THE annual Mayflower Cup, played between Dartmouth RFC and Old Plymothian & Mannamedian RFC, was first inaugurated in 2020 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, writes Dick Evans.

However due to covid, only one game has ever been played and OPM are the current cup holders.

Last Saturday at Norton Field, Dartmouth, OPM brought with them their league-winning squad, as they have been promoted to a higher division.

Darts put out an experienced side with a sprinkling of youth, but still had some key players missing through injury. 

Dartmouth  are a team that do not dwell on the visitors’ reputation and tore into OPM from the start.

Even though the visitors had the much heavier pack, the Dartmouth eight took play into the visitors’ 22-metre area and, from a scrum and maul, prop Ryan “Fergie” Burrows forced himself over the line to give the home side a 5-0 lead on five minutes.

In this fast-flowing and entertaining game, it was not long before OPM came back at Darts, and after a three-quarter movement, wing Callum David scored wide out. Conversion by Sam Matts for 7-5.

Dartmouth replied straight away by winning a scrum. Jaime Kearney, playing at scrum-half, moved the ball to his number 10 Sam Churchill, who made ground before kicking a long, rolling and bouncing ball over the defenders’ heads for speedy winger Josh Squires to chase. The bounce was kind and Josh gathered the ball and went over in the corner. Sam Churchill kicked a difficult conversion to make it 12-7.

Darts then handed OPM three points by giving a penalty away.

The Dartmouth pack with Dec Hammond, Kyle McGhee, Ryan Burrows and Matt Meacock were always gaining ground in the loose and were well supported by Liam Hitchcock, John Dingle and Myles Churchill.

On 15 minutes, OPM extended their lead when their ex-colts player Ellis Foele was driven over in the corner by his pack for 15-12.

Darts Captain for the day Jake Bridgwood had the better of his opposing number and put in some bruising and individual runs up field as he attempted to add to the home sides score.

There was also some excellent interlinking play in the Darts’ three-quarter line between full-back Richard Lobb and Xav Picot, who always tried to run the ball from deep, but attacks were halted by some strong defence by the visitors.

Dartmouth were still in the game and holding their own in the scrums while Myles Churchill cleared up in the line-outs. 

Declan Hammond had one of his better games for Dartmouth with some great runs upfield and even though he is a big mobile Prop he put in more than his share of defence tackles.

Darts were very unlucky not to draw level at half-time when they missed a penalty, leaving the score 15-12 at the break.

From the second-half kick-off, Dartmouth looked in control with Jake Bridgwood and Myles Churchill putting in marauding runs into OPM’s half and always looked likely to score.

However Dartmouth’s Kyle McGheereceived a red card after a clash of heads with an OPM player which was deemed to be dangerous. The club will be reviewing the match video in an effort to make an appeal. Dartmouth played the last 35 minutes of the game with 14 players.

Darts centre Jack Gordon, making a welcome return to the club after injury, and young Josh Squires both put in some crunching defence and the home side still looked in control.

However on 25 minutes, OPM full-back Fred Smales gathered the ball and made off down the touchline. He kicked ahead and gathered to score in the corner. Conversion by Sam Matts for 22-12.

The home side did not give up and John Dingle battled away upfield, supported by his pack and for periods of time the game was played in OPM’s  half.

Five minutes from time, it was full-back Smales who sealed the game for OPM, with another kick up field. The bounce was kind and the ball fell into his hands and he crossed near the posts. Sam Matt converted.

Final score was Dartmouth 12,  OPM 29.

Dartmouth manager Andrew Tomkinson said after the game: “We started well but OPM are a good side and didn’t  let us play. We need to play a lot better than this if we want to win any silverware this season. We received a red card and lost our way after losing a key player.

“Player of the game was captain Jake Bridgwood.“