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RUGBY LEAGUE: Cornish Rebels retain South West Challenge Cup
SILVERWARE returned to Cornwall on Saturday as the Cornish Rebels successfully defended their South West Challenge Cup title in a thrilling affair.
Nails of people from both the Duchy's only rugby league side and their Exeter Centurions counterparts were bitten right to the end as the match finished 38-26 at Polson Bridge in Launceston.
When the teams met a fortnight ago in a league game, the Rebels crushed their opponents 50-20 but this was a totally different encounter with action taking place at each end of the pitch with the Centurions providing plenty of fight.
It was not until Ethan Pattison went over the line in the sixth of nine minutes added on time that the celebrations could truly begin for the Cornishmen as his score finally stretched the lead out enough to finish the job.
Proceedings were edgy from the start for the defending champions as handling errors crept into their game as cup final nerves set in coupled with Exeter energetic style of play early on.
Full back Matt Shepherd nearly created the first score after four minutes but his offload just metres away from the line went through Nathan Allen's hands on the right wing.
Seven minutes later the Rebels did take the lead as loose forward Martyn Lawrence blasted through the Centurions defensive line before sending out left were Dan Briskham was waiting at the end of a string of passes to touch over.
Just four minutes later though as Exeter won a scrum deep in Rebels territory allowing them to set up an overlap on the left which gave Ed Powell a hole to run into a hole over the try line.
Handling errors continued to plague the Rebels as a knock-on five metres from the line killed a chance to retake the lead before Alex Stevens squandered an opportunity for Exeter as he sent a penalty kick from 20 metres out in a fairly central location wide.
In the 27th minute Stevens made amends with another penalty given after a high tackle just nine metres out right in front of the posts with no mistake being made by the hooker this time.
This seemed to wake the Cornish side up as they started threading passes together and going through their sets of tackles better, building pressure which helped create a try five minutes before half time.
From a scrum in the Centurions' half, Shepherd received the ball before making a speedy diagonal run which the defenders could not stop and make it 10-6 at the break.
Exeter did not appear too downhearted to be starting the second half trailing as they came out playing the same way as they did in the first.
They received an award for their endeavour as Charlie Hinton ducked in from the left wing to add another four points and level things up in the 45th minute.
Briskham then responded for the Rebels four minutes later with a powerful solo effort starting from 25 metres out and battering his way through several Centurions who could not bring him down before he stretched over the try line.
Mike Richards wasted a golden chance for Exeter to level as he incredibly knocked-on as he crossed the Rebels try line in the 51st minute with his pain added to 120 seconds later as Matt Ballard slipped in to score blasting his way from 35 metres out with a great run, making it 20-10.
If the reigning champions thought the cup was theirs again at this point, they were very wrong as Exeter tied proceedings up with two tries in three minutes.
A hefty spell of pressure in the last 20 of the Rebels half led to Dave Walter shoving his way over before stand-off Alex Mills-Baker split the Cornish defence at the halfway line to run home another try.
With things level, the last period of play became a frantic affair as both sides sensed the victory was on.
From the kick-off after Mills-Baker's try came perhaps the cleverest play of the day as Rebels player-coach and hooker Jonny Platt literally dabbed he ball the required ten metres it has to travel forwards on from the centre spot allowing scrum half Darren Pellow to grab it before any of the surprised Exeter players could.
He then sent a pass to Pattison who exposed a big gap in the Centurion defence to score.
Bristow could have added another try in the 76th minute only to see the ball slip from his grasp just two metres away from the line.
Thankfully for him just moments later His team-mate Lawrence did extend the lead as he grabbed the ball from the back of a scrum near the left sideline and surged diagonally to the right wing before touching over.
Again though Exeter refused to let their ambitions die and in the last minute of regular time Richards managed to squeeze over a try to make it 32-26.
Tired legs moved into stoppage time with both sides still searching for tries.
But the only which came was Pattison's in the sixth added on minute as the second row forward clung onto the ball with two defenders on his back before managing to wiggle his way I tot the try zone and seal the win for the the Rebels.
Three minutes the final whistle was blown and at last for the Cornishmen the celebrations could finally begin.