Sidmouth RFC rewind - recalling the 1978 Devon Cup final watched by 3,000 supporters
- Credit: Archant
Continuing the rugby memories of Sidmouth RFC stalwart Terry O’Brien
Season 1977-78 was my last as a regular 1st XV player, though I would make another 75 appearances over the next 10 years, writes Terry O’Brien.
That final season as a regular was certainly a memorable one, despite ultimately finishing in failure.
Against a tough fixture list, the final playing record was 28 wins, three draws and 13 defeats.
Apart from cup matches, notable wins were recorded against Exeter University (30-18), Taunton (25-9), Brixham (7-3), Bristol University (16-3) and a double over Exmouth (12-7 and 19-3).
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However, the jewel in the crown was reaching the Devon Senior Cup final for the first time in 47 years.
In the first three rounds Teignmouth, Marjon and Newton Abbot were dispatched scoring 120 points against ten. This earned a quarter final place against a powerful Devonport Services side at the Blackmore Field on February 5.
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Sidmouth took an early lead with a penalty kicked by skipper Steve Lewis, but Services went ahead minutes later with an unconverted try.
Nick Cousins, brother of Olympic ice-skating gold medal winner Robin, regained the lead when he won the chase for his own kick ahead.
Midway through the half, scrum half Dave Richards sustained a cut eye and had to leave the field.
At the time sides were only allowed two replacements, who could only substitute for an injured player.
Also, blood replacements were not allowed. The Chiefs opted not to use a replacement as Richards rushed to the hospital accompanied by Dr Andy Riddler. A rapid job of to insert four stitch ensured the scrum half returned in time for the second half.
In the meantime, Steve Lewis kicked a second penalty and good work by the backs created a converted try by Paul Tooze for a halftime lead of 16-4. The only score in the second half was a third Steve Lewis penalty.
The result earned Sidmouth a home semi-final against St Luke’s College.
The students, in the last year before becoming part of Exeter University, were not the force they had once been but were still among the strongest teams in the county and firm favourites for the match played on March 12, in front of a crowd of more than 1,000. A Steve Lewis penalty gave Sidmouth an early lead, but St Luke’s hit back almost immediately with a try constructed by their dangerous backs.
The Sidmouth forwards began to take control and the students conceded penalties under pressure. Steve Lewis kicked two to regain and extend the lead. Late in the half, Nick Cousins chased a Dave Richards kick into the box from the base of a scrum. The ball bounced awkwardly, but the winger gathered it above his head at speed and raced in under the posts for a converted try. St Luke’s kicked a penalty to make the halftime score 15-7.
Both sides kicked penalties in an evenly contested third quarter before the students’ superior fitness began to give them the upper hand and the pressure eventually produced an unconverted try to set up a tense finish.
With St Luke’s in all-out attack, a try-saving cover tackle by John Richards in injury time ensured that Sidmouth would reach the Devon Cup final for the first time since 1931.
This success against my Alma Mater, particularly given the importance of the fixture, was the most satisfying of a long career.
The final was played at the County Ground on Thursday April 13, in front of a crowd of over 3,000 people.
In the opening quarter, Sidmouth conceded a series of penalties and Exeter took advantage to build up a 12-point lead with two penalties and a converted try.
As their discipline improved, the Sidmouth pack used a superior scrummaging to gain control of possession and territory.
An attack set up from a missed touch kick produced a try by Adrian Hamilton to open Sidmouth’s account and two Steve Lewis penalties closed the gap to just two points at half time.
Sidmouth continued to keep play in the Exeter half for much of the third quarter but with 15 minutes to play a long break by the Exeter scrum half produced a try against the run of play.
Another Exeter try seemed to settle matters, but a third Steve Lewis penalty kept Sidmouth in touch before a converted try in injury time gave a final 28-13 score-line, which did not reflect Sidmouth’s contribution to the game.
The county cup runner-up position qualified Sidmouth for a place in the Preliminary Round of the John Player Cup, the premier national competition in those pre-league years.
The opposition were the Somerset Cup winners Avon and Somerset Police. The prize for the winners would be a first round match away to London Irish. The game played at the Blackmore Field on Saturday April 29, was a disappointing and dull affair.
The Police dominated the lineouts leaving Sidmouth starved of possession. Meanwhile, the Police were content to kick for position and territory.
It worked as their early try was enough to beat a single Steve Lewis penalty.
Being the last game of the season, when the clubhouse closed, we adjourned to the Balfour Arms.
A lock-in with a coach load of policemen provided a slightly surreal end to an eventful season.