Forty years of play with Sidmouth Rugby Club juniors

Sidmouth Rugby Club first in Devon to introduce mini rugby 40 years ago

NEXT month, Sidmouth Rugby Club’s junior section will be 40 years old. Sidmouth was the first club in Devon, and one of the first in the country, to introduce mini rugby.

Over the next two weeks, Nostalgia, thanks to Terry O’Brien from Sidford, former chairman, and now secretary of the rugby club, will be tracing its history.

On the evening of Monday, September 13, 1971, Sidmouth became the pioneers of mini rugby in Devon, and one of the first in the country, when a group of players and ex-players, under the leadership of club captain Terry O’Brien, welcomed the first batch of eager youngsters for their first taste of the game of rugby.

About 40 boys, between the ages of nine and 14, attended that first session and, within two weeks, the number had doubled to 80. There were no inter-club games played in that first season simply because there were no other clubs with teams to play.

However, an exhibition game was staged between two ten-a-side under-11 teams prior to the 1st XV game on Boxing Day. Also the Pullin Cup was revived and played for at the end of the season by four teams, three drawn from different areas of the town, and one from those who came from outside.

The following season, the first inter-club matches were held against teams from Exmouth. Further games were played against Tiverton and Hele’s School.

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In April 1974, Sidmouth staged the first Junior Rugby Tournament in Devon with ten-a-side Mini Rugby for Under 12s and a seven-a-side competition at Under 14.

Other regular coaches in the first few years were Tony Taylor, a player who was a teacher at St Nicholas School, and ex-players Les Cody and Des Bridgeman.

For the 1974-75 season they were joined by David Keast, who took charge of the Under 16s when the first cohort of boys reached that age group.

Sidmouth was now fielding teams from Under 10 to Under 16 as more clubs followed the trend and provided regular opposition.

By 1976 the first cohort graduated to the Colts. The success of the venture was shown in 1978 when the Colts reached the final of the Devon Colts Cup, where they were defeated in a thrilling match by Plymouth Albion Juniors.

By then, products of the scheme began to filter into the senior teams and players of the calibre of Graham Bess, Kenny Bradley and Graham Denner appeared in the Chiefs.

In 1979, Terry O’Brien stood down and Derek Marchant took over the administration of the Junior Section. It continued to thrive, and in 1981-82 the Under 16 team, coached by Geoff Retter, won the Martecia Trophy for clubs in the east and north of the county.

l See what happens to the Juniors during the 80’s up to the present day in next week’s Nostalgia.