Former players and current stalwarts of Morpeth Rugby Club recently met for a celebratory dinner to commemorate the club’s amazing run to the semi-finals of the RFU National Cup competition 40 years ago.
In 1975, 20 years before the arrival of professionalism and ten years before the introduction of league rugby, the national cup was the only recognised competition in English rugby.
It threw up the chance that clubs with purely local fixture lists would be drawn against some of the country’s strongest teams.
Morpeth played against three of these clubs and overcame two of them.
Having eased past Netherall Old Boys and Stockwood Park in the early rounds, Morpeth were drawn at home to London Irish, who were defeated 19-3 at the Grange House Field.
Their reward was a trip to mighty Bath in the quarter finals. Whilst not yet the dominant force they were to become in the 1980s, Bath were nevertheless one of the country’s leading sides. However, they were downed 13-9 by the Northumbrians in front of their own stunned supporters.
The semi-final at home to Rosslyn Park remains the biggest game in Morpeth’s history and it is fondly remembered by many as a truly great sporting occasion.
The visitors boasted a number of internationals in their ranks, including the iconic Andy Ripley, and the game attracted a large crowd. The lack of seating accommodation for spectators was overcome with the liberal use of locally sourced straw bales.
After a titanic struggle, Rosslyn Park’s class eventually told and they ran out 28-6 winners. To cap it all, highlights of the match were shown that evening on national television.
The dinner involved a champagne reception, four-course meal and the viewing of extensive contemporary memorabilia.
More than 20 of the players who had featured in the run were present and those who had since passed were remembered with a minute’s silence.
Amongst those attending was the club captain from the cup run and current President of the Northumberland Rugby Union, David Pringle. He believes that the team’s success that year was down to two significant factors.
The often thrice weekly training sessions moulded the players into a very tight knit group and the team was coached by Bill Charlton, who assiduously assessed the opposition, planned meticulously and quietly motivated the team to believe that they could be successful.