Chiefs, Cockles et al
PUBLISHED: 08:08 04 April 2015 | UPDATED: 08:08 04 April 2015
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No less a literary luminary than James Joyce coined the expression, ‘It’s the reality and not the dream that fires our passion!’ Well now Exmouth, both ‘The Reality and ‘The Dream’ are in our grasp.
Following Saturday’s impressive 66-8 victory over Oxford Harlequins John Hill’s Cockles have secured the reality of a winner-takes-all promotion play-off game into National League Division Two. With two games still to play, the Mighty Muff have already ensured, at least, second spot - along with a mathematical chance of topping the table if results go our way this month.
Mr Joyce also penned the words, ‘I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.’ Let me shine some light on the conundrum.
In April 2014 the Cockles ‘today’ could not have been more different to the ‘today’ of 2015. Instead of soaring spirits, potential promotion and aspirations of Division Two rugby, we were licking our wounds, having already been relegated. It was a tough season all round, with defeat following heartbreaking defeat and the lessons learned cut deep.
I well remember the solitary figure of Coach Hill, standing alone and in silence in the centre of the pitch long after the game confirming our drop had ended. Let there be no mistake, Exmouth’s confidence and pride took some serious hits last season. Pride, however, when dented is a mighty motivator. No sooner than the curtain came down on the 2014 term, Coach Hill was busy masterminding the recovery.
With the hurt of relegation fresh in our minds, and lessons learned, the Cockles graduated from a tough pre- season into much more intensive training, focus and purpose. Cutting to the chase, dedicated hard work paid off as 94 league points testify.
Developing my theme, I remember packing down alongside Rob Baxter battling for the cause in the legendary mud at the County Ground. I remember too, the thrill of running out on the new fast track that was Sandy Park and the heart-warming pre-match lap in front of our cheering fans. It was a quantum leap from the bog of a pitch and a decaying County Ground.
In the three short seasons since retiring from elite level rugby, Chiefs have added a £1m semi-synthetic playing surface, 1,800 more seats and doubled the capacity of the Sandy Park conference and banqueting centre in a state of the art stadium that will stage World Cup games later this year. For the record, plans are all ready in place for still further improvement and expansion.
Chiefs 50-strong playing squad similarly shows a quantum leap forward in quality of players, with more than 10 internationals past and present along with several more destined for representative honours.
Returning my focus on Exmouth and the Imperial Ground, it was a good feeling on Saturday after the Mighty Muff hit the after burners to run in eight tries in an emphatic win over Oxford Harlequins.
It brought back memories of big days at the County Ground when we beat Harlequins in the Cup, and that memorable moment when I somehow managed to score under the posts ,stunning high flying Bristol in a famous Chiefs victory, happy days!
My point is that the Elite Level Chiefs of today developed from a more humble Exeter of yesterday, when the vision of Tony Rowe and associates saw the potential and planned for the future when a muddy County Ground was their ‘today’.
For Exmouth RFC, promotion to the National League is a very real prospect. A good crowd on Saturday was swelled by a marketing initiative and a free pasty. I think it very much a step in the right direction and applauded Exmouth’s management endeavour. Saturday’s was a good crowd and might have been bigger still, had the weather not threatened rain.
I trust my point and Joyce’s cryptic message is now becoming clearer. It’s an undeniable fact that the quality of players and team facilities in English Rugby is directly related to the league in which they play.
The Mighty Muff team have a very real chance of promotion. It is, however, my view that it’s not sufficient merely to invest in the team. The Cockles will probably never rise to Premiership Rugby, neither will we have a Sandy Park, but the reality of tomorrow will be built on the reality of today.
If the determined intention is to properly pursue an upward path into semi-pro rugby, Exmouth deserves facilities and infrastructures commensurate with the achievements of its team. It is not just for the players and management to make the commitment; it is for the wider community to add weight and support to the initiative. I’ve laboured the point long enough, time now to enjoy the moments of today as the future is yet to be.
Chiefs returned from Welford Road with a well deserved bonus point and so nearly came back with so much more. Missed chances and a 16-9 penalty count cost them dearly but they remain in the race with all still to play for.
It’s European action at Sandy Park on Saturday when Dean Richards brings his much improved Falcons to town. Yes, it’s another big day for Chiefs and the wider community as Devon’s top club stages an historic European Challenge Cup Quarter Final. It’s a Saturday night 8pm kick-off to fit into TV schedules; again focusing European attention on Exeter and Devon.
For those still oblivious to the growing importance of the ‘Brand Rugby’ milestones were crossed on Saturday with 84,000 people turning up to watch a club game while 9.6 million watched England - France on TV a week previously.
Rugby is hot in the UK and the Cockles continue to do their best to fly the Exmouth flag on the bigger stage making a statement today for a better tomorrow for local youth, sport and community.
It’s not over till the fat lady sings and there’s much to savour for local rugby fans.
Exmouth have a free weekend to make a big effort in that blue riband top-of-the-table showdown in Berkshire before our last home game in the regular season against Weston on Saturday, April 18.
If results go our way, there might be a home fixture in a bonus play-off game. In the interim we’ve a Mardi Gras Party at Sandy Park on Saturday as Chiefs fly the flag in Devon’s own theatre of dreams.
Until next time
Enjoy your rugby