a much harder, tighter contest than the final scoreline suggested.
So another away defeat, but again one that showed signs of promise and undoubted ability to compete on the road at level five. Exmouth's game plan was limited, but effective. Okes will be better prepared next time, and with many injured to return throughout the course of the campaign, positives far outweigh the negatives. Next week sees a visit from an unbeaten Ivybridge outfit. Another toughie, but fortress Showground will not be an easy day out for any visiting side this campaign. Please get yourself along and bring your much appreciated support..