It was a rather abrupt end to what had been a very successful season for Taunton Titans and a highlight in the career of full-back Gary Kingdom following the club’s promotion to National One. (Photo Credit: Clayton Jane Photography)
In his fourth and final blog of the series, Gary details his time with Taunton Titans and the feeling of clinching the National Two South title in unprecedented circumstances this term…
In the summer of 2010, Exeter Chiefs where promoted to the Premiership which was a fantastic achievement for the club and the city.
I was still in touch with a few of the players so joined them for the celebrations at Sandy Park when they arrived back from Bristol. It was a little bittersweet as I was incredibly proud and pleased for the whole club, yet for myself, I would have loved to have still been involved.
I was also considering my personal future.
I managed to get a job for a sporting company that provided PE in primary schools, it was good fun and a real change from what I was used to. During my time with Exeter, I had worked to gain my coaching qualifications and really enjoyed doing the community coaching for the club.
The extra coaching work I had been putting in helped me hugely a year later when the RFU advertised for community coaching roles within Devon and across the rest of the country. I went to the interview, excited but also pretty nervous as this was an opportunity that would ultimately be a dream job for me. The interview went well and I got the job as CRC in South Devon, a role that I continue to work in today with some great people and friends.
After I had finished my playing days at Plymouth, I was left trying to figure out my rugby future.
I had a few options but decided the best move for me was with Taunton, where I already knew a few of the players and hoped I would get to play regularly. Taunton had had a great few years previous to that first season, having gained consecutive promotions to reach National Two South.
Incredible effort from Gary Kingdom who went beyond the 2000 Point mark for Taunton this weekend 👏 pic.twitter.com/WRuoI3W6kW
— Taunton Rugby Club (@tauntonrfc) September 17, 2019
That first pre-season was spent rehabbing from an operation to remove a cyst from my right knee, which wasn’t too serious and actually helped to give me a bit of a rest before starting afresh.
We had a good first season finishing mid-table, not bad for the club beginning in the National Leagues. The next couple of seasons were hard work and highlighted some issues within the clubs infrastructure and things would need to change. It sparked a re-jig with a change of coaching staff and a real push to build the club’s potential on and off the field.
Gone were the days of players using the club to try and make money, as the coaches cut the on-field spending right back and put the emphasis on creating a culture based on enjoyment and hard work.
Having been involved with the process and having witnessed the change to the culture around the club, it makes me feel immensely proud to see the club getting its reward now. The shift in culture began with Taunton becoming the Titans and a lot of work began to improve the cosmetics around the facility. Ultimately, the key questions that arose were; ‘Where did we see the club’s potential and how could we best achieve them?’ The decision was that, we believed, the Titans had the facilities and infrastructure to play in the higher leagues and we concluded that the best way to achieve this would be to focus our efforts on improving the facilities to maximise the clubs potential income and offer an environment to players that would allow them opportunities to reach their full potential.
This feature has been highlighted by the number of players that have gone on to play successfully at a higher level.
On a personal note, I believe my career as a Taunton Titan has been very successful, hugely enjoyable and probably longer than most would have imagined. In the early years, my main focus was to play and it has evolved through the years into a player/coach role. I believe this transition has helped me to continue going as long as I have and it has maintained my focus on the field to act, almost as on-field coach.
As a full-back, it allows you to see everything that is going on while keeping a calm head to make decisions, this is where my experience has helped to bring the best out of my abilities as a player and (I hope) to allow the players around me to perform to their best.
There were some struggles along the way, I have threatened retirement a few times, but as a whole I love playing for the club and to see them succeed is an extremely proud feeling.
“However, I know there is still more work to do and I honestly believe we can keep moving forward as a club and that I can still have a big role to play in that. The way the season finished this year leaves a real conflicted view, if only in my own head, very proud that the club gained promotion but there is also a feeling of unfinished business and a need to prove our worthiness as the champions of National Two South. It was also a real anti-climax and there hasn’t been any chance to celebrate our achievement as a team…. yet!
During my 10 years as a Taunton rugby player, there have been some great moments and some immensely proud achievements for me on a personal level. So far. I have played 270 games scoring 2208 points.
I have been called upon on a number of occasions to kick last minute penalties and even a drop goal. My stand out memory was winning away at Worthing Raiders in 2015. We have always had tough games with Worthing and this game was no different, down on the scoreboard at half time and under some real pressure.
We started the second half very well and fought our way back into the game, I was fortunate to get a counter attack try off the back of a charged down kick in our own half and before we knew it, we were right back in the game.
In the closing minutes, we had possession in the Worthing half, around the 10m line and were hammering away trying to keep the ball and potentially get a penalty. Worthing stood strong and we had chipped away slightly but it was still a long shot for me to hit my first ever drop goal in a game. A few minutes prior I had missed from a similar position with the ball just drifting to the right of the posts.
I decided to go for it, stood along way back and It went over resulting in jubilation for myself and the team after a great comeback performance. It was a great night out following that! Other stand out kicks include away at Henley, not once but twice, in back to back seasons.
The first was made increasingly more difficult by our scrum half deciding to tap and go from a penalty straight in front of the posts, running sideways and very luckily getting rewarded with another penalty albeit on the touchline 22 meters out.
The kick went over and all was fine, fortunately for us, to get another hard-fought win on the road. The second was an extremely contrasting day in the wet and mud, but another really toughly fought win.
.@Taunton_RFC's Gary Kingdom scores a superb individual try, submitted for the @SamsungSport try competitionhttps://t.co/K7FeuHIrIo
— England Rugby (at 🏠) (@EnglandRugby) March 30, 2015
There was one other stand out ‘heart in mouth’ moment when Titans played away to OE’s [Old Elthamians], again fighting back from behind and battling from a scrum on our own 5m line to go the full length of the field to receive a penalty on their 5m line.
It was a very windy day and I was honestly a little worried about the kick. I also knew we needed a try to get a bonus point, so when seeing the OE players were unfocused, expecting the kick and our winger screaming as he was unmarked out wide, I tapped and went to pass wide. The OE’s winger reacted and went sprinting out to cover our open man so I dummied and drove in to score and cap off a massive performance for the team again. I am not sure the coaches or supporters were particularly happy with my decision, until the try was awarded and again all was forgiven!
Over the past 10 years as a player, a coach and a supporter it has been apparent that the team has been building up to where we are now. We have had some massive performances, notably victories against Hartpury, that previous win away at OE’s and this season’s huge performance against Tonbridge at home.
We had never beaten Tonbridge and had received a beating at their place earlier in the year, so that game was massive for us. I think that for me is potentially the biggest Titans performance ever, the defence on that day was brutal and Tonbridge didn’t get an inch. That was the victory that really hammered into the squad that we were capable of winning the league and I really do believe we would have topped the league had it been allowed to continue. Unfortunately, we will never know, so as I mentioned earlier our job now is to build on last season and prove that we are rightly a National One team.
To cap off my series of blogs I would just like to thank everyone for reading and thank all the players, coaches and especially supporters that I have encountered on my rugby journey.
From my early experiences playing at Kingsbridge, to playing professionally at Exeter and Plymouth, on to now representing Taunton Titans and England rugby as a job, I am massively grateful to the game for giving me so much.
I owe so much to my parents for encouraging me throughout the early years, taking me here there and everywhere to pursue a sport I loved playing and my family now for backing me through all the travelling and time rugby takes up in my life.
I will continue to help introduce and reinforce the values of the sport that has made my life such a happy one. Finally, I hope everyone is staying safe and look forward to meeting up again with the rugby family soon.