Although only a friendly fixture this match up saw a fiercly competitve contest played in the greatest traditions of South West rugby. Newquay Hornets brought a well drilled and physical side to the Imperial Ground having raided the border against Devon's strongest sides - Barnstaple, Newton Abbott and Kingsbridge - and left with the spoils. The weather dictated a tight forward orientated game with constant rain and driving winds.
The match kicked off with the Cockles playing into the wind and they took the opportunity to pin the Hornets in their 22. After some fierce forward exchanges Exmouth followed a penalty and lineout with a scrum on the visitors 5 meter line. A smart pick up from the base by No 8 Toby Papp saw him drive over on the blind side with flanker Connor O Shaughnessy in close support. The Hornets quickly adjusted their back row defence and ensured this never happened again during the match.
The half progressed with neither side giving any quarter but it was the visitors who started to win the physical battle and edge the breakdown. Only strong midfield defence from Zac Mattin, Rabbie Hansford and Bill Cuthbert prevented the defensive line being breached but after a series of quick and powerful recycles the Hornets created enough of an overlap for a score out wide. Now the game was on!
With their tails up the visitors started to carry the ball forward with great physicality and the Exmouth defence stood tall and the wall stayed strong. The next score came when the visitors turned the ball over and moved it out wide quickly to create a break - considering the conditions the handling was excellent and the visitors now edged in front.
This was were the Exmouth boys came of age as many a young team would have wilted and looked for somewhere to hide given the ferocity and organisation of the visitors. However, stung into action the Cockles stuck to their gameplan and kicked the ball downfield and made a lightning chase to draw a penalty from the retreating defender for holding on. Fly half Zac Mattin pinged it into the corner and the Cockles forwards took their chance to show their A game. A catch and drive and several rumbles later the defence committed one too many red zone offences and found themselves under their sticks having conceded a penalty try.
With minutes to go of the first half the Hornets - who are not accustomed to be behind - drove downfield with purpose and drew a penalty from the defenders. A kick to touch, well executed front ball at the line out and a powerful drive later they restored their lead and the half ended 12-15 to the visitors.
The Cockles started the second on the back foot with the Hornets starting to dominate the breakdown - resolute defending and ferocious tackling kept the Hornets at bay but it looked like a matter of time before they troubled the scoreboard again. So it proved with some textbook rucking the Hornets created a series of attacking chances which eventually saw them drive over out wide for a touchdown and two score lead.
Once again the fast maturing Cockles galvanised themselves for the final 10 minutes and duly camped themselves in the visitors 22 - it was now the visitors turn to feel the might of Devon's finest as they pummelled the line. The pressure drew a penalty and an opportunity to make it a 1 score difference but the swirling wind drew an excellent strike onto the upright to leave a frustated Cockles fly half. Not to be put off the Cockles regained possession and powered their way to the line only to knock on twice when within striking distance - the determination never faded however and the increasing power of the Exmouth pack saw them create a series of pick and drives at the line with hooker Sean Harrison to the fore. He duly converted one effort under the posts and with the conversion it was now a one point game.
The cold but vociforous crowd roared on their respective County representatives for one last effort as Exmouth attempted to gain the crucial score. A huge effort saw them progress back into Cornish territory but a resolute defence stood strong. With time up the Hornets turned over the ball deep in their own half and the visiting 10 cleared the ball to touch bringing on the final whistle.
There was no hint of pleasure from the visitors at their narrow 1 point victory just genuine sportsmanship as the traditions of Devon and Cornwall rugby was the real winner - the boys from both sides took justified applause from a truly appreciative crowd for a game played in fantastic spirit. It is difficult to pick out individuals after games like this as all contributed so well - a special mention is deserved though for young Joe Harris who played up from the Under 15s - welcome to big boys rugby Joe and well done to all!!!