Good evening, everyone and welcome back to the blog. Now, last weekend was to be the final blog of the season with just some cup updates to follow. However this Saturday we have a very special occassion to celebrate as Barnstaple Chiefs legend Will Topps plays his 300th game for the Chiefs whilst also announcing his retirement from the game. Will has written a piece for all our readers, which is also in Saturdays program, which we will get to shortly but before all that there are just a few notices to get through.

Next weekend we have the Devon RFU 2ND XV cup final here at Barnstaple rugby Club featuring our very own Barnstaple Athletic against 2nd placed Devonport Services II and promises to be a huge game as the Tic’s look to win the doulbe. Kick off is 3pm and as it is a Devon cup game entry is £5 including members.

Before that at 2pm Barnstaple Buccaneers play their Dave Butt Cup semi-final against Plymouth University with the winner going on to play in the final the following weekend here at Pottington Road on April 27th.

Sunday April 28th, Barnstaple Rugby Club is hosting the Devon Age Grade U12’s Festival with over 350 players from across the county ready to decend upon Pottington Road.

A couple of post season events to wet your appetite. The Club Awards night will be held at Portmore Golf Club on June 1st and this years Barumfest, where senior and juniors combine in a 7’s rugby tournament, will be held on July 13th. Keep looking on this website, Facebook, X or Instagram for more details as and when they become available.

Now before I hand over to Will I would just like to thank him for all the entertainment Will has given us supporters over the years, with some remarkable rugby played and plenty of highlights. It will be strange not seeing you out on the pitch next season getting ready for the game but even so, good luck and good fortune for the future and enjoy the benefits of not waking up with a battered body on Sunday mornings.

Sunday April 28th, Barnstaple Rugby Club is hosting the Devon Age Grade U12’s Festival with over 350 players from across the county ready to decend upon Pottington Road.

A couple of post season events to wet your appetite. The Club Awards night will be held at Portmore Golf Club on June 1st and this years Barumfest, where senior and juniors combine in a fantastic day of 7’s rugby, will be held on July 13th. Keep looking on this website, Facebook, X or Instagram for more details as and when they become available.

Now before I hand over to Will I would just like to thank him for all the entertainment Will has given us supporters over the years, with some remarkable rugby played and plenty of highlights. It will be strange not seeing you out on the pitch next season getting ready for the game but even so, good luck and good fortune for the future and enjoy the benefits of not waking up with a battered body on Sunday mornings.

 

Will Topps

On the occasion of my 300th Barnstaple game and last home game playing rugby, Bob has allowed me the opportunity to write this rather self-indulgent memoir.

I’ve come a long way since my first experience of rugby, when I cried because I didn’t want to go to an after-school tag rugby session at Fremington primary around 1998, and reckon I’ve played over 500 senior games since.

 

I enjoyed playing for Pilton once I started secondary school, but was one of only three players in my year group who actually played rugby outside of school, so we didn’t win many games. I played a handful of games for Bideford juniors as a teenager but was more interested in playing football, until I first played for Barnstaple in an under-16 game away at Cullompton on 2nd November 2003 – I can clearly remember it and look up the date as it was the day Wales lost 53-37 to New Zealand and my dad was on the sideline listening to the radio and giving me score updates. From then on I ditched football and only played rugby, and am the last member of the under-16 group, coached by Mark Godwin, Mark Redrup and Chris Drayton, still playing. I joined North Devon College rugby academy when studying my A-levels and won the Devon Schools cup in 2005, as well as playing for the colts and winning the Devon Cup in 2006. During that time I also played a few games for the 2nd and 3rd teams, and played for the first team in a pre-season match before going to Uni in Cheltenham.

In four years at the University of Gloucestershire I estimate I played around 100 senior games, winning two BUCS second tier titles and picking up plenty of tips on how to be a successful back three player from our coach, Mark Jeffreys. I also played with plenty of lads I’d later play against in league games at various games around the South West, including my house mate, Redruth number 8 Kyle Marriott, who’s actually from Burrington. In that time I also played regularly for Old Pats, making my debut in 2006 in a National Cup tie against Blaydon in a howling storm on the slopes of Everest Road. At Pats I was relegated from National 2 but had a few successful seasons in National 3 (as it was then called), and also won the Cheltenham Combination Cup. I really improved as a player at Pats thanks to coaches Dave Pointon and Lee Fortey (I once embarrassed myself by starting a conversation with his identical twin, who coached Drybrook, as if I knew him).

In 2010 I joined Bridgwater and Albion, where I was again relegated from National 2, but enjoyed a successful year in National 3 the following year. I was well looked after at Bridgy, particularly by the two coaches Nick Hill and Chris Heal, the latter of whom gave me free bed and board three nights a week to save me commuting to Bridgwater from Barnstaple any more than was strictly necessary, as Thursday and Saturday were my days off work at the Somerset County Gazette in Taunton. I left Bridgwater in March 2011 to head to New Zealand and play for Christchurch High School Old Boys. My last (and 33rd – they kept very detailed stats!) game for Bridgwater was in a 24-20 win against Barnstaple at Bridgwater and I scored the last points of the game.

I then spent seven months overseas, ending my stay in the land of the long white cloud with a tour of the country to watch several world cup matches. I really enjoyed my time over there and was lucky enough to have joined HSOB for a very successful season in which we won the Christchurch Metro competition. I was coached by Aaron Mauger and played with Reuben Thorne, who had captained the All Blacks four years earlier. There were also a few players in the squad who went on to play test match rugby and quite a few more who played super rugby or professionally overseas. Only I had the privilege of moving on to Barnstaple…

In a beautiful piece of symmetry, when I came back to the UK my first game for Barnstaple was in October 2011, a 34-7 win against Bridgwater at Bridgwater and I scored the first points of the game. Since then, there have been no club moves – although I did travel to Argentina in 2012 to play for a touring HSOB side in La Copa Patagonia, losing the final to a side captained by ex-Bristol full back Bernardo Stortoni. Getting to perform the Haka before a game is something that will stay with me forever – especially in the final when the crowd must have numbered over a thousand Argentinians, seemingly all armed with smoke bombs, flares, beating drums and ticker tape.

My first season back at Barum was under Danny Thomas and Kev Squire and was probably most memorable for our win away at previously undefeated Chinnor, very late in the season. This was also when I first properly met Verity – a terrifying experience, but I quickly realised just how important she was to the club and how much she’d help me over the years. We finished fifth that year but had a few tough years after that finishing in the lower reaches. This was despite Steve Perry joining us as head coach, who I think had the biggest impact on me as a player, of all the coaches I’ve had. One reason for this is that his passion for wanging the ball wide meant I got loads of touches and a bundle of tries, but the main reason is he improved so many players by such a great amount that it’s still having an effect now, years after he left. His expectations and standards live on through the players who were coached by him and those who have been coached by players coached by him. The best example is my old mate from primary school, Adam Lloyd, who’s retiring alongside me. When he first started playing rugby around 2013 he literally couldn’t catch, but thanks to the coaching and his own resilience and bloody mindedness he is retiring as a fantastic second-row who’ll be much missed.

The number one highlight of my time at Barnstaple would obviously have to be the play-off win away at Tonbridge Juddian, which led to probably my favourite period at the club – a couple of years where we had a fantastic bunch of lads, mostly around my own age, who all knew what was expected of them and how to deliver it. Another highlight would be the Devon Cup final win in 2019, when Winston James and I both scored hat-tricks in a 60-point win over old rivals Exmouth (we’ll forget they had a weakened squad). There was also a fantastic day at the club in 2015 when we hammered Redingensians at home in the last game of the season, a week after they had won the league, then enjoyed Oli Mason’s beer festival and Carly Jeffrey’s music in the clubhouse until the bar ran out of beer. I’ve also really enjoyed the boxing day fixtures. Although they aren’t first team fixtures these days, I’m proud to have played and won every one since 2011, extending the club’s unbeaten record over Bideford from 1995 to now.

Now I find myself as a very senior player, the oldest in the team apart from the weeks when Ben Hilton has played (thanks Ben), and the time feels right to stop. Every time I feel tempted to play one more year I remind myself how my body felt at the end of a run of eight games in eight weeks just before Christmas last year, and how it feels when my girls (1 and 3) say, “I want you to stay at home with us Daddy.” I also think about the group of young players coming up through the ranks and how I trust them to fill my place and keep on improving. Ultimately, I’m really grateful for my 21 years playing rugby and the memories it’s given me and am sure there will be more to come in future on the non-playing side. Thank you to everyone who’s been involved in it, whether as a team-mate, coach, team manager, physio or supporter.

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