Sidmouth RFC and the Havill Plate
- Credit: SRFC
The Havill Plate was introduced by the Devon RFU in the 1971-72 season for teams knocked out of the Devon Senior Cup in the first two rounds.
It provided an incentive for clubs to enter the Cup and a good standard of competition for the clubs just below the top tier, such as Exeter and Plymouth Albion. This is shown by the roll-call of winners, including Exmouth, Ivybridge, Okehampton, Crediton and Newton Abbot.
Going in to the 1972-73 season, Sidmouth were on an upward trajectory from a slump in the 1960s, with a group of young players most of who had graduated from the Colts. The previous season the Chiefs had won more games (24) than were lost for the first time in eight years.
In the first round of the Devon Cup, Sidmouth played Brixham on 8th October. This was a Sunday, as was the norm in the days when the only screens were black and white TVs or in cinemas.
It was a matter of courtesy to honour the regular Saturday fixtures. So, unless a fixture against your cup opponents fell conveniently in the right time frame, cup matches were played either midweek or, more usually, on a Sunday. This probably explains why walking for me is no longer the pain-free natural means of locomotion.
Brixham won 18-11 and Sidmouth entered the Havill Plate.
The first round was played at Honiton on New Year’s Eve, another no-no date in the modern era. The result was a comfortable 44-0 win.
The quarter-final was at home to Newton Abbot on Sunday, 18th March. The All Whites had beaten the Chiefs 52-10 in the first game of the season. The previous day, Sidmouth had beaten Paignton 34-9 in what would be the first of 13 games played over the next 42 days. In a hard fought and tense game, Newton Abbot were beaten 7-6.
The semi-final opponents were Ilfracombe, the holders and first winners of the Havill Plate. In an entertaining game played at Blackmore on Sunday 8th April, the Chiefs won 18-9.
The final was arranged to be played at Blackmore on Friday 27th April. This was immediately after the Easter weekend. The Chiefs would have just three days rest after playing three tough games against touring teams.
The opposition was Old Heleans, the old boys of Heles Boys Grammar School in Exeter, where I was in my second year of teaching. Sidmouth winger Pat Coleman also taught there.
The Old Heleans team was full of experienced players, some of whom had played for Exeter and returned to finish their playing careers. By contrast, the Sidmouth team for the final included five teenagers: Colin Nice, Richard Trim, Graham Brown, Alan Stone and Lester Willmington. The average age was just 22.
A large crowd saw Old Heleans take an early lead with a penalty. The score remained 0-3 at the end of a scrappy first half. The game came to life early in the second half when Sidmouth produced an excellent move finished off by Pat Coleman with an unconverted try in the right corner to go 4-3 up.
When the Chiefs failed to control a loose ball near their own line midway through the half, an Old Heleans forward scored an opportunist try to put his side back ahead.
With ten minutes to go, the Chiefs were awarded a scrum 10 metres from the opponents’ line. A well-executed set move put Pat Coleman in for his second try to regain the lead.
The closing minutes were played out in the Sidmouth half. Old Heleans were awarded a penalty in the final seconds. To the relief of Sidmouth players and supporters, the ball drifted just wide of the uprights to leave the Chiefs 8-7 winners.
Despite a long night of celebrations, the Chiefs found the energy to beat Exmouth 25-10 the following day.
Sidmouth would reach the Havill Plate final three more times losing to Bideford in 1975, Exmouth in 1981 and Ilfracombe in1984.