Jed Jaguars celebrate a proud history and look forward to a positive future

Mini rugby section recently celebrated its 50th birthday with a dinner attended by 500 guests

Jed Jaguars mini rugby club is thriving at the moment with 18 coaches 96 registered players
Jed Jaguars mini rugby club is thriving at the moment with 18 coaches 96 registered players

JED-FOREST’S spell at Scottish club rugby’s top table officially came to an end following a home defeat to Glasgow Hawks on Saturday afternoon (their fate was actually sealed several weeks earlier), but it could be a temporary fall out of the Premiership if the club’s youth rugby is anything to go by.

As often follows a season of interminable struggle, with Jed failing to secure even one win despite some fine performances, there is a lot of negativity flying around the Riverside Park club. A number of head coaches have come and gone, old heads have been persuaded out of retirement to help keep the show on the road, and training sessions cancelled with as few as a handful of players available at times.

The club knew it faced a tough season having called a crisis meeting before it began to try to drum up local support. The committee has come in for criticism for their management, and the lack of young players stepping up is another source of concern. Intriguingly, there appears to be a full XV of Jedburgh boys aged in their 20s, including many former 1st XV and youth players, currently living and working in Australia, and in a town of fewer than 4,000 people – and around 1,800 males, according to the last census – that underlines the size of Jed’s challenge.


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However, there was nothing but positivity in the shiny new Jedburgh Grammar Campus school recently when nearly 500 people attended a 50th celebration of the town’s mini rugby club. It honoured the four men – Lawrence Armstrong, Charlie Murdoch, Roddy McCraw and the late Charlie Bird – who founded the Jed Jaguars in 1974 as an answer to the decision by teachers to work to rule and stop after-school coaching. The passion for rugby in the town was clear with the dinner raising over £30,000 and added to donations it took 50th anniversary earnings to more than £50,000 … all for mini rugby.

“We didn’t think we would still be going 50 years later to be honest,” admitted Armstrong, father of Scotland great Gary. “The Jaguars was seen as a stop-gap at the time. But pretty quickly we had 70 or 80 boys running around on Sunday mornings, and they were coming from all over. It wasn’t easy, right enough. Some mums and the local minister, Reverend Haisley Moore, didn’t like the boys missing Sunday School, for example, but we worked with them and you had boys in their kit with boots on under the stand doing Sunday School before running out to play!”

Stuart Hogg, and his brother Graham, are among the players to have come through the ‘Jed Jags’, as rugby was restricted to the primary schools in Hawick at that time. Ronnie Kirkpatrick, one of the Scotland players to receive a retrospective cap recently, was another, and Bird’s daughter Hayley was an inspiration to girls after she went on to play for Scotland. She shared the stage with Gary Armstrong, another ex-Jaguar, at the 50th anniversary dinner, and they were joined by guests Gregor Townsend, Nigel Owens, Dean Richards and John Jeffrey.

 

 

Owens was persuaded to make the trip north from Wales by a Borders farmer friend, and took no fee. He said: “This is what rugby is all about. I started in the community game and without people like the four men here, and the many who have come after them, Jed wouldn’t have the rich history it has. I love coming to events like this and I’ve been blown away by the support for rugby in this town.”

He spoke on stage of an undervaluing of grassroots rugby to the modern game, and delighted the audience by declaring that he would have awarded Scotland their disallowed Six Nations ‘try’ against France, on “the balance of probability”.

The event organisers were Steve and Claire Turnbull, and a team of volunteers, and Steve admitted that under the surface there is much to be positive about.

“Having 50 years was too big a deal to let it go by without celebrating it, and the men who started it, and the men and women and kids who have kept it going all these years,” he said. “The mini rugby has been a huge part of the town and so it was about celebrating that, but we thought if we could raise a bit of money off the back of it it would be great.

“It exceeded all expectations with all the support we got from people on the night and brilliant sponsors and people donating things. To raise over £50,000 this year has been fantastic, and will create a real legacy for Jed mini rugby.

“A small committee has been formed and we’re looking at options [for spending the money]. This was a mini rugby event, but we’re hoping to hold a meeting with the main club to talk about how we can work with them. At the minute, we’re operating seven teams and a D.O. out of a leaky storage container, and whether we create more solid structures somewhere or just renew the containers, or we set up a trust fund with some of the money to ensure that each year there is money going back into the club, it’s all on the table right now.”

 

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On the pitch, Turnbull is as enthusiastic. As well as enabling a dinner for 500, the new school itself, a Borders’ first style of campus with nursery, primary and secondary pupils altogether, has played its part in creating continuity and, crucially, a new artificial pitch which is boosting numbers and quality of rugby.

“The old mid-season drop-off doesn’t happen anymore because we’re not sitting cold in the mud at Woodend,” added Turnbull. “And off the back of that the skillsets have improved tenfold. All the teams are doing phenomenally well when they do go to tournaments.

“We’re just a small town at the end of the day but there must be reasons why we’re doing well at youth levels. We have 18 coaches and we have 96 registered kids at the moment which is almost the most we’ve had – I think the most in 50 years has been 101. Getting kids down there and giving them a good, fun experience is the key to the future.

“There were 500 people in that hall which shows there are a lot of people that care about rugby in the town; a lot of folk that are really passionate. I think it was a nice message to send out that: ‘Yeah, there is a wee bit negativity with Jed going through a tough time and maybe a bit of restructuring to be looked at, but below the senior level there are a lot of good things happening in the town and, hopefully, the future is really bright’.

“The talent’s there and the coaching talent’s there too, and I think you’ll see a lot of boys and girls coming through in the future.”

 

 

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About David Ferguson 22 Articles
David Ferguson has covered Scottish rugby for over 30 years. Starting out in the Borders with the Berwickshire News and Southern Reporter, where he was sports editor and also covered rugby for a wide variety of national newspapers, Radio Borders and BBC Scotland, David became editor of Scottish Rugby Magazine, working with then Managing Director Sean Lineen. David was then Chief Rugby Writer with The Scotsman for 14 years, during which time he covered club, professional and international rugby, including several Rugby World Cups and Lions tours. He started his own communications and media business in 2014, and has worked across a wide range of areas from Scottish and UK government to charities and corporate business, most recently as Chief Executive of the Observatory for Sport in Scotland, Scotland's only research think tank on sport.

1 Comment

  1. Well done Jed, that’s the spirit. Scottish rugby needs more youngsters playing and enjoying the game, especially at club level. Without them, and the support required from the community, parents, ex-players, and particularly the governing body, the future of Scottish rugby could be a little precarious.

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