Sidmouth Chiefs joint head-coach speaks about the campaign from first kick to last

Honiton rugby action

Honiton rugby action - Credit: Archant

At the start of the 2019/20 season, Exeter Chiefs player Jack Yeandle began his association with the Blackmore club as joint head coach with Phil Dolman with a specific brief to look after the forwards and defensive department.

Sidmouth RFC from the 1905 season. Picture: AARFC

Sidmouth RFC from the 1905 season. Picture: AARFC - Credit: Archant

Speaking after the season had come to an end due to the Coronavirus pandemic, he spoke of his first season with the club.

He said: “With my first season with the club having ended I am very happy to say how enjoyable it has been, particularly to see how the team has continued to improve and, as a coach, it’s been great to be part a team that really started to realise their potential.”

He continued: “With the club having been promoted back into the South West One division, I was in the fortunate position of coming into a most welcoming club that was clearly in a very good position.

“We did plenty of small-sided games in pre-season to keep pushing fitness level, and attendance was always very high during the end of the summer months.

Sidmouth RFC 1st XV in the 2002/03 season. Pictyure: SRFC

Sidmouth RFC 1st XV in the 2002/03 season. Pictyure: SRFC - Credit: Archant

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“I think all the sessions were enjoyed by the lads, bar one. We made the lads do one of our fitness tests from Exeter Chiefs, (but a much easier version) caused a few cobwebs to be blown out to say the least.!

“When the season began and we suffered those five straight defeats I must confess that I was not in any way alarmed as I felt the performances showed a lot of promise.

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“Adding to my belief was that in most of the games we were literally just the odd ‘tweak’ from turning the tide.

“The understanding from the lads of what the team structures and principles were was a bit vague, so we needed to address how we wanted to play.

“A meeting was laid out by Dolly [fellow head coach Phil Dolman] early on, addressing what we were looking for from the players.

“One of the simple aspects we addressed early doors is how important it is in a team game to keep working ‘off the ball’.

That might sound an ’odd one’, but the understanding of this was highlighted best in a home loss to Hornets. Full credit to Hornets they deserved their promotion this year as they were clearly a very well-drilled team. However, when we lost to them at the Blackmore it did underline to the lads just what we were trying to do.

“I got to witness first hand exhausted bodies defending their try line for 15 minutes straight, working tirelessly again and again to make a tackle, and then most importantly get up off the floor instead of lying down thinking about how tired they were.

“The penny had dropped in this game and it gave us something to build on.”

The joint head coach then turned his attention to a more specific area of the team.

He said: “Another aspect of the teams play (forwards and defence) needed a bit of simplifying.

“We cut the line out options right back, and after a realisation from the players, post the first home game loss against Crediton, we got some enormous gains out of doing training sessions dedicated to purely scrummaging!

“Some might think that element boring, but the attention the lads showed and the points they took out from it gave us a solid and attacking platform, along with a maul that was now a scoring threat.

“Defensively we looked to tighten the ship with basics. This combined tackle technique, but most importantly getting the lads to look up, assess threats, and communicate with each other.

“These communication skills, along with an attacking weapon of a solid set piece, and a solid understanding of our patterns of play, turned the tide for our season.

“The most pleasing thing for me as a coach was that the demand to get better was being driven by the players.

“They would ask for video sessions.

They would be turning up ready to transfer what we talked about in meetings, onto the pitch.

“A noticeable game for me, once we had found our rhythm, was probably the victory at North Petherton on a cold Friday night!

“We had the ‘retired’ Mark Unsworth starting at tight head, and, showing an old dog can learn new tricks, performing some outstanding scrummaging, taken forward from the session we had done previously, and doing so for 77 minutes which was not a bad shift!

“Peli and Frank were being their destructive best in open field with some dominant defensive shots flying in from Rabi and Josh Bess.

“Our forwards not only stood up, but also at times physically dominated the much larger pack.

“The most notable moment of not just the game, but perhaps the season, from my perspective, happened in the 80th minute when Dezza decided to try and kick the ball off the pitch to end the game from a ruck, so he could breath after putting in a solid 80 minute shift.

This kick however, was what I can only describe as a ‘brain fart’. Firstly the ruck was in the middle of the pitch, a feat in itself to get the distance on the kick after 80 minutes. The difficulty was doubled when he decided instead of kicking it the shortest route to the touchline, he would try and kick it back towards his own five-metre line (the furthest distance).

“It was then made even harder by the fact he completely sliced it, the opposition winger collects the ball and they eventually score a try!! “Thankfully we already had the bonus point away win in the bag, but I’m sure it’s a manoeuvre he won’t be attempting anytime soon!

“From results like this we soon went on a pretty phenomenal winning streaks, going away to places like Lydney and Bridgewater and picking up memorable victories with hard honest performances.

“Again, these performances highlighted how the lads had taken on the structures and principles Phil and I had given them, and they performed simple things really well. “Now, the (attempted) flashy one-off rugby that individuals tried to play at the start of the season, was replaced by a 15-man game of everyone having a role, attacking the space, being extremely physical, and putting in low stop tackles in defence.

“Not allowing any momentum for opposition teams and constantly trying to build our own momentum in attack proved a crucial formula. This led to us finishing in the top five and I truly believe had we started the season as we finished we would have been pushing for the very top of the table.

“This is down to the quality of players we have had throughout the squad, but also the determination to get better as a team.”

Yeandle rounded things off saying: “Hopefully everyone in the squad manages to stay safe over these difficult times, and when next season begins (whenever that may be) we can build on what has been a brilliant first season back in South West One.”

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