As days at The Blackmore go, this was definitely one of the good ones!

As part of the year-long celebration of 50 years of junior rugby at Sidmouth RFC, it was decided that a Veterans fixture, which would feature players who had come through the ranks at the club would be a great way to celebrate. However, all the best laid plans go to waste and after Exeter Saracens pulled out of the fixture, a hastily arranged inter club match saw 40 of SRFC’s finest vintage models (along with a few ‘guests’ from the 2nd team to make up the numbers and lower the average age) gather at The Blackmore, for the first of what will hopefully be many Veteran’s (over 35s) matches in future seasons.

To add an extra element, it was suggested by Club President Terry O’Brien, who originally introduced mini rugby to the club in 1972, that it would be fitting if the two teams played for The Pullin Cup, which was first contested by two boys’ teams from the club in 1904, and had been reintroduced in the first full season of mini rugby (1972).

As with any reunion, the scent of nostalgia (or was that deep heat?) hung heavy in the air, with many players meeting teammates they had last shared a pitch with the best part of a decade (or more) ago. On a day more suited to the beach than rugby, all the pre-match talk was about the ground being “rock hard”,             tales of disintegrating boots being found under the stairs and shorts that “had definitely shrunk” and “do we have enough tape?” The conditions were perfect for open ‘Easter rugby’, but would the lungs and the hamstrings hold out?

Sometimes Vets rugby can be a turgid disjointed affair, but not this time, as the years were rolled back, the crowd at The Blackmore were treated to some excellent rugby by two evenly matched teams, with the lead changing several times and the match finally being settled with a last-minute try.

All-Blacks fly-half Colin Mortimore kicked off in glorious spring sunshine, a call of “YOUR BALL!” meant that the kick sailed perfectly between two would-be catchers and into touch, a reminder to the steadily increasing crowd that this was a Vets game after all! The All-Greens made an error at the lineout and from the resulting scrum, the Trim brothers, Dan at number 8 and scrum half Steve, combined for a move that has been seen at The Blackmore hundreds of times, when Dan audaciously popped the ball through his legs from the base of the scrum to Steve who dummied the cover to score in the corner. The conversion was missed.

The All-Greens spent the next 10 minutes camped in the All-Blacks half and took the lead when, following strong carries by Mike Down, Pete Singfield and Andy Oliver, Number 8 Rhys Thomas rekindled his youthful aspirations to play fly-half, selling a dummy and beating two tackles to score under the posts. Tim Treloar added the conversion.

The Greens then extended their lead when a strong run from hooker Luke Knight, who was a menace with the ball in hand until his game was cut short following a wayward arm to the side of the head and modern concussion protocols saw him head for the touchline (thankfully smelling salts are now a thing of the past!), from the ensuing ruck, good handling from centres Osborne and Mark Dapling created space on the left wing for Treloar to score in the corner. Unfortunately, in the build up to the try, the Greens lost flanker Andy Oliver to a dislocated finger following another powerful carry. He was replaced by David Pike, who was only 15 minutes into his warm-up, his pre-match plan of only playing ten minutes lying in tatters!

After the first scheduled 20-minute water break, the All-Greens picked up where they had left off deep in the All-Blacks 22, and despite some excellent defence with back rows Steve Mitchell and Saul Vicary to the fore, the Greens extended their lead when fly-half Harry Chesterton took a short ball at pace and took two tacklers with him on his way over the line. The conversion was missed. 17-5 to the All-Greens.

Following some powerful runs through midfield by Andrew Dare jogging memories of the early 2000s, the All-Blacks forwards took advantage of some ill-discipline from the All-Greens, taking a quick tap penalty and recycling the ball through several phases allowing Dan Trim to score under the posts, Dare added the conversion to tie the scores.

As the first half approached its conclusion, the game started to open up and spaces started to appear, All-blacks wing Dave Hargrave was brought down just short of the line by a good cover tackle from Tom Osborne, but with the final play of the half, a long cross-field kick from Mortimore bounced high in the air on half way, All-Blacks full-back Mark Oke beat team mate Carl Creek to the ball and just about avoided the cover tackle of Greens wing Julien Bonaldo to score under the posts, Oke converted his own try to make the halftime score 19-12 to the All-Blacks.

After some much needed half-time refreshment (and oxygen) and the introduction of (comparatively) fresh legs, the All-Greens kicked off up the hill. They soon found themselves on the back foot, when good interplay from the All-blacks backs and forwards took play deep into the Greens half, the ball was recycled to Dan Trim who powered over for his second try, despite the attentions of two would be defenders. Dan Retter added the conversion.

The All-Greens hit back when the All-blacks failed to gather the restart and following two carries from Aaron Patch and Ted Osborne, scrum-half Mark Bishop exploited a gap in the defence to score. The conversion was missed. 26-17 to the All-Blacks.

The Greens almost closed the gap with a move straight off the training ground of the early 2000s when Alex Graves-Morris won quick ball at a lineout, Bishop found Chesterton on the front foot, he sold a dummy in midfield and ghosted through a rare gap in the centre, but unfortunately his looped final pass went astray. However, the Greens were not to be denied and good handling created half a chance for ‘guest’ centre Tom Osborne to break through several would be tacklers to score an excellent try. 26-22 to the going into the final quarter with all to play for.

As lungs and bodies started to fail, the last 20 minutes was punctuated by several stoppages and a few victims for ‘the sniper’ but saw some ‘Easter rugby’ with both teams throwing caution to the wind in the hunt for the win.

The Greens took the lead with a great team try from deep in their own half, good work from Greg Houghton set up a ruck on the left touchline, good handling from forwards and backs saw the ball moved down the line for Barry Trevitt to score wide on the right, who was still searching for contact as he crossed the line! This was followed firstly by a rare drop-kicked penalty and then a converted try both for Chesterton. 37-26 to the Greens with 10 minutes left.

Chances came and went for both sides, following a break by Matt Gingell, Chesterton was denied by a textbook tackle by Tristan Beavis that had even the hardiest of players and fans alike wincing, and Beavis was denied by Dave Pike tracking back and showing a fine turn of pace and composure to gather the ball in the shadow of his own posts to clear the danger.

The All-blacks set up a grandstand finish when, with 5 minutes to go, Retter chipped ahead and was only just beaten to the ball by Neil Barratt, who cleared the danger but from the resulting scrum the All-blacks pack – which had been dominant in the scrums throughout the second half, pushed the Greens back over their line allowing Dan Trim to complete his hat-trick. Retter added the conversion to set up a grandstand finish. 37-33 with 2 minutes left.

The game was settled with a try that would not have looked out of place in any match on The Blackmore, let alone the 79th minute of a Veterans match! Chesterton’s restart went long, but only found winger Mark Oke who set off from deep in his own 22, when he was tackled on halfway, he found Beavis in support who was eventually brought down 15 metres short of the Green’s line. The Greens thought they had turned the ball over, but it was not the case, Steve Trim found Retter on the 22, Retter, dummied, chipped and regathered to score under the posts to break green hearts! He added the conversion to make the final score 40-37, and ensure bragging rights for the men in black.

Man of the match was Dan Trim. Notable mentions have to go to Greg Howell, who showed he is still more than adept at the dark arts of the scrum & breakdown, Rocker Sheppard who defied his 60 years to put in a long shift in the second row, Rob Nancekivell and Chris Pike who both seemed to relish marauding around in the loose again. It was a also a special day for the Osborne family, with brother’s Mark and Martyn Osborne getting the opportunity to play with and against their sons Tom, Ted and Rob, with Mark just about edging the battle in the front row with Ted!

There were smiles all round as the players were joined on the pitch by family and friends for the necessary photographic evidence and with the next generation of Sidmouth RFC playing happily in the afternoon sun, the players retreated to the bar to rekindle another part of their collective youth!

As I said at the start, definitely one of the good days.

Thanks as always to Boffer, Jamie and Mike for their help on the day, to Duncan for the food and all the bar staff.

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