The Scottish international - and others - who’ve done so much for Sidmouth Chiefs
- Credit: Archant
Alastair McHarg arrived in East Devon to live and work in 1975, writes Terry O’Brien. d
His club was London Scottish, and he played in the second row for Scotland.
He would eventually play 44 times for his country.
He contacted Sidmouth Rugby Club to ask if he could train with us and, of course we were honoured to have him join us.
He also asked if he could play the occasional game to keep up match fitness when he was unable to get back to London.
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He was happy to play for the second team as he did not want to take anyone’s place in the Chiefs. Again, we were delighted to agree.
In fact, he played his first game at Sidmouth for the first team against Bridgwater in a special match to celebrate the opening of the new stand and he scored our try in a 4-11 defeat.
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Over the next four years he did play a number of games for the Quins and one more for the Chiefs, but his major contribution to the club was coaching, which in those days was a voluntary role.
The work he did with our forwards, particularly with scrummaging, transformed a good team into one of the best in the county, which would reach the Devon Senior Cup final and two semi-finals in consecutive seasons.
Our club is rightfully proud that the Chiefs, who have enjoyed three successful
seasons, regularly fields a match day squad with at least 15 local players developed through our junior section.
However, players and supporters who have moved into the area have enriched our club, helped to raise playing standards and made notable contributions as volunteers off the field.
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution made by a few of the incomers who enhanced my time in the club as players and volunteers.
In a previous article, I drew attention to the work of Keith Roberts and Bryan Jones in developing young rugby players at Sidmouth School and the King’s School, respectively. However, they were also exceptional players and, as prop and hooker, formed an important part of the of the outstanding scrum developed by Alastair McHarg.
Keith also contributed as a forward coach and pack leader, while Bryan captained the successful team of 1979-80, which was awarded the Sunday Telegraph team of the month for September.
Malcolm Wharton joined the Club in 1974, when he came as a lecturer to Bicton College. He became a regular first team, second row forward.
His other significant contribution at the time was building the scrummaging machine, which was essential for the success of McHarg’s coaching.
He would also go on to become a director of the club and he is currently a member of the RFU council.
Irishman Sean Dillon arrived in town in the early 1970s.
His enthusiasm far outstripped his ability as a player, but it was his enthusiasm which was instrumental in the club starting a third team in 1976.
His hard work as captain ensured that the Thirds would play a full fixture list the next season.
His recruitment efforts were legendary. Many a young man having a well-earned drink on a Friday night would make their debut the next day!
When Bob Smith arrived during the 1980-81 season, the club gained a player of genuine quality.
He had played prop for Northampton and England Under-23s. In subsequent years he has proved to be an asset off the field as well.
Bob captained the Chiefs four times.
Since retiring he has contributed as a forward coach and assisting with team management. He plays a major role in the organisation of Folk Week parking and is currently the club fixture secretary.
Former Moseley flanker Tim Smith arrived in 1988 and offered his services as a coach.
This was the season after the Chiefs relegation in the first season of league rugby.
He immediately set about imparting a sense of urgency and developing the necessary organisation for the new competitive game.
In his second season promotion was only missed on points difference followed by third place finish.
Tim had laid the foundations for his replacement, Ulsterman Richard Grainger, the PE teacher at St John’s School.
He carried on the good work and coached the Chiefs to their first league championship in 1996.
Finally, ex-marine Tug Wilson took on the role of rugby manager in 1998.
His 10 years involvement culminated in promotion to the South West One league in 2008.