Early sidesteps

Sidesteps begin long after the start of rugby. Early sidesteps are difficult to pinpoint - but here are some clues.

Some early sidesteppers

The earliest reference I`ve seen to rugby sidesteps mentions the year 1930. This is on the rugby-pioneers website under the heading

Let's talk technique: the rugby sidestep

Prints explaining the sidestep are displayed from W.W.Wakefield's book "Rugger", said to have been published in 1930.

David Duckham

David Duckham, 185cm and 92kg with 36 caps for England and 3 for the British Lions was a rarity in English rugby. He was well known, amongst other things, for his elusive running and sidestep.

In his book "Rugby Union: Back Play" 1981, page 75 , Duckham says his own sidestep was developed after having seen the sidestepping exploits of the post-war Coventry player Peter Jackson.

He also expressed the opinion that Gerald Davies had developed his sidestep as a result of having watched Bleddyn Williams.

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson was born in 1929. He captained the English club Coventry. He was in his prime when playing for England 1956 - 1963.

Dai Llewellyn wrote an article about Jackson being inducted into the Rugby Football Union Wall of Fame. In it he tells of a try by Jackson in the England Australia clash at Twickenham in February 1958 and how Jackson became able to sidestep off either foot.

He quotes Jackson saying that his coach at school used to get him "to run up and down the length of the playing field alternately stepping off my right foot and then my left".

Stepping off either foot is a great asset. I provide detailed instructions on how you do it. Look for the EvtecHs Elly on the EvtecHs page.

Peter Jackson's try against Australia was in the first minute of an excellent compilation of English rugby tries on YouTube, many with great evasive footwork - but it has been made private.

David Duckham born in 1946 was also from Coventry (and I'm guessing here) would probably have been anywhere from 10 to 15 when he became aware of and inspired by Jackson's (England caps 1956 - 1963) early sidesteps.

Bleddyn, Carwyn and Gerald

Bleddyn Williams - young early sidesteps star?

Bleddyn Williams was born in 1929 and was a prominent player for Cardiff and Wales in the early 1950's.

Although David Duckham (above) mentions Bleddyn Williams in relation to Gerald Davies learning to sidestep, Davies in his book "Gerald Davies An Autobiography", 1979, page 36 reports otherwise.

He tells how he regretted not having seen Bleddyn Williams who was regarded as "one of the greatest sidesteppers of all time" whose sidesteps were to be seen frequently when he played for his club, Cardiff.

He also tells how he was thilled by the way Carwyn James sidestepped and ran with the ball.

Carwyn James - rugby mastermind

In his wonderful book "CARWYN A Personal Memoir", 1984, page 37-38 Alun Richards quotes from Carwyn James's never-to-be-completed autobiography.

He tells how Carwyn played rugby every day in the street with his brothers, sometimes beating them with sidesteps - and when he did, imagining he was "Haydn Top-y-Tyle or Bleddyn Williams"

On the next page (page 39) Richards quotes another sketch in which Carwyn states "I'm nine". If these sketches are quoted in chronoligical order it would place the reference (above) to playing in the street to be in 1938 or before.

Bleddyn Williams, born 1923, and so only six years older than Carwyn, would have been about 15 years old in 1938. How did Carwyn come to imagine himself to be Bleddyn Williams? Was Bleddyn a neighbour or perhaps a young star doing early sidesteps in one of the local teams? Haydyn Top-y-Tyle certainly was.

Further quotes from Carwyn James reveal much about the way young boys like Carwyn were immersed in the Welsh rugby culture of the time.

He got a theepenny bit for patrolling th local gardens on match day and carefully retrieving stray balls kicked into them from the local rugby pitch close by.

From Carwyn's description of the game as a nine-year-old it's easy to see how he went on to be a successful international coach. Such fantastic insight into the game!

Is it any wonder he went on to be an exciting sidestepper?

Is it any wonder he went on to be successful coach of the British Lions in New Zealand?

What a path to follow!

So, it appears that Bleddyn Williams inspired Carwyn James who in turn was an early sidesteps inspiration to Gerald Davies (and many more?).

For an insight into the way Carwyn James thought, have alook at
True believers still worship with King James version. It`s an article about Carwyn by Frank Keating, published in the Guardian newpaper.

I had to look up (thefreedictionary.com) a couple of the words used!
"apercus" :A discerning perception; an insight:
"percipience" : Having the power of perceiving, especially perceiving keenly and readily

Ron Jarden

Amazingly Ron Jarden was also born in 1929 and rose to prominence in the early 1950's with the New Zealand All Blacks.

Look here for the Ron Jarden All Blacks Player Profile.

I know of Jarden only because I've read about him. I recently purchased the book "New Zealand Rugby Skills and Tactics", 1982.

Those able to get a copy of this excellent book will benefit. It includes an excellent article by Jarden, "Beating the Man" - sorry ladies, that`s the title and I think it probably was only men in those days!

It includes good and detailed descriptions of the sidestep, swerve and other techniques.

Jarden was a very fast, elusive runner and a prolific try scorer.

In a 2005 (London) Independent newspaper article,
Rugby Union: All Black magic; 100 years of attitude (link unavailable),
Rugby Correspondent Chris Hewett includes Jarden on the wing in his All Time All Blacks team...
"14 RON JARDEN (Wellington, 1951-56) Fast, elusive, deadly."

I've never seen him. I've never seen video of him.

I've yet to see mention of him and "sidestep" in the same paragraph - yet simply from his own description of the sidestep I know he was superb!

Who would argue with his 145 tries from 134 first class games!

Perhaps Jarden was the inspiration for some later All Blacks, but it appears New Zealand never capitalised on his talent and experience.

Perhaps the All Blacks won so much anyway, there was no real need to shine in another department.

Bleddyn Williams, Peter Jackson, Ron Jarden all born in 1929 and went on to do inspirational early sidesteps in the 1950's....

Who inspired these players?

I'll keep digging - must shed some light on very early sidesteps!