HEAD coach Will Croker saluted skipper Joe Rees after he had led Bournemouth to an impressive 48-34 win over fellow South West Premier high-fliers Newton Abbot.

Rees turned in a man-of-the-match display as rampant Lions ran in seven tries at Rackerhayes – with victory in Devon seeing them draw level in second place with the All Whites.

A sixth triumph in their past seven games was secured by touchdowns from Dan Stewart (2), Sam Hardcastle, Danny Kirkpatrick, Ali Bennett, Tom Napier and Adam Davies.

And kicking king Grant Hancox chipped in with five conversions and a penalty to crash through the 650-point barrier in his league career.

Croker told the Daily Echo: “Joe was outstanding. He picked up everybody and dragged them by the scruff of the neck.

“He made a covering tackle on their winger when he was almost clean through and hit him so hard that he dislodged the ball.

“It came towards the end of the game when they had got back to within 10 points and were throwing the kitchen sink at us.

“It was one of those follow-me leadership moments. As a player, if you see your captain doing that you know you are going to be all right.”

Croker highlighted several stand-out individual showings in a display he felt had been on a par with their best of the season at Exmouth in October.

“Sam Hardcastle controlled the game incredibly well,” said Croker. “He showed all his years of experience.

“Danny Kirkpatrick came in to replace the unavailable Freddie Gleadowe at outside centre and there was a lot of pressure on him because Freddie has been excellent all season.

“He played some first-team rugby at Chichester but is pretty inexperienced at this level. He was up against Matt Jess, who won the Premiership with Exeter Chiefs last season.

“Danny grew into the game and played really well for a young man. It was a really mature performance and he did a great job.”

Kirkpatrick scored his first senior try as Bournemouth regained the lead at 15-14 midway through the first half.

His effort, coupled with two from Stewart, one from Hardcastle and seven points from the boot of Hancox, gave Lions a 27-14 half-time lead.

Napier’s first try in the league added to a second-half touchdown from Bennett – both converted by Hancox – as Bournemouth forged 41-24 ahead

And although the hosts narrowed the deficit to seven, Davies went over before Hancox converted from near the touchline to complete the scoring.

Croker added: “We have tried to make ourselves harder to beat over the past few weeks and we allowed them to score a couple of soft ones which was slightly disappointing.

“But, in the main, the way we attacked and the cohesion we had were really good.

“Our trips into Devon have served us well this season and we also won at Ivybridge and Exmouth.

“Other than Maidenhead on their plastic pitch, nobody has beaten us where we haven’t have opportunities to win so that has been a real fillip.

“We have played really well and played some tough teams so just need to keep it going.”

Lions: Hancox, Davis, Kirkpatrick, Chislett, Stewart, Davies, Hardcastle, Napier, Manning, Firetto, MacDonald, Treloar, Hennings, McDonald, Rees. Replacements: Bennett, Fraser, Sutherland.