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Tom Skelding's plan for Barnstaple to finish the season on a high

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: February 28, 2013

  • LEADING FIGURE: Tom Skelding, at just 31, is an elder statesman of the Barnstaple team. Picture: Bob Collins

  • FINISHING WITH A FLOURISH: Tom Skelding dives over the try line to score for Barnstaple against Exmouth. Picture: Derek Parnell

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GALLOPING through to dive over the try line is about as far outside Tom Skelding's remit as he could get.

But the lock forward this week insisted that being sticklers for sticking to specific roles will be the key to Barnstaple's players enjoying a successful end to the season.

In his last outing, Skelding produced a rare moment of flamboyance, appearing at Ryan Carter's left shoulder to take the centre's pass and score the try that gave Barum a half-time lead against Exmouth.

But the older you get, the wiser you become.

"Ryan looked dangerous all day and with experience you know what runs to make," said Skelding who, at just 31, is already an elder statesman in Barnstaple's young team.

"Tries don't come along very often. Two (this season) is a lot more than I have ever scored before. I think I got one try in eight years of league rugby."

Exmouth, chasing promotion from National Three south west, hit back in the second half for a 34-18 win at Pottington Road, condemning Barnstaple to a fifth successive defeat.

They will need all the wisdom Skelding has gained from his time with Exeter Chiefs and Plymouth Albion, among others, to come out from the slump.

The key, he believes, is to keep things simple. And that means it may be a while yet before he adds to his try tally.

"I say to the lads every week that everyone in the team is there for a specific reason," said Skelding.

"Sometimes lads look outside their remit. But if you are a goal kicker and solid in defence, that's fine.

"I can't be a one-on-one runner but I can run hard to set the ball up or clear a ruck. I try not to work outside of the things I can do."

Tom Heard's emergence as a regular in the back division is the perfect case study for Skelding.

"Tom has come in and blended into the team so well because he doesn't do things outside his remit," he said.

"He knows he can run a hard line, he is very solid in defence and has a low error count.

"We need more people like that. Then, if you have Steve Perry, Winston James and Linford Brock, they are your three luxury players who can do a bit outside the box, what Kevin (Squire, the director of rugby) calls the X-factor players.

"The rest of the guys don't need to be doing things that fantastic."

Skelding can see the blueprint followed more closely the higher up the leagues he looks.

"At the weekend, I was at a local game where props were trying to pass the ball out the backdoor and do too much because they were the best players in that team," said Skelding.

"The higher you go, the less responsibility you have. Roles are much more specific."

In the new year, Barnstaple thought Skelding's long-term role might have been strictly off the field.

On his doctor's advice, he took a break from playing after palpitations he has endured throughout his career began occurring more frequently in games.

"It's been ongoing for years, it's just one of those things," said Skelding.

"The doctor was being overly cautious and said to put a lid on rugby for a bit.

"I had a few tests and I'm very pleased to have a clean bill of health.

"I feel a bit rejuvenated. The last few games have been the best I have played in a Barnstaple shirt.

"Now I want to have a strong finish to the season."

And also to make plans for next season.

Having been offered a contract to continue teaching at Honiton Community College, Skelding, who is living in Chittlehampton, is keen to continue at Barnstaple if they will have him.

Saturday's scouting trip, on a rare weekend off from playing, showed he is already thinking about how a squad ravaged by injuries and departures can be improved.

"There are a few players I have got my eye on," said Skelding.

"We're missing a couple of what I would call men – the likes of Stuart Lowe and Bob Armstrong at Exmouth.

"People think they are over the hill but they do a job week in, week out. They are proper blokes who have been around the block.

"I am pretty experienced but I have always been a lineout forward and an organiser. Maybe it's time for me to step up."

That will mean widening his remit just a little bit more.

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