Barnstaple skipper Winston James said gritty defence was the key to the 21-20 win at Newton Abbot that keeps the Reds five points clear of Exmouth at the top of the table.

Newton Abbot said it was a case of ‘daylight robbery’, claiming Barum’s second try should not have been awarded due to a knock-on.

James said nothing could be further from the truth as Newton had more opportunities than Barum but failed to cash in on them.

“It was how we played when we didn’t have the ball that won the game,” said James.

“There were times when we could not get our hands on the ball and had to defend through a dozen or more phases of play.

“It was gritty and we won ugly, but it showed the side is growing in character all the time.

“We had four or five scoring chances and made the most of them. Newton probably had more, but didn’t take them.”

At the heart of Newton Abbot’s gripe was a 66th minute try by Alex Pike, which they claimed was knocked-on by the Barum centre as he scooped up a bouncing ball.

“I have watched the incident at least 20 times on DVD and can’t see how it wasn’t given as a knock-on,” said Newton’s director of rugby Roy Henderson.

“It seems we are having no luck at all and on this occasion were the victims of daylight robbery.

“I don’t say this very often, but for once the best side lost.

“Barnstaple had all the luck and we had none. In their heart of hearts they will know that.”

Newton Abbot went ahead on 14 minutes with an interception try up the wing from half way for Jake Monnington. Rob Avery-Wright kicked the conversion.

Barum lost hooker James Starkey to the bin on 21 minutes, but Newton failed to take advantage while he was off.

The reverse happened: Barum skipper James finished off a breakout try from a marked kick and Jordan Petherbridge converted to leave it all square against the run of play.

Avery-Wright potted a penalty in first-half added time to put Newton 10-7 up.

It stayed 10-7 up to the hour mark and beyond.

When Newton’s Monga Molisi went to the bin, Barum cashed in.

Pike picked up a kick forward by Petherbridge that bounced around and returned it for a try. Petherbridge converted.

Avery-Wright got Newton back within a point with a second penalty, but Barum were not finished yet.

Will Topps sashayed through for a try on 73 minute and Petherbridge opened up an eight-point gap with the kick.

Newton gave it everything they had in what was left of the game, but scoring twice was always going to be a tall order.

On 80 minutes Newton got a try back through prop Tom Brown, who was shunted over from close range. Avery-Wright landed the kick to make it a one-point game.

Barnstaple are at home to Cleve this Saturday.