Honiton RFC - ‘Mission accomplished’ - a review of a splendid 2017/18 season
- Credit: Archant
Back in July of last year Honiton started their pre-season training for the 2017-18 season, writes Jerry Rice.
Having started his senior playing days at Honiton, the Lacemen were delighted to welcome back Nathan Hannay, who having played professional rugby at several senior clubs around the country, was prepared to put fame and fortune a-side to become the new player coach for ‘the Ton’.
For Honiton, who avoided relegation by one point the pervious season, this was clearly a boost and the objects set for the year were just to get a top four finish and be the highest Devon club in the league when it all finished.
Having been instrumental in keeping Honiton up at the back end of last season, Will Goulden agreed to skipper the side for the year and really… there was an early air of confidence in the club as pre-season started.
The first trial game against Somerset-based Morganians went very well and Honiton brushed them aside easily, scoring over 50 points and inflicting upon them, their first lost for over a year!
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All looked good, but the squad were soon back down to earth in the second pre-season game with a heavy defeat at the hands of old rivals Sidmouth.
Wellington was the first league encounter and what a battle that was! Five yellow cards and a red card and high-drama all the way with Honiton winning the game in the dying seconds by a single point – it is a fact that the Bootmen then went on to top the division losing just one further game all season!
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Next up for Honiton was a thrashing of newly promoted Wessex by 60 plus points on a day when the Lacemen produced a stunning all-round show. A bruising encounter with a tough Bude side followed with the Lacemen powering to victory after the break. Hayle away was next and, with winning on the road in Cornwall having been a problem for the Allhallows men, it turned out to be a comfortable win, achieved without firing on all cylinders!
A home game came next and it turned out to be an end-to-end contest with Withycombe that went to the wire with the Lacemen chalking up a sixth straight win at the start of the campaign to top the fledgling league table!
Sadly, it was not to be seven successive wins as visiting Lanner gave the home faithful something to think up – and a wake-up call was dished out to the Lacemen as the visitors departed victorious.
After a week off, courtesy of a Devon Cup walkover win over ailing Wessex, Honiton returned to action at Penryn where the match was played out in the wake of Hurricane Brian. The contest was played out in near 90-mile winds with horizontal rain falling throughout and it was mighty hard to even get hold of the ball, never mind play free-flowing rugby as the Lacemen lost and, to add insult to injury, had influential hooker Robert Price red carded for a tip tackle.
With two losses on the bounce, Honiton had to dig deep and they did this with a convincing 50 plus points thrashing of visiting Penzance. That was followed by a win at a useful Plymouth Argaum side before visiting Plymouth Albion Oaks were beaten in a contest that was ‘good on the eye’.
Next up, a tough ask, as Honiton met Tavistock in the Devon Cup. The hosts went into the game unbeaten at home, but the Lacemen won a bruising contest that resulted in a number of injuries that left the team under-strength for the visit of second-in-the-table, unbeaten Saltash, who ensured a ‘bad day at the office’ for the home side, dishing out a 30 point beating. Honiton returned swiftly to winning ways by defeating Tavistock for the second time in three weeks before a trip to Torrington, without both Goulden and Hannay, saw a fine all-round show and a five point success.
The turn of the year arrived with Honiton sitting in that much coveted top four lost and they started 2018 with a comfortable home win over a much stronger - and improved – Wessex before a tough away trip to Bude where many of the travelling faithful would probably have expected to witness their side struggle. However, despite the home team using the match as their ‘Sponsors Luncheon’ fixture and leading with five minutes remaining, Honiton dug deep and produced the comeback of all comebacks, scoring a second great team try in the dying minutes to claim the match honours 20-17 and silence a vociferous and partisan home support!
Next up, a home meeting with Hayle in a game that saw Ollie Cave miss his 24th consecutive kick at the posts – but the previous successful 23 meant he had set a new club record!
The next game produced a win at Penzance where a red card for Josh Price – after a high tackle – meant a four match ban – but the wet weather struck and so, with week upon week of inactivity owing to wet pitches - he managed to served his four match ban without missing a game!
Back to playing and Honiton narrowly lost to Withycombe in a match at Exmouth that was nothing but a ‘slog-in-the-mud’ – a contest that left those watching unable to distinguish who was on who’s side early in the game – such was the amount of mud on the players!
Hannay and Pricey got injured and Hannay would miss several games as he struggle with an ankle injury, picked up at training.
Penryn departed Allhallows with a narrow win before a splendid narrow success over an expectant Saltash – this a contest in which the Honiton side produced a marvellous all-round show – the Cornish men were not happy!
Two hard-earned wins on the road followed with a third win over Tavistock and success against Albion Oaks before, in the final home game of the campaign, the sun came out for the annual VPs day that played witness to a hundred points being scored by the Lacemen – no fewer than 17 tires – in a big win over hapless Plymouth Argaum.
Away to Wellington was to be the last league game and this was a cracker of game Honiton were undone by two very quick wide men, but on a very hot afternoon it was a humdinger of a match between two good sides that defiantly entertained a large crowd.
Finally with the league all sorted, Honiton played the cup final against Withycombe and lost again with a disappointing second half performances against a strong outfit but the lads weren’t two disheartened as it had been a successful season on the whole.
So there is, Honiton duly finished fourth in the Tribute Cornwall and Devon League and did end up as Devon’s top team – mission accomplished!
In 30 matches all season 22 were won and eight were lost with 25 wins and six defeats in the league campaign. The points for tally was 778 with 333 against which represents an impressive 445 plus difference!
The first XV used 43 players in all with Philip Cooke and Josh Rice topping the honours board by playing in the most games (26 each).
Several got into the 20’s which is good, but this number needs to more if we are to be serious with building on our success.
Hannay inevitably won the most tries with 16 and 16 players got the Man of the Match award during the campaign with the back row due of Harry Wright and Josh Rice getting three each.
Will Goulden led the side extremely well and had a great season individually, being the pillar of the pack.
Last season skipper Pricey had another very strong season, but was perhaps, blighted with a few injuries this time. Robbie Harrison on the task of being the team veteran at prop while Logan, Bailey and young Ben Willis made up the bulk of the front row crew and all always put in a shift.
The back five seemed to be very interchangeable with Guilbert dragging his bones out every now and again and surprise package, Elliott Perritt Davis forced his way into selection having only started playing the year before. Lance Wallis was in and out and Sam Coffee moved away for work after a bright start.
Veteran Louie Lane was on the team sheet a lot at the back end of the season and always gave a pound of flesh.
The rest, in Proctor, Groves, Hannay, Wright and Rice and Small early on, were very good and they were all very much interchangeable.
The fact is that Honiton did sport one of the best back rows in the league and, in general, the team’s fitness and work ethic was very good.
The reality was the pack proved to be the Ton’s key strength throughout the year with several half decent players in the ranks.
In terms of half backs, Cooke started at nine as an interim role, but in the end, was there nearly every week.
Selway dabbled when available, but it became Cookie’s regular job. Ten looked to have been sorted with Thompson starting, but he was plagued with injuries and was soon out of the frame, again Selway dabbled with it, but it was Cave who did the bulk of the shifts and his kicking especially from the tee was superb.
The back five was a lot more unsettled. The club lost Cootie early on to a reoccurring knee injury and Hawke and Hyland did the bulk of the midfield work with Keywood coming on board at the back end of the season.
The full back and wide men’s slots seemed to change week in week out. Oaton moved on early in the season and it was then between Kidson, Webber and Tyers, the latter two again had injury issues.
Blackmoor, when back from University, was always included, and Smith and Trenchard got back into it when it was a bit late in the season.
On reflection, the backs department was unsettled, to say the least, and maybe this showed when we the team were often seen as lacking in a bit of cohesion.
Big thanks to Nathan for his input and there is no doubt he was at the root of the clubs change in fortunes, both on and off the pitch.
Again big thanks to Brendon who had the unenviable task of dealing with all the players shenanigans and the foibles of getting sides out each week.
Also thanks to Max Bodilly from the Chiefs who came on board late to help with the backs.
As for the season’s disappointments…obviously losing the cup game to Withycombe and a few ‘should of, could of’ games, but on the whole there was way more positives than negatives and no one was complaining at the end of the season and where we finished up.
With regard to ‘areas of concern and must improves’… these centre on getting a viable second team out every week and poor old Footie struggled with this week in week out.
This is a key area that the club needs to improve on for next year. The club also needs to get ‘buy in’ from all who play at the Ton to be committed to all games.
Lovely home games when the sun is out and there’s a big crowd are easy, but what wins leagues, is the Penryn’s away in dreadful conditions and these are the more important games.
A core of 10 that we have who are committed week in week out, needs to be a core of 25 week in week out, this is essential if we are to stand any chances of real progression.
The Ton have a lot of potential and dare I say it some really good players but we won’t build on this successful season, with out full ‘buy in’ by all involved …so a good rest is required and then we come out fighting for what could be a great 2018/19 season for the Allhallows army.