Exeter all set to make more history
Exeter’s Sandy Park has become one of the must-visit stadiums in English rugby. The Chiefs’ passionate, vocal fans have lit up the Aviva Premiership since their promotion to the top flight in 2010 and will soon have the chance to shine on an even bigger stage - Rugby World Cup 2015.
Sandy Park will host three matches at the tournament, with Tonga and Italy confirmed for matches against Africa 1 and Europe 2 as well as a further contest between qualifiers from Africa and Europe. Travelling fans are set to enjoy a fine reception from one of England’s oldest rugby strongholds, with Italy particularly welcome following their ‘A’ side’s participation in the ground’s official opening seven years ago.
Exeter’s first recorded match took place as early as 1873, while the city has a special place in rugby history as the site of the All Blacks’ first fixture on British soil. The 1905 tourists - now widely known as the ‘Originals’ - remain one of the finest teams ever assembled, even if their worth was drastically underestimated upon their arrival in England.
Their first match came on September 16, 1905 at the County Ground, against Devon. Runners-up in the recent County Championship, Devon were widely expected by the English press and rugby community to see off the New Zealanders with a measure of ease. As the saying goes, pride comes before a fall.
The visitors - who would pick up their famous All Blacks nickname during the course of the tour - ran 12 tries past Devon, winning 55-4 in emphatic fashion under the leadership of the legendary Dave Gallaher. Still the English establishment fought the result, with one London sub-editor reversing the score in the belief that it had been erroneously reported.
The Originals went on to conquer every other English side they faced and lost only once on tour, to Wales in Cardiff under controversial circumstances. Their tour record - played 35, won 34 - has gone down in history, and it began in Exeter.
The city’s rugby history reached a peak in 2010 with the Chiefs’ promotion to the Premiership, after a tactical masterclass from Head Coach Rob Baxter, who has since been honoured with a spot on the England coaching team during the summer tour to Argentina. Baxter and his brother - recently-retired Chiefs number 8 Richie - are both one club men, demonstrating the core rugby values of loyalty and commitment that has made Exeter’s excellent Premiership record so popular among English fans.
When Sandy Park opens its gates in 2015, fans from across the West Country will have a chance to see top-class international rugby on their own patch. With the stadium’s capacity set to increase further and plans afoot to erect a big screen in the city centre for the matches, it’s certain that the tournament will be given a rousing reception in the South West.