Tribute South West one

Midsomer Norton 3

Okehampton 46

THE Okes finally broke their run of narrow away defeats with this comprehensive victory over the league’s basement side. 

This was just the performance that Okehampton were hoping for on their first ever visit to Midsomer Norton. The hosts battled gamely throughout, but Oke’s superior fitness and strike power outside proved too much to handle during the second half.

On a decent firm surface, with conditions suited to an open contest, the Okes began up the slight slope and were immediately on the offensive.

Early pressure brought a first minute penalty chance but skipper Tom Powell pulled his effort wide. It was a bright start for the visitors, though, and they continued to monopolise territory and possession during the opening exchanges.

After eight minutes the Okes forced a series of five metre scrums and piled pressure on the hosts’ set pieces. Eventually the visitors were prevented from gaining a pushover score by an illegal infringement and a penalty try resulted. Powell added the extras, and the Okes had the score their early play merited.

Norton responded and they attacked Oke through the middle via their useful front five ball carriers; however, Oke’s defence was up to the task throughout and the lack of alternative attacking threats limited the home side’s scoring potential.

Oke knew they would have to soak up early pressure against the slope and they did this efficiently. The first half had reached its mid point when more attacking Oke forced an infringement at a breakdown and Tom Powell split the uprights from the resultant penalty to stretch the lead to ten points.

The home side were still in the game at this point; they continued to attack in the narrow channels and had limited success as they entered Oke’s territory on several occasions without ever really threatening the try line. After 27 minutes the home side got on the score sheet via a penalty chance midway out on the Oke’s left. The home full back accepted the invite with a well struck goal and at 10-3 the sides were still fairly well matched.

The Okes resisted more home pressure as the half neared its conclusion, then suddenly a quick turnover ball created an opening for the visitors that they astutely exploited. Scrum half Richie Friend, impressive throughout, made the initial sortie before feeding  supporting flanker Dean Abrams; the ball was shifted sweetly through the hands to full back Gareth Espin, who injected pace and stepped neatly inside the covering full back to scoot in under the posts for a crucial score right on the cusp of the interval. Tom Powell slotted the conversion and the Okes had struck a crucial blow to lead 17-3 at the break.

Recent matches have seen Oke squander half time advantages, but the visitors made sure that wasn’t the case on this occasion as a rampant second half performance produced five more tries to blow the hosts away.

Almost straight from the restart Oke were ensconced in home territory after a useful Espin grubber. The resultant home lineout saw a clearance kick charged down and replacement flanker Liam Sampson seized the chance to plough over. The conversion was wide but the home side were visibly deflated.

Oke continued to march forward as the hosts struggled to keep pace with the visitors’ width and guile. Oke made changes both up front and outside and they paid dividends as the fourth, and bonus point, score soon followed. Wisely kicking to the corners Oke forced an attacking lineout on 48 minutes and they drove over the whitewash via a classic catch and drive, with the live-wire Sampson again the beneficiary.

Midsomer Norton struggled to halt the visitors’ attacks and with Oke second row Neil Perrott producing numerous barnstorming charges, the gaps were becoming increasingly apparent.

Oke had moved winger Rhys Palmer to stand off and he produced a sublime blindside break after 57 minutes to create a classic overlap try for right winger Luke Honeychurch, who ran around behind the posts leaving a simple conversion for centre Powell. Oke were now recycling impressively and confident continuity was causing havoc in the home defensive ranks. The home blindside flanker then saw yellow on the hour as the increasing pressure took its toll.

Into the last ten and Oke refused to take their foot off the gas. More changes ensued and they played their part in the try of the match after 71 minutes. Securing ball in their own 22, Oke decided to move the ball wide up the slope from under their own posts. Sweet hands saw Gareth Espin unleashed along the top touchline and he made the hard yards before stepping inside to feed Dan Foggarty on his inside shoulder who scorched over between the uprights. Richie Friend potted the conversion.

A seventh try came just before the end via a powerful, scrum surge that forced a ball against the head; after an initial Richie Friend snipe was repelled, flanker Dean Abrams was on hand to force his way over to round off a fine all round team performance.

Norton tried valiantly to respond in the seconds that remained but Okes’ defensive line was proving impenetrable as the final whistle blew.

This was just the start to 2017 that the Okes required; breaking the away defeat cycle, while also seeing the welcome return to action of Chris Courtier and Gareth Evans after injury. The maroon and ambers can now focus on the next task in hand with increased confidence.