Sidmouth RFC and the top 10 seasons – Number One and the 1978-79 campaign that underlined the club’s all-round strength

The Sidmouth RFC 1xt XV from the 1977/78 season. Picture: SRFC

The Sidmouth RFC 1xt XV from the 1977/78 season. Picture: SRFC - Credit: Archant

We have arrived at the number one spot in our countdown from 10 to one of the ‘Greatest single season’ for Sidmouth RFC, as compiled by the Chiefs’ Terry O’Brien.

The Sidmouth RFC 1xt XV from the 1977/78 season. Picture: SRFC

The Sidmouth RFC 1xt XV from the 1977/78 season. Picture: SRFC - Credit: Archant

For the number one spot, Terry has opted for the 1978-79 campaign and here he explains just why that season tops them all.

The years from 1971 to 1983 was the most successful sustained period in the club’s history, writes Terry O’Brien.

In 11 of the 12 seasons, more games were won than lost.

Indeed, out of a total of 527 games that were payed over those years, 324 were won at an average of 27 per season.

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Thanks to the work of fixture secretary Pat Coleman, the fixture list was gradually strengthened through the 1970s with top Cornish clubs to the West being added along with teams such as Weston-super-Mare, Bridgwater, Bournemouth and Bristol University to the East.

Cup final captain Steve Lewis’s move to Exeter in 1980 began an exodus of players seeking the chance to play at a higher level, which gradually brought the era to an end.

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The opening game of the 1983 Centenary season, was played on September 1 and it was against an Exeter side which included five former Sidmouth players!

At a time when all clubs in the county entered the Devon Senior Cup, the Chiefs reached the semi-final for three consecutive seasons from 1978 to 1980 and went on to play in the final against Exeter in 1978.

Being involved at the time, I have no doubt that 1978-79 was when the club reached its peak.

The fixture list included all the top teams in Devon except Plymouth Albion, plus clubs of the calibre of Taunton, Weston-super-Mare, Bournemouth, Newbury and Pontypool United as well as trips into Cornwall.

The only departures from the cup final team were prop Keith Roberts and full back Paul Tooze.

These were adequately replaced by Geoff Retter and Richard Trim, whose reintroduction at fly half allowed John Richards to move to his best position at full back.

And the return of Colin Nice, Lester Willmington and Colin Santer from higher education added to the quality of the squad.

The previous season, the Colts had also reached their Devon Cup final, losing 15-20.

The graduation of players like Graham Bess and Paul Fitzhenry to the senior ranks also added to the strength in depth.

The squad included 10 past or future captains and Steve Lewis, Geoff Retter and Graham Bess would go on to represent Devon in the County Championships.

The season did not get off to a good start as the first week, played on hard grounds, under new captain Peter O’Brien exacted a heavy injury toll.

A thumping 46-9 victory over Bournemouth was followed by another three tough games in the next seven days. By mid-October the playing record was four wins and six defeats.

However, the last of these games was a creditable 9-3 reversal to Exeter as the team returned to full strength.

This was followed by a club record 18 games undefeated, 17 wins and one draw.

Wins against Bideford and Devonport Services put them in the semi-final of Devon Senior Cup again.

The match against Brixham was played on the Blackmore Field, turned into a quagmire by overnight rain, which had continued through the morning.

The Chiefs enjoyed much territorial advantage but a disallowed try, missed penalty and one mistake saw Brixham win 7-6.

Six out of seven games were won in April to give a final record of 29 wins and a draw form 40 games, the lowest number played since 1967-68 thanks to a very wet January.

The icing on the cake and tie-break, if one is needed, is the performance of the Quins that season, with a playing record of 29 wins from just 34 games with six cancelled.

Half of these games were against 1st XV opposition, taking on the likes of Chard, Honiton, Cullompton and Ivybridge.

The record against 1st XV teams was an impressive 14 wins and just three defeats.

This record would make them competitive in the current Cornwall and Devon league. Meanwhile they won 16 and lost one against current Devon Merit Table One teams, including Cullompton and Ivybridge 1st XV teams.

The third team also included first team opposition in their 29 matches recording wins against Plympton, Crewkerne and North Tawton.

Measuring playing standards, strength in depth and adult playing numbers, this season was the high point in the history of Sidmouth Rugby Club.

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