The Devon Merit Table
- Credit: Terry O'Brien
Merit Tables were first introduced by the Sunday Telegraph in the 1960s to illustrate the relative success rate of clubs against regular opponents of a similar standard.
Clubs were not required to play all other teams in the table, just a significant number. Cancelled games were not required to be rearranged and seldom were. For each game played, two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw.
Positions were allocated in order of the percentage of points gained in relation to the total number of points available. If a team gained 16 points out of a possible 20, their percentage would be 80%.
The Sunday Telegraph published a National Table for the top clubs and regional tables in their regional editions. Sidmouth were included in the South West table.
They achieved the Team of the Month award for September 1979 and for November 1980 when they won all four games played.
In the early 1980s, the Devon RFU adopted the Express and Echo merit table as an official competition.
There is no doubt fate favoured the Chiefs in the 1985-86 season. Pre-season retirements and a persisting injury list contributed to a disappointing first half of the season but only six merit table games were played.
The first merit table games in the opening few weeks resulted in a 6-6 draw at Crediton followed by a 17-4 win at Teignmouth.
Fortunately, there were no relevant games scheduled during the period in October and November when influential props, captain Geoff Retter and Bob Smith, were playing in the County Championship with Devon.
A 14-0 home win against Tiverton, a 3-4 defeat by Cornwall and Devon Police, 24-0 against Newton Abbot and a 26-4 defeat of Paignton completed the first half of the season. A 3-7 loss against Exmouth on New Year’s Day left them in an unpromising mid-table position.
The next game was an important 8-7 win at Bideford. Then came a call for me to come out of semi-retirement to play at fly half against top-of-the-table Okehampton. Fortunately, the Blackmore Field resembled a paddy field. I would not be required to run and rarely to pass. However, I had mastered the art of keeping the ball in front of my forwards by the age of 12.
The talented Okehampton backs got stuck in the mud, while Sidmouth’s forwards were in their element. A Duncan Nice penalty was sufficient for victory.
17-4 and 28-9 wins against Newton Abbot and Paignton were followed by my next call up, this time to play in the centre at Tiverton. This time it was the referee who came to our aid when he missed a knock on by fellow centre Nick Everett, who went on the score a converted try. A vital six points in a 19-14 victory.
The return games against Cornwall and Devon Police and Teignmouth were not played. Wins against Crediton (21-0), Bideford (29-3) and Exmouth (22-9) indicated a team in good form and moving into second place with just one game to go against leaders Okehampton on April 26.
Both teams had played 15 games losing two. Sidmouth’s draw at Crediton left them needing to win with Okehampton requiring not to lose. Playing at home, where they had not conceded a try in the merit table that season, Okehampton were clear favourites. The odds shortened as they raced into an 11-0 lead playing with wind and slope in their favour.
Just before halftime, a good move by the Sidmouth backs created a try for Tony Morrison.
With the elements in his favour, fly half Simon Stiling produced a kicking masterclass to keep his side on the front foot after the break. Tries were scored by Graham Denner, Bob Smith, Tony Morrison and Mike Spiller with Duncan Nice adding a penalty and a conversion to secure the trophy by a comfortable 25-11 margin with a performance which ranks among the best in Sidmouth’s history.