The Chris Bentley column on all things Exeter Chiefs and Exmouth RFC
PUBLISHED: 20:33 19 November 2014 | UPDATED: 20:33 19 November 2014
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"A week is a long time in politics!" said Prime Minister Harold Wilson. I'm not sure how relevant his words were on the Westminster stage, but in the life of this veteran rugby voyager, 10 days on international tour with The Classic Lions was immense.
Climbing off the plane exhausted and jet lagged with the sights, sounds and emotions of a World Cup Tournament still ringing in my ears, this week’s missive might be a little introspective.
Having swopped the winter weather in rain soaked Devon for the sandy beaches, clear skies and crystal sea of Bermuda, I admit to placing our local rugby scene on something of a back burner, well at least for a day or so. I also admit to raising a glass in celebration when news of the Chiefs historic win away from home at Franklin’s Garden came through. I ensured everyone in our touring party knew the 18-24 result that moved Chiefs to second spot in the Aviva Premiership. It was another benchmark result for the lads ending a Northampton 19 game-winning run for the Saints in front of their home fans.
There is much rugby still to play, but with a third of the Premiership season complete and points on the board, Exeter are in a good place. I hear some pundit’s whinging on that it was an international weekend and Saints missing a few key names. The way I see it is that with the return of Ben Foden, Jamie Elliott, Luther Burrell, Stephen Myler and Lee Dickson to Northampton’s line up and Alex Waller, Mike Haywood, Salesi Ma’afu, Samu Manoa and Calum Clark starting up front this was certainly a formidable team to beat on their home turf, but beat them we did!
Having browsed the video, I was both excited and hugely impressed with our boys. Luke Cowan Dickie got a dream start scoring in the first three minutes with Tom Waldron adding a brace of touchdowns to his increasingly impressive try scoring total since joining the Chiefs. Watching the Big Mans interception and unstoppable gallop down half the length of the field could well prove to be a pivotal moment in the season.
My teammates at Exmouth had a week off, their game falling victim to the weather. However, the Cockles are on duty on Saturday when they entertain Old Redcliffians at the Imperial ground. I’m sure the Mighty Muff will benefit from the extra weeks lay off and will be looking to keep up winning ways. Kick-off is at 2pm.
It’s a testing challenge for the Chiefs on Saturday with the visit of London, soon to be Coventry, Wasps. Our lads will doubtless be on a high following the win at Northampton, but will need to put the celebrations behind them and be in top form to face the guile and experience of Andy Goode and a very talented Adams Park outfit.
Now, dear reader; a little self indulgence as I briefly report my adventures playing with the Classic Lions in the Burmuda Classic Rugby World Cup Tournament. Yes, it’s a competition for over 33s, but with Mike Tindall, Dan Parks, Chris Wyatt, David Corkery, Ian Balshaw, Daffyd James and international stars of the recent past in every position from Argentina, France, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, USA, we were intent on making our mark.
The Classic Lions represent the legends of British rugby ensuring their talents remain well-respected keeping players in the lime light after they retire from the professional game. We were Classic Lions in every respect with an intention to ‘Roar’ in Bermuda as a force to contend with the best of the best.
We started well with a convincing 56-7 win over the USA and did even better in our semi final with a 13-7 thrashing of the South African Springbok Legends. The lads were looking good on and off the field as we built up to the showpiece final where we were to face an impressive All Black Legends.
As our younger England contemporaries found when they last faced the ‘The Men in Black.’ The Haka is challenging enough, but the real pressure starts when the whistle sounds to launch the onslaught. At any level the All Blacks position you between a rock and a hard thing. Rock likem in all positions, and hard to beat, in any department!
Our Lions fired up and sounded a few roars to having the better of the half until minutes from the interval when, against the run of play, they pierced our defence to touch down edging into the slender lead.
A score shortly after the resumption and one right at the death gave them a somewhat flattering 17-3 win and the World Classics Cup. We did well with some flourishes of our own to finish a creditable second. It would have been nice to come back as ‘Classic World Champions but we fell just short at the final hurdle. As a spirited and spritely ‘Young Veteran’ there is, with a little good fortune, yet time for me to try again. Watch this space.
The Bermuda Rugby Classics is a competitive tournament on the field, but to all those who lament the Corinthian character that once defined our game, I can report that the ‘Après-Rugby’ lived up to the finest traditions of a former era. Our hosts were magnificent, the hospitality legendary and the fellowship amongst the players from all around the globe truly outstanding. Just possibly those in the political arena could do well to spend a week on an international rugby tour!
On a personal front I was delighted to rekindle past friendships and share a social ‘dark and stormy’ or three with several teammates from a past life in the game. Topping the list was All Black Chris Jack, who I played alongside for two seasons at Tasman Makos. It was also great to meet up with old mates Aaron Persico, Oliver Nauroy and Mariano Sambucetti who I’ve played with or against on my travels!
In short the Bermuda Classics is a wonderful tournament that I recommend to anyone who fancies some great ‘Veteran Rugby’, skills and power aplenty if a little slower than we once were, together with a fabulous 10 day party on a beautiful island rising from the crystal Atlantic in an idyllic temperate corner of the world.
And finally one for the ‘Purist,’ my Bermuda Tour was memorable on many fronts but none better than sharing 10 days with the living legend who is Willie John McBride. The big man is still ‘Trucking’ in fine and inspirational form at a spritely 74 years young. A legend on and off the field and an example to all who love this game
Until the next time
Enjoy your rugby