St Austell star Matt Shepherd, scorer of 31 tries in just 20 games for Saints in 2022/23. Picture: Colin Bradbury / Cornwall Sports Media
By Gareth Davies at Tregorrick Park
St Austell star Matt Shepherd says that winning promotion with his hometown team ranks amongst the best things he’s ever achieved on a rugby field.
The 32-year-old full-back has enjoyed a remarkable campaign with the Tregorrick Park outfit by scoring 31 tries in just 19 matches.
A multiple Bill Beaumont County Championship winner with Cornwall, Shepherd scored three times in Saints’ promotion clinching victory over Newton Abbot on Saturday.
The 76-7 triumph secured St Austell’s place at level five for the first time in the club’s history with Shepherd also recently celebrating his own personal St Austell milestone last month.
“To make my 200th appearance and get promoted in the space of two weeks is just amazing,” he began, speaking after the full-time whistle. “Winning promotion, back at home, in front of a huge crowd, is up there with the best things I’ve done (in rugby).
“Last year we wanted to go up but we didn’t so days like this, with young families here watching on, taking my boyhood club to the old National League Three is pretty outstanding.
“I am excited to see what next year brings and I hope this squad sticks together and keeps driving on because we have bags of potential.
“I will be able to give the boys an insight on playing at a faster standard because that’s all that changes is how fast the game is and how big people are. You can see from our defence that we are not letting many tries in so we can hopefully take that forward into next season.”
Shepherd may have received many plaudits for his outstanding try scoring feats, but praise must also go to his player-coach Kyle Marriott, another player with more than one Twickenham winners medal on his mantlepiece.
In this, Marriott’s fourth season in charge of the Tregorrick Park first team, he has reached the holy grail of level five and after the dust had settled on a momentous day for Saints, he praised not only his team, but the whole club.
“It was absolutely phenomenal but I’m a bit lost for words really,” he added. “We are proud of our promotion and what’s just happened then I just thanked the boys and also the support staff, crowd and our players down at St Ives (Sinners) and Falmouth (Spartans) on what has been an immense day for the club.
“It’s not just about us 18 out on the pitch, there is an army of volunteers that make the senior and youth sections work which is our pathway at the moment.”
St Austell’s wonderful campaign is testament to the mental resolve installed by Marriott on to his troops after they came so close to promotion 12 months ago.
However, a late season capitulation, which saw four of the final five matches end in defeat, resulted in Devonport Services, Lydney and Chew Valley winning promotion while Saints finished fourth in the old South West One West division.
This time around though, in the newly titled Regional Two South West, alongside familiar Cornish foes Wadebridge Camels and Truro, there was no hint of a repeat even after a defeat at nearest challengers Crediton two weeks ago.
“The league restructure and not getting promotion shook us a bit and I felt real disappointment over last season but towards this crucial period of the campaign, like two weeks ago at Crediton, we used the hurt of last year to help us,” Marriott added.
“That’s what rugby is all about, learning from your errors and we have certainly done that this season with the two games we have lost this season has propelled us forward.”
And once the champagne corks had been popped and the celebrations shifted from pitch, to dressing room, then to club house, captain Mark Vian says his side are ‘looking forward’ to the challenges that level five rugby will bring.
“As a club, we are thriving and going from strength to strength,” said Vian, who was raised in Gorran Haven. “We have enjoyed a brilliant season so far and scored over 1,000 points but we are also now looking forward to next season too.
“We have got some really young players who have come through the system and for someone like myself, who has trodden that path, it’s a really emotional day.
“We have never been this high before and I have played for the club since I was six so it is a massive honour to lead this team and take over from someone like Miles (Davey) who has been a great leader for many years.”