DERBY matches usually have all the finesse of a car crash – and Ivybridge's narrow win over local rivals Tavistock at Cross-in-Hand was no exception.
A match that could have gone either way saw Ivybridge take the lead, lose it and look second-best for most of the first half. Alas for Tavistock, who seemed on the verge of a famous victory, they fell victim to one of the Bridgers' famous comebacks in the second.
Tavistock ended the day as they began it – one place off the bottom of the division. But head coach Mike Lewis took away the consolation of a losing bonus point and the knowledge his team are within clawing distance of getting out of the drop zone.
Not unusually for two teams who have spent the better part of three weeks celebrating the Yuletide festival instead of working out match-winning drills on the training ground, both Ivybridge and Tavistock went through periods in the game not seeming to know which colour shirts they were wearing and as a result, some of the rugby was patchy.
Having said that, the game was a nail-biter, with more collisions between two sets of players committed to winning than your average Saturday on the M25.
Ivybridge took the lead through an Adam
West penalty, but Tavvy fly-half Richard West almost got his side back into it with a defence-splitting cross-field kick which wing Ben
Hadfield just failed to collect on the home team's try line.
West almost equalised with a drop-goal attempt, then did so with a penalty kick. Bradley, who was wearing a bandage around his head to protect a wound, clipped his second penalty of the game to give Ivybridge a tenuous 6-3 lead.
Just how tenuous became apparent when Tavvy took charge of a bundle just short of Ivybridge's line and shoved forward Lloyd James over for a close range try. West missed the conversion, but added a penalty to his points bag shortly afterwards to give the visitors an 11-6 advantage they held until half-time.
Ivybridge, who had plenty of possession in the first half but little cutting edge, survived an inaccurate West penalty kick or two and equalised when they overpowered the Tavvy pack to force Scott Puleston over for the equaliser.
Bradley missed the conversion, then a penalty, but converted his own try when he slipped through Tavistock's defence on the left. That was 18-11 to the home side, but Tavistock belied their position at the wrong end of the table by mounting an irresistible drive as the clock ticked down toward the end of the match.
Tavvy forced the Ivybridge defence back to their own try-line, then second-row Andy Schuttkake, who has been badly missed through a period of unavailability, charged over to touch down and bring the score-line back to 18-6.
West, who with Hadfield was Tavistock's most potent attacking weapon, missed a difficult conversion and Ivybridge rallied to pin the visitors back into their own half.
Bradley, whose kicking had been erratic – possibly through lack of practice and/or the effects of his head wound – was handed another attempt under the Tavistock posts which even his dog couldn't have missed.
Tavistock attempted another late surge to try to regain the victory which had been snatched under their noses, but Ivybridge's defence – just – held them out.
Tavvy coach Lewis said: "We played some good rugby, and I felt it was an even game, but we're missing that extra five per cent.
"We had the chances, but Ivybridge deserved it. What we've got to do is to find a little bit of spark."
Senior Ivybridge coach Neil Thomson
, drawing comparisons with his team's entry into the league, two seasons ago, said afterwards: "Tavistock are fighting to stay in the league, so in that sense, they're two seasons behind us. They deserve to stay in the league with the commitment they put in."
He added: "I think we looked like we had three weeks off and we've got to improve on defending line-outs, but it was a win at home, we collected four points and we can build on that."