Chris Bentley: Close but no cigar against Bath – just don't blame the referee
IN the middle of the 20th century, fairground stalls in America weren't subject to the health and safety regulations of today.
This is best evidenced by the fact that the award for knocking over cans, catching a fish or shooting the target was a cigar. For those that took part in the game and fell just short, the caller on the day would beckon 'close but no cigar'.
If there was a phrase to summarise Saturday's game in front of a sell-out crowd, the fairground caller couldn't have summed it up any better. This was most certainly the closest we've got to our North Somerset rivals but once again we were left just short of our first cigar against Bath in 34 years!
However, the fact remains that this is the closest we have got to them in the Premiership era and our continual improvement is still happening.
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Post-game there was a lot of focus on the decision of referee David Rose to award a penalty try right at the death. Rob Baxter made a very valid point that, regardless of the calls made, we had enough opportunities in the game to have been out of sight and the late score should have been merely academic.
Referees are very important to our game and from time to time there will be contentious decisions made; some will benefit us, some will not. However, it is very important for our game that we don't get too focussed on these moments but instead worry more about the vast majority of the game. As Rob pointed out, we were good enough on Saturday to have been well set for a bad call not to have hurt us.
In the rarefied air of the Premiership, the referees are the best in the land. Knowing a few officials well, the training and assessment they undergo is certainly arduous and their endeavour is as honest as the guys they are controlling.
When they make mistakes – I have to say the decision to award the try was right, a few preceding it perhaps not – we as fans shouldn't be too quick to heap blame but instead accept that sometimes we will be on the receiving end of bad calls. The human aspect is part of the rich tapestry of our beautiful game.
As this is the first column of the year, I thought it wise to hand out a couple of New Year honours to some members of the squad that have played their part in the best year Exeter Chiefs have had.
Trailblazing Chief of the year: Tom Johnson
Having been at the club for over five years, it has been a privilege to have witnessed our first English cap of modern times emerge from within the ranks. Having played behind Chad Slade in the Championship team, Tom Johnson has been a revelation since the club made it into the Premiership and has been the first to gain honours for our national team in both South Africa and more recently in the autumn internationals.
Unsung hero: Junior Poluleuligaga
With a ridiculously impressive CV, Junior's first team appearances have been limited due to the form of Haydn Thomas, Kevin Barrett and the emergence of Will Chudley. This could be a cue to go toxic and become a negative influence. However, Junior has become a very important member of the squad, maintaining very high standards at training, captaining the Braves to the A League title in the 2011/12 season and another impressive showing this term. Additionally, he travels to every game with the first team as the 24th man.
Returnee of the year: Tony 'Beast' Walker
Following a tearful farewell from his partner in crime Keith Fleming, Tony left to pursue a career away from the club. However, less than six months later the big man jumped at the chance to get back on board with the team he loves. Ask the players and, to a man, they will testify that having the Beast on deck is great fillip to the squad.
Most valiant Chief of the year: Ben White
Making his first league start for the Chiefs against Harlequins, Ben White took a heavy knock on his knee. Only five minutes into the game, this was not something that he had planned for. Afterwards it became apparent he had ruptured his posterior cruciate ligament – a rather important part of his anatomy. However, Ben didn't let it stop him from scoring a try and putting in a man-of-the-match performance.
Daftest Chief of the year: Ben White
Following every first team game, the players have a medical review whereby the physio team check them over and ensure they're fit for selection. After the Harlequins game, Ben had a rather swollen knee and was limping quite heavily. However, he attempted to convince the club's medical staff that his good knee was indeed the injured one in the vain hope that he would be recovered in five days! Surprisingly enough, they didn't buy it and poor Ben had an eight-week lay-off!
First Chief to get his own adjective: Will Chudley
The changing room is full of banter with the guys always looking to wind one another up, but a new signing took the award with his creation of a new term 'doing a Chudders'. Most rugby players are quite confident and outgoing personalities but young Will Chudley gets rather anxious when talking in public. It became apparent in a team meeting when he stood up to talk, flustered his lines and turned a deep shade of red.
The players were quick to pick up on this and from then on anyone who got a bit nervous, uneasy or embarrassed on a public appearance was advised not to 'do a Chudders'. Fortunately, Will has overcome his apprehension and was a star turn in the corporate lounges just last Saturday but the term 'doing a Chudders' is now forever in the vocabulary of the Chiefs.
Special award: The Sandy Park stewards
Over the last few months I've been tipping the hat to members of the Sandy Park team but have neglected a group without whom we wouldn't have a team to watch. Led by a cracking bloke who's more northern than I, the stewards make sure that everyone has a great day out and give their time voluntarily. Kendo, may I take this opportunity to thank you and all of your team.
And so that's it, 2012 has gone and 2013 is here. I hope that you all enjoyed the last 365 days as much as the Chiefs. Here's to the next chapter in our fantastic journey.
Until the next time, stay safe and enjoy your rugby.