A look back at Honiton’s Twickenham success
PUBLISHED: 13:00 17 May 2020
It’s been a year since Honiton secured the RFU Senior Vase at the home of English rugby so we are taking a trip down memory lane to remember the day through the eyes of our sport reporter, Sam Cooper.
One hundred and fifty five miles is not the usual distance I travel for a match report but this was not a usual day.
Myself and the Midweek herald’s photographer Terry Ife were on our way to the home of English rugby for what was to be a historic day for Honiton Rugby Football Club.
A remarkable season culminated in a trip to Twickenham after defeating Portsmouth 20 – 30 in the semi-final.
The final would see them meet Yorkshire side Northallerton to decide who would be crowned 2018-19 champion.
With a 1pm kickoff time on Saturday, May 4, it meant an early start for us given we had to sort out press accreditation when we arrived at the stadium.
A three-hour trip down a largely deserted A303 allowed us to get to the ground well ahead of schedule and we were taken deep into the bowels of the stadium to a room that was usually reserved for photographers who would be covering England games.
The way the day worked was there was many finals on that day from various competitions across the country so fans were herded in and out of the ground depending on when their team was playing.
From memory, Honiton were one of the last teams to be scheduled to play so the Ton fans had plenty of time to gather outside of the stadium ahead of kick-off.
Coaches and coaches had arrived from the town and it was not long before the Honiton squad arrived. After being taken into the dressing rooms, the team shortly re-emerged in full kit for photos in front of the stadium, a rare opportunity for any rugby player.
After the photos, it was a rush to get into place. Having been at pitch level in the photographers’ room, I was told to high tail to get upstairs to the written press seats on the first level of the stadium.
After helping myself to the supplied sandwiches and tea in the press room (a luxury I do not tend to experience covering various football and rugby games in East Devon!), I raced to my seat on the press balcony.
Unfortunately for my Northallerton counterpart, he was not so lucky and had spent a good part of the morning stuck in a lift.
Player-coach Nathan Hannay was bullish in his pre-match thoughts and did not want his side to be struck down by stage freight.
After an even start, Northallerton scored the first points of the game in the 14th minute via an Ashley Rio-converted penalty.
Both sides played out a tense opening half an hour before the Yorkshire side increased their lead with the first try of the afternoon. Jedd Bainbridge converted Iain Swall’s try to make the score 8-0 in the 31st minute.
With one minute to go before the half-time break, Honiton pulled a try back through captain Will Goulden.
The Tons completed a one-two sucker punch just minutes later as they scored again in injury time to take a 12-10 lead in at the interval.
I risked a trip in the elevator that had briefly entombed the Northallerton reporter to go to the loo and no sooner had I been then it was time for the second half.
The Tons had a chance to extend their lead in the 48th minute but an increasingly high wind pushed a penalty wide.
Six minutes later and they did extend their advantage, this time through Alex Brookes.
The drama was not finished there though as Northallerton scored another try just after hour mark before a 66th minute penalty gave them a 20-19 lead.
Honiton’s fairy-tale looked to be over when the Yorkshire side scored another try six minutes later meaning the Tons trailed 27-19 with 10 minutes to go.
A lifeline came though when Steer scored a 71st minute penalty and the comeback was completed in the 77th minute when Honiton scored a late try to tie the game.
Steer’s conversion was the last meaningful action of the match and the whistle blew, crowning Honiton 2018-19 RFU Senior Vase champions.
The players’ families came onto the pitch as the Tons celebrated a historic win. The team lifted the trophy from the stands of Twickenham to cap the end of an extraordinary season.
Speaking about the day, Midweek Herald photographer Terry Ife said: “It was quite quite strange seeing supporters that I’d been seeing for years at Honiton’s little ground at such a big and historic place like Twickenham, the home of rugby, and how happy and proud they all looked.
“When the team arrived and got out of the bus, they seemed to take it all in their stride. I remember the crowd inside the stadium, in typical rugby fashion, all mixing with each other and making a great atmosphere.
“To the match itself, it was an up and down affair which made it very exciting and I found myself having to hold it together and not get pulled into the celebrations too much so that I didn’t miss any shots. A great result for Honiton Rugby club and a pleasure for me to get the winner pictures at the end which made the journey home a lot more enjoyable than it would have been had Honiton lost!”
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