Top 10 Sidmouth Chiefs’ seasons – A first trophy for 43 years to end the 72/73 campaign

Sidmouth RFC after their 1973 Havill Plate success. Picture; SRFC

Sidmouth RFC after their 1973 Havill Plate success. Picture; SRFC - Credit: Archant

We continue our on-going look at the top 10 seasons for Sidmouth Rugby Club with Terry O’Brien.

SIXTH PLACE - 1972-73

To put the 1972-73 season in context, we need to refer to previous notes regarding the revolutionary changes in the laws of rugby union which took place in the 1960s.

The changes in the offside line created more space for the attacking side and the ban on kicking direct to touch outside the 22-metre line encouraged the counterattacking full back. Meanwhile, on our doorstep was St Luke’s College, which myself, my fellow centre at the time Alan Howson and winger Pat Coleman had been privileged to attend.

The teacher training college, along with Loughborough College were to rugby what Oxbridge and Imperial College are to science, hotbeds of innovation.

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In those days, long before the introduction of academies, the innovators were the players.

The players shaped how they would play the game.

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Among the developments they made were the running full back and set moves to exploit the newly available space.

Until then, wingers had thrown the ball in to lineouts.

Now the hooker was deployed to this task, freeing up the wingers to support the full back on the counterattack and provide an extra man in attack.

Martin Underwood, a lecturer at St Luke’s and former England winger, had introduced the concept of spinning the ball. Initially this was used to improve the accuracy of throwing into the lineout.

It soon became used by scrum halves to increase the length of pass. Now it is ubiquitous within the game.

With talented and adventurous young backs, by the early 1970s, Sidmouth were well placed to exploit the new opportunities as this extract from an article in the Sidmouth Herald at the time illustrates: ‘The revival of the club’s fortunes come about largely through the inclusion in the 1st XV of young players who have learned the game with the Colts and at the King’s School, Ottery St Mary. They have achieved the results, not by negative play, but by bright open and attractive football.’

By 1972 these adventurous players were maturing.

In addition to those already mentioned, John Richards had all the attributes for an attacking full back.

Richard Trim and Colin Nice were instinctive attacking players, while Tony Morrison on the wing had the pace and power to exploit the opportunities provide by those inside him.

The young forwards would require more time to mature to their full power, but provided a good platform of possession and mobility to support the backs.

The first game of the 1972-73 season gave no indication of a successful season ahead.

Indeed, the 10-52 defeat at Newton Abbot could have been crushing to a more inhibited group of players.

With five key players having retired or left the area and five new players arriving, time would be needed for the team to settle down.

They did bounce back in the next game with a good win against Teignmouth, but results were indifferent during September and October.

These included a defeat to Brixham in the first round of the Devon Senior Cup.

This put them in the Havill Plate, a competition for teams knocked out in the first two rounds.

Thus, this competition involved at least two thirds of all Devon Clubs, providing a real test through three rounds to reach the final.

Following a heavy defeat against St Luke’s Extra 1st, results took a dramatic turn for the better with nine wins from ten games in November and December.

This included a comfortable win at Honiton in the first round of the Plate. The recovery continued in the second half of the season with ten consecutive wins through February and March.

This run opened with wins against St Luke’s Extra 1st, Barnstaple and Exeter University and included a 7-6 defeat of their early nemesis Newton Abbot in the Plate quarter final.

The Chiefs then embarked on a suicidal run of ten games in April compressed into 25 days.

The third of these was an 18-9 win against Ilfracombe to reach the Plate final to be played at the Blackmore Field on Friday April 27, after three games over the preceding Easter weekend, four games in eight days. And there was still the last game of the season to follow on April 28.

In those days, all fixtures were honoured no matter the relative importance.

Understandably, the players were jaded and below their best for the final, but two tries created for right winger Pat Coleman were enough for an 8-7 win to bring the club its first trophy for 43 years.

A playing record of 33 wins from 47 games was second only to the 1951-52 record. Tony Morrison’s 37 tries, despite two breaks for injury, is a club record which will almost certainly never be beaten.

And Pat Coleman’s contribution of 33 on the other wing testifies to the type of open rugby played.

Following the nadir of the mid 1960s, this season marked the club’s return to the senior ranks of Devon rugby.

And, while the trophy was the icing on the cake, it was the first win at Barnstaple in 38 years which stood out as the real test of the credentials.

Tries by Alan Howson and Tony Morrison, converted by Richard Trim, plus a long period of heroic defence sealed the era defining victory.

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