Recalling the time that Sidmouth became the first Devon club to offer junior rugby
- Credit: Archant
In 1970 I read a newspaper article about a new game called mini rugby being played in Wales to introduce the game to primary school children, writes Terry O’Brien.
At that time teams were 9-a-side with four forwards and five backs and games were played on half a pitch.
In 1971 I had left St Luke’s and started my teaching career at Hele’s School in Exeter. I was about to start my third season as Sidmouth captain and now had more time to devote to the club.
The club was beginning a slow revival in playing standards driven by Colts graduating to senior rugby and players developed at The King’s School, which as a grammar school at the time had a large Sidmouth contingent.
However, Norman West had moved back to teach in Wales and rugby was no longer being played at King’s.
Although the arrival of Keith Roberts had put rugby on the curriculum at Sidmouth Secondary, football was still the predominant game in the valley.
Introducing mini rugby at the club seemed to be the perfect vehicle to get primary school boys playing the game.
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Sidmouth player and primary school teacher Tony Taylor provided an all-important link to St Nicholas School as well as being a good coach.
The first two years of secondary school were added to bring in King’s School pupils no longer having the option to play rugby and to build on the work of Keith Roberts at Sidmouth.
Eventually a few under 14s expressed an interest and were also included and so, on the evening of Monday, September 13, myself, Tony Taylor and a small group of present and former players welcomed about 40 boys to the first session and Sidmouth became the first club in Devon and one of only a few in the country to offer rugby coaching to juniors!
There were no fixtures played in that first season because there was no opposition.
An Under-11 exhibition match was played before the Boxing Day President’s XV match and a similar match was played on Easter Saturday.
The Pullin Cup competition was revived at the end of the season with four teams drawn from different areas of the town and valley involved.
The first fixtures were played the following season against Exmouth during the Christmas holiday period.
As more clubs started up the fixture list increased but no more than ten matches were played by any age group in a season.
In April 1974, Sidmouth organised the first inter-club junior tournament at the Blackmore Field for Under-12s (10-a-side) and Under-13s (7-a-side) in Devon. As the Under-14s graduated, an Under-16 team was started up by David Keast but ran independently of the junior teams and was more linked to the Colts. In 1975, Bryan Jones joined the PE department at the King’s School and rugby was reintroduce by an excellent coach. Meanwhile, Steve Lewis had joined Keith Roberts at Sidmouth School.
Very soon rugby was flourishing at both schools with strong links ensuring that the club and the schools worked closely together. With a steady stream of well-coached players joining the senior ranks from the schools, by 1979 my original mission had been accomplished and I stepped down from leading the juniors.
A few motivated ex-player parents kept the junior section going and over the past 40 years it has evolved into a highly developed and regulated organisation almost unrecognisable from the original.