Obituary: Arthur Dorward, ruby player

Born 3 March, 1925, in Galashiels, Borders. Died 4 August, 2015, in Melrose, Borders, aged 90

Former Scottish rugby captain Arthur Dorward, the first Gala player to attain that honour, has died at the age of 90. Between 1950 and 1957 he won 15 caps at scrum half, captaining the team in three matches, against England in 1952, and France and Wales in 1953. As Scotland scrum half he followed in the footsteps of his older brother Tom who won five caps in that position before the war when he died while on active service with the RAF.

Arthur was first capped out of Cambridge University whom he represented for three seasons, winning three Blues and captaining them in his final year. He was also selected for the Barbarians several times – including their first overseas tour, to Canada in 1957 – and was a regular for the South of Scotland in both inter-district matches and also against the touring South Africans, All Blacks and Australians.

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All his club rugby was played for his beloved Gala for whom he made his debut aged 17, playing his last game aged 32, in a lengthy career punctuated by national service and time spent at Cambridge. From 1954 to 1957 he captained Gala for three consecutive seasons, leading them to the old “unofficial” Scottish championship in 1957. Adding extra lustre to a glittering CV, he also pocketed a handful of Border Sevens winners’ medals, including among others Gala, Hawick and Jedforest. A gifted all-round sportsman, he also found time to represent Gala at cricket, hockey, tennis, squash and golf.

Donald Scott, a fellow international who played for Langholm and Watsonians, said: “A first class gent, he was a tremendously good rugby player who should have had more caps. He was a player you always wanted in your team.”

At that time the Scottish selectors were notoriously inconsistent and as Dorward himself recalled in an interview in the mid 70’s: “The only response the selectors would make to a defeat then was to change the team, change for the sake of it. When I first captained Scotland in 1952 there were only three survivors from the previous team, Norman Davidson, Douglas Elliot and myself – that said it all.”

Apart from the vagaries of selection, injuries were also a factor in his not winning more caps.

He played against all the home nations and against France and also in the infamous 44-0 drubbing by the Springboks in 1952, from which he emerged free from blame. In the same interview he recalled: “The basic problem in that game was our lack of fitness and preparation. We had a run around on the Friday and that was it!”

A happier international memory was scoring a wonderful drop goal against Wales at Murrayfield in 1957, from just short of the halfway line and ten yards in from touch which clinched a narrow home victory. Gifted with blistering pace especially over the first 25 yards he had a devastating break, great ball playing ability and was a doughty competitor at the base of the scrum.

Born in Galashiels, he first attended St Mary’s Prep school in Melrose and then the prestigious Sedbergh School in Cumbria where he was head boy. At Cambridge University he graduated with a degree in French and German before returning to Galashiels where he joined the family textile and clothing business, Messrs J and JC Dorward, later becoming a director. In 1960 he married Christine McQueen, also from Galashiels, with whom he had two children.

She recalled: “He was a very modest and unassuming man who didn’t talk about himself or his sporting achievements. His enthusiasm for rugby, particularly Gala, lasted all his life and up till about a year ago we went regularly to games at Netherdale. I think he was glad to have played when he did, in the amateur era.

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“He was very friendly with a number of well-known players such as Tom Elliot, Cliff Morgan and Tony O’Reilly and I remember when we used to have great fun going to balls in the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh after internationals. Latterly he also enjoyed walking and always took a great interest in his family, especially his grandchildren whom he adored.”

Noted former Borders rugby player, Nat Carson, another Gala captain and South of Scotland stalwart, recalled Dorward very affectionately: “I first played for Gala as a 17-year-old in the mid 1950’s when Arthur was the captain of the team. He was a great captain, ahead of his time and good with all the players. Back then captains tended just to lead the team during games but he prepared us tactically ahead of games and analysed past performances. He used the ‘stick and carrot’ approach, not averse to pointing out your failings but also hugely encouraging. Very competitive on the field but very sociable and great fun off it.

“I remember on the morning of home matches he insisted the team met up to go for a walk round the town stopping to chat to people, then going into a café for coffee, all to underline to us the importance of representing Gala on the rugby field. A great guy.”

With his death one of the last links to a different rugby era has gone. Professionalism has diluted some of the values he held dear. Nowadays when international players appear to be only one size – extra large – his relatively slight stature, 5’ 6” and 11½ stones, might have militated against his appearing in the current international arena but the qualities he brought to that arena, outstanding ability, a big heart and a driving will to win remain very much in demand there.

He derived great enjoyment from the game and while he played to win he also highly appreciated and fostered the sense of community that then infused playing for Gala, with virtually all the players being local men. And when asked what one thing stood out in his 17 years playing for the club, he replied: “Friendships made and retained.”

He is survived by his wife Christine, daughter Lesley, son Campbell and six grandchildren.

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