On 4th January 1964 I was one of a coach full of young King’s School rugby enthusiasts travelling to Twickenham to watch England play the legendary All Blacks. There could not have been a better occasion for my first live international.

 

New Zealand were the best team in the World. They were hard men and tactically always a step ahead of the rest of other rugby playing countries. At that time, they had invented the ruck when the normal approach to a ball on the ground was to dribble it on, a “foot rush”.

 

The All Blacks team that day included three real legends of the game. The captain Wilson Whineray was a mobile prop and charismatic leader, who led his country 31 times, a record only recently beaten by Richie McCaw. Colin “Pinetree” Meads was an uncompromising lock who could also play in the backrow. He played 55 tests, a New Zealand record at the time. The full back Don Clarke was the game’s first match winning goal-kicker. His 781 points would remain a record for another 30 years.

 

New Zealand won the game 14-0 with Meads scoring a try and Clarke kicking the goals.

 

The All Blacks lost only one game in the 36-match, four-month tour of the UK, France and Canada. Their midweek team lost 0-3 to Newport thanks to a drop goal scored by 21-year-old St Luke’s College student Dick Uzzell.

 

The young centre’s feat was headline news on the sports pages and, when he returned to college, Uzzell was summoned to the Principal’s office. He was asked how his grandmother’s funeral had gone before being offered a glass of sherry.

 

There are rare occasions at sporting events when we are privileged to experience an “I was there” moment. I was at the 1991 Athletics World Championships in Tokyo to see the GB men’s 4x400m team run a prefect tactical race to beat the favourites USA and Mike Powell beat Bob Beamon’s long jump world record from the 1968 Olympic Games.

 

My rugby “I was there” happened on 15th April 1967 at Cardiff Arms Park on one of our Pengam tours. I was at the Keith Jarrett match.

 

Keith Jarrett was 18 years old, a month older than me, making his debut for Wales, a centre selected at full back, where he had never played before.

 

The previous week, at the request of the Welsh selectors, his club Newport started him at full back. Things did not go well and at halftime he was moved back to centre.

 

Against England he produced a match winning performance, kicking 16 points, and scoring a try which is still rated in the top ten best Welsh tries. An England clearance kick appeared to be bouncing into touch on halfway. Jarrett gathered the ball at full speed a metre inside the line. His pace took him around the chasing England players and past the cover to touch down in the corner. Wales won an eventful game 34-21.

 

After ten appearances for Wales and a British Lions tour, Keith Jarrett transferred to Rugby League. 

 

BECOMING A SIDMOUTH RUGBY PLAYER

 

In 1964, when I first secured a regular place in the King’s School 1st Team, I knew nothing of Sidmouth Rugby Club, except that it existed.

 

My father had been a professional boxer and at that time I did not know that he had led teams to win the Pullin Cup, nor that he had played for the 1st Team aged 17, that he had been elected as 2nd Team captain at the age of 18 before he gave up rugby to take up a boxing career. And I certainly was not aware that he had taken fitness training for the players in the Drill Hall in the late 1940s and early 50s.

 

I do have a recollection of watching a game at the age of about three with my mother sitting in a large crowd on the hospital side. Perhaps Dad was making a one-off appearance in the first President’s XV match on Boxing Day 1951.

 

So, it was out of the blue when my cousin John Richards asked if I would like to play for the new Colts team he was helping to recruit. With school matches every Saturday before Christmas, I was not able to make my debut for the Club until January. I don’t remember the exact date or the opposition, but I do know we lost and continued to do so until 13th March when, as fate would have it, we beat my former school Winslade 17-9. It was good to have bragging rights over my old school mates. 

 

Stan Baker ran the Colts and was as much of a positive influence on the development of his young players as Norman West at King’s. Stan was a former Sidmouth captain and hooker for Devon. Despite being confined to a wheelchair by an accident at work, he was a determined and ambitious character. He instilled in us that we should have the ambition to play in the 1st Team.

 

I had no idea at the time that I was part of a project which would kickstart the revival of the Club’s playing fortunes from the nadir into which it had fallen. I was just a teenager wanting to play rugby and was enjoying doing so with some new teammates. 

 

The following season I continued to play at Sidmouth as well as for the school. On some occasions when the school match was on a Saturday morning I, along with a few other members of the King’s team, would also play for the Colts in the afternoon.

 

With a shortage of adult players in the Club at the time, Colts were often drafted into the Quins or even the Chiefs. So, I also played a few games for the Quins.

 

The Quins only played 22 games that season and slightly more at 30 in 1966-67. There is only one game which stands out in my memory, which is a very unexpected 3-3 draw away to Barnstaple 2nds. Keith Hudson scored our try and Ken Gosling broke his leg. With no replacements allowed in at that time, we had to complete the game with 14 men.

 

I made my 1st Team debut on Saturday 7th January 1967 playing at scrum half against Bideford at the Blackmore Field. We won 9-6. I also played in the return match, this time on the left wing (note the value of versatility). Although we lost, I scored my first try for the Chiefs. The following season I became a regular 1st Team player.

 

news articles

Facebook