I think rugby people everywhere will have been heartened by Exeter Chiefs’ rise to the top. Commentators frequently remind us that ‘only a few years ago’ they were playing in the second tier of English rugby. Apologies for ‘tier’, under the current situation. Tears for tiers.
Not everyone will remember, but Sedgley Park also played at that level in the five seasons 2004/05 to 2008/09. We were hanging in there, bravely; Exeter were building the foundations for future excellence. We all knew that, at the time, and Exeter were much admired.
In all, we played Exeter Chiefs ten times in the league that was then called National Division One. So here’s a question: how many times did we beat them? 0 or 1 or 2 or 3?
You won’t need to read much further to find the answer. I can tell you it didn’t happen in that first season, 2004/05, when we lost 44-23 down there – not Sandy Lane, that move came a few years later. At Park Lane, we put up a good fight before going down 25-39, and I have a photograph.
We were newly promoted, having moved quickly from level 7 to level 2. Could we compete at this level?
History will say we failed to compete. In that five-year period, as well as Exeter, we played Northampton and Harlequins, Bristol, Bedford, Coventry. London Welsh, Penzance & Newlyn (aka Cornish Pirates). There were also games much closer to home: Manchester, Orrell, Waterloo, Otley, Doncaster, Rotherham. Sedgley have fared better than some.
In the end, it was a reorganisation that sent us down. The 16-team National Division One morphed into the 12-team Championship, and we were one of the five to miss out. Yes five, my arithmetic is not faulty. Birmingham & Solihull were promoted from below, and probably wished they hadn’t been. Esher, Newbury, Otley and Manchester went down, along with ourselves.
My memories of those five years are mixed, that period when we were not quite at the top table…actually not quite at the next one, either, more the underdogs being fed scraps by our betters. But we did bite a few ankles on the way.
Our sole win against Exeter Chiefs came on March 5th, 2006, at Park Lane, 36-28. I took no photographs that I can find. Possibly I was not present, because I had stopped enjoying the sort of damage-limitation game we were trying to play. It had been great to watch as we moved upwards through the leagues, but now we were playing for survival every week, mistake-avoidance rugby, and I had grown tired of it.
It is perhaps an indication that we played our game rather well, that in our 10 meetings with Exeter they managed to put fifty points on us only once, and that was in the final season, 71-5 away. Meanwhile, I was watching an exciting young 2nd XV, the Mighty Twos, products of our own Junior set-up, mainly, who threw the ball around with pleasure, for themselves and for their admirers. Rightly or wrongly, at the time, I felt that in recruitment of players, and in style of play, we had lost our way at the top end. We had lost our identity.
It is also my view that, fifteen years on, we are back on track. Watching and supporting Sedgley Park 1st XV has been a pleasure and a privilege these last few seasons. Now all we need is a vaccine…please!
Sedgley Park v Exeter Chiefs results, by season, away game first.
2004/05 44-23 & 25-39
2005/06 47-10 & 36-28 yee haw
2006/07 43-21 & 8-22
2007/08 48-11 & 24-40
2008/09 71- 5 & 12-35
Dave Morton October 2020
Dave’s photographs can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/forwarddefensive/albums
Scroll down a short distance and there are eleven adjacent albums of Sedgley ‘Archive’ shots covering the years between 2002 and 2011, about 300 photographs in all.