Club Profile: Eastbourne Rugby Football Club

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In addition to the 14 Wellington clubs each fielding Premier teams, there are currently three clubs in Wellington Senior ranks whose top teams participate in lower grades - Stokes Valley, the Wests Roosters and Eastbourne.

This Saturday Eastbourne are holding their Old Timers' Day, with all seven of their junior teams, their one thriving Senior side that is playing in the U85kg division 1 competition and a traditional in-club match between local 'Bay' and 'Village' teams all in scheduled games on H.W. Shortt Park.

Eastbourne club Chairman Dean Goble explained that the smallest club in Wellington is going strong.

"We've just got the one U85kg team - but they're our seniors, so if you come to Eastbourne and play rugby for our club you get treated like Premier players do at other clubs," said Goble.

"It's a really community focus - everyone in the club sees the players as representing Eastbourne as a whole. In turn, we treat the opposition when they're here as if they are the number one team in their club and that's a really good thing for the grade.

"So when the OBU Bunnies, who are going to be playing us on Saturday, come out here and play us they love it because we welcome them and entertain them afterwards in our clubrooms.

"Part of what we try to do is make Eastbourne the best little club in the world."

The squad is up to 27 players this year, comprising a mix of locals, former locals now living around the region and a couple of international players living and working in the area, amongst others.

"The juniors are also a big part of the club, we have got about 90 juniors, but because we are out of the edge a bit geographically it's a real tight-knit community anyway. So keeping the community atmosphere and the character going is really important to us."

One example of that is that on every Old Timers' Day an in-house match between two teams called the Bay (players representing the bays north of Eastbourne itself) and the Village (players representing Eastbourne township itself) is scheduled. The game is played as a golden oldies one and it's a chance for former players to come together again and also for children to watch their father's play.

Hosting the OBU Bunnies (formerly the OBU Onslow Bunnies) on Old Timers' Day has also become a tradition. For several years from the late 1990s a couple of teams played in the lower grades under the former Onslow club banner but affiliated to Eastbourne.

Eastbourne's rugby club is one of the parties to the Eastbourne Sports and Services Club, and thus forms a strong part of the local community that way as well. "That's a really good model for us," said Dean. "We've got the football club involved in the clubrooms now too."

The Eastbourne club has a rich history. It was founded in 1921 in part by the All Black halfback and captain for two tests that year against South Africa, Teddy Roberts, who was living in Eastbourne at that time. Roberts brought the All Blacks there for a visit in September that year ahead of their second test with the Springboks at Athletic Park (which was drawn 0-0). Another early highlight for the club and the community was the 1924 All Blacks training and using the facilities before they departed for Britain and France in what became the 'Invincibles' tour.

Over the years the club continuously fielded teams in the various WRFU competitions, enjoying a strong identity and success in various senior grades.

Another feature is the long list of local residents of note who have been in involved with the club, such as former Wellington Rugby Football boss and representative coach Clarrie Gibbons joining in 1928, while more recently, former NZRU President David Rutherford has served as Chairman.