Rugby rewind – memories from no fewer than six decades of rugby involvement

The King's School 1st XV in 1965. Picture; TERRY O'BRIEN

The King's School 1st XV in 1965. Picture; TERRY O'BRIEN - Credit: Archant

Here we begin a feature written for us by Terry O’Brien of Sidmouth RFC.

In September 1959 I began my secondary school education at St Mary’s School, Winslade Park at Clyst St Mary, a catholic boys’ school which closed many years ago, writes Terry O’Brien.

This soccer mad 11-year-old was off to a rugby playing school where football was not on the curriculum!

This added to the trepidation associated with the move to ‘big school’.

However, in no time I had a new favourite sport.

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After a term spent learning the rudiments of the game, we were ready to start playing fixtures.

I was selected in the key position of fly half presumably because I could kick and pass reasonably accurately along with a keen sense of self-preservation, to evade potential tacklers.

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Peter Plunkett at inside centre was at least two years more physically mature than most of the team.

He was also fast. In addition, one of our forwards was even bigger, which gave us at least a 50/50 chance in the mayhem passing for lineouts in those days.

As, at that time, you could kick direct into touch from anywhere on the pitch without losing ground, my options were simple; kick for touch to gain ground or pass to the speedy giant outside me.

In a match at Exmouth Secondary Modern School, I had followed the tactical plan faultlessly for an hour.

The score was 3-3 and we were awarded a pre-metric five-yard scrum. Now there was only one option, pass to the big guy at inside centre.

This was so obvious in fact that the entire Exmouth team were on to it.

When I received the ball, their entire defensive line ran straight towards Peter Plunkett.

This left a gaping hole for me to run through and score the winning try.

I said nothing to dissuade my teammates from believing that I had sold an outrageous dummy in the fashion of the great fly half Cliff Morgan.

After 35 years and over 1,000 games, that remained my sole match-winning performance!

The next year, a better fly half arrived and so began my peripatetic career in the back line.

I played in every position except full back (this was eventually corrected in a Sidmouth game at Weymouth).

Being second best in several positions ensured that there would almost always be a place for me in the team.


In January 1963 I transferred to the King’s School, Ottery St Mary, where I was fortunate to have Norman West as the PE teacher and coach.

His enthusiasm and knowledge of the game gleaned from playing first class rugby in Wales was readily passed on to his players.

This was the winter when snow lay on the ground from Boxing Day until March, so I had to wait for more than two months to make my debut for my new school, which was also the last game of the season.

I had to wait two years to get a regular place in the 1st XV and, in my final year, became captain by default. My best friend Archie Moore, the appointed captain, injured his knee in the first match and was out for the season.

Hence, I had my first experience of leadership.

My best memories of my rugby at King’s are of the games against Lewis School, Pengam in South Wales.

They were the best team we played and playing strong opposition makes you raise your game, learn, and improve.

Pengam was Norman West’s old school and the home and away matches were weekend tours.

Our tours to Wales included a trip to Cardiff Arms Park for an international match. More of that later...

We got our first experience of rugby tours but, more importantly, learned a lot about the game from a talented and well-organised side.

We never managed to beat them, but the scores became closer each time. Our last match finished 11-17.

One set move we learnt from them was eventually included in the repertoire at Sidmouth and it was the move that created a try for Pat Coleman to win the Havill Plate in 1973.

The Pengam games were also my first introduction to the social aspect of rugby with both teams mixing and socialising. Players were accommodated by their opposite numbers and friendships were made.

My opposite number in our last year at school was Wayne Jenkins. A few months later we were in the same PE group at St Luke’s College and we shared a flat in our third year.

We were due to meet up again at a college reunion in 2010 but a month before the event Wayne died of a heart attack, something I had been fortunate to survive a few years earlier.

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