View from the blindside
Fifteen minutes to go, Sidmouth wrapped, zapped and despatched, and it was only then, staring at defeat, that it became clear how important the play off match between Sidmouth Chiefs and Old Redcliffians was, writes The Spectator.
View from The BlindsideFifteen minutes to go, Sidmouth wrapped, zapped and despatched, and it was only then, staring at defeat, that it became clear how important the match was. The prospect of losing and facing another season lolling around Western Counties West was hopeless. Promotion would change everything; inspire coaches, excite players and tempt new blood.Sidmouth - Old Redcliffians had been an unfair contest. It wasn't so much two teams playing different styles of rugby; it was two teams playing different sports. Sidmouth were disjointed, soft and stuck; Old Reds were aggressive, powerful and committed. Fortunately for Sidmouth, the referee initially favoured a gentle game and Old Reds were pinged off the park. The first four penalties went to the home side, there was a consolation one for the ruff necks, followed by another four against and a yellow card to boot.But at 4:30pm it was surely too late. There were no signs of Sidmouth finding the form or composure, let alone field position, to score. Old Reds were in control, as they had been for most of the game. They were happy to let Sidmouth have the ball and then stuff them in the contact areas. Sidmouth hardly won a scrap of quick possession or a decent ball from the set piece. The Old Reds scouting had been perfectly analysed. They had worked out that Sidmouth were soft in contact, weak in the scrum and if the ball was slow and the midfield triangle of 10, 12, 13 were rushed, then Sidmouth would not cope. Perfect game plan, perfectly executed. Old Reds blasted and crashed and slowed-up every morsel of Sidmouth possession and, when they had the ball themselves, they made ground straight through the soft underbelly of the Sidmouth team. The Old Reds captain was a class act. He hit his jumpers at the line out and, with his henchmen, 6 and 8, on his elbows, ruled the loose at every turn of the screw. The Red No.5 though was the pick of the Bristol demolition team. He had been fully briefed, wound-up and let loose, and for the first 40 minutes, until his heavyweight frame had run out of punch, he was in the middle of every grabbing, gouging, moaning, cheating and highly effective plan to win the game. He was typical of the sort of mongrel forward that Sidmouth never really copes with. He spoilt, fought, frustrated and hurt Sidmouth where it really hurts. He is the sort of player that is the reason why a soft south-coast-boys club, can't really mix it against a Bristol Combination team, but hey! come in No.5, your time is up.The clock ran down. Five minutes to go and Sidmouth surely had to kick the penalty on offer and then they still had to score a try. Based on the previous 75 minutes, pointless even considering. So Sidmouth went for touch and then inevitably lost the lineout and were back in the madhouse, deep in their own half with the Old Red supporters chanting "easy easy easy"; a pretty fair assessment of how it was all panning out. Sidmouth rushed again, no composure, no calm. The midfield was under more pressure as they forced the game. Beavis had man and ball but half-twisted through a tackle and shovelled along hopeless possession to Cooper. Based on everything that had gone before, this faltering crabbing attack would be swallowed up by the Old Red defence. Where the defence went and how they got it wrong is anyone's guess, but Cooper got to the corner to leave Retter with every inch of turf and every degree of angle to slot a conversion to reach the impossibly unlikely position of 20-20, and then who knew? Did the away team get the spoils, could we bear extra time, was it a try count? Kick teed-up, banged over, 20-20, one minute left. Then for the first time all afternoon the Old Reds got it wrong. They slipped from the driving seat and began heading straight into a car crash of their own making. They ran a ball from their own half and then kicked to no-man's land where Sidmouth retrieved possession and, for once, had a crucial second or two to get organised and build enough momentum to launch the last attack of the season.Fifty yards out and off to the left, Dan Retter did it. From the obscurity of a game which was out of control. From a game where he missed his kicks, missed his midfield and lost his bearings, Dan had the confidence, at that moment, to bang a long, difficult and perfect drop-kick. The last-second-last-gasp-promotion-clinching-drop-kick he has imagined since he first toddled around The Blackmore twenty years ago. Pinged from his sweet toe, it sailed out to sea and was surely kissed by Geoff as it flew high through the posts. Final whistle, promotion. Cheers.