Just over a year after the death of former Scottish international lock Doddie Weir, Te Awamutu’s David Fox spent a weekend catching up with old friends at the Melrose Rugby Football Club in Scotland, the club Weir had a long-time association with.
Te Awamutu Sports Rugby Club has more than 33 years of history with Melrose.
Upon Sports’ 1990 inception, they formed a sister club relationship with Melrose.
Matthew Seavill and Glen Rawson were the first players to benefit from this relationship, travelling to play for the Scotland-based club.
This was then reciprocated by Bryan Redpath and Dereck “Dell” Bain coming out to play for Te Awamutu Sports in 1991.
Redpath went on to captain Scotland, playing 60 times for his country, while his son Cameron has also represented the side.
Bain could play anywhere from 10 to centre but couldn’t break into the Te Awamutu Sports premier side, only playing for the Under 21 team.
It was quite ironic, after Bain and Redpath returned home, Bain was the first to represent Scotland after being included in the 1992 Scotland touring party to Australia along with fellow Melrose players, Weir, Craig Chalmers, Graham Shiel and Carl Hogg.
An aerial photo of the 2011 Melrose Sevens tournament.
In 1992, Te Awamutu Sports players Fox, Robin Perrett and Glenn Rawson made their way from Te Awamutu to Melrose in 1992, swapping places with Dave Leighton who had formed a friendship with Rawson during his time across wearing the famous yellow and black Melrose jersey. Leighton played for Te Awamutu Sports in the 1992 Waikato club season.
Since then, the connections between the clubs have stayed strong.
In 1994, Tubby Craig came out and then was followed by Millan Browne in 1997. Both players were props.
Craig has since died, after a long illness, but one of his daughters has since visited Te Awamutu Sports to see where her Dad played all those years ago.
In 1996, Doddie Weir and the Scotland squad toured New Zealand. Fox was managing the Te Awamutu Sports club at the time.
“I got hold of the Scottish coach Jim Telfer, who was the Melrose coach while I was in the UK, and he brought Scotland out to Te Awamutu to train before the match against Waikato.”
In 2010, following the Waikato Sevens team’s success at the National Sevens in Queenstown, through Fox’s connections, Waikato were invited to attend the oldest Sevens tournament in the world - the Melrose Sevens.
Te Awamutu was represented by Fox (coach), Ryan Meacheam, Mark Murray, Jono Armstrong and Cohen Masson.
Even though Fox had always kept in touch, this tour somewhat rekindled those relationships.
This was followed by Melrose prop Chris Keen representing Te Awamutu Sports in 2012 and 2013.
Scottish lock Doddie Weir watches as Scottish and former British & Irish Lions halfback Andy Nicol delivers the ball to his backs at Te Awamutu in 1996.
Following a family holiday back to Melrose in 2017, Fox connected with a young Thomas Brown who made the trip down under in 2018. This saw Brown selected for the Waikato Under-19 training squad.
Brown’s dad Robbie Brown was a Melrose captain who has played more games for Melrose than anyone else – 348.
Fox, along with the other two Te Awamutu lads 25 years earlier, had stayed with Brown’s grandparents upon arrival in the United Kingdom.
“It was great to have Thomas out here in Te Awamutu, it allowed us to repay that hospitality which was paid to us all those years ago in Melrose,” Fox said.
Fox is still motivated to keep the link between Te Awamutu and Melrose.
His former Melrose teammate Gary Flannigan’s son Matthew also played for the Te Awamutu Sports Under-21 and premier development teams this season, an experience he said he’d never forget.
Matthew Flannigan in action for Te Awamutu Sports Development against Morrinsville B during 2023. Photo / Justin Miezenbeek
The midfielder travelled to New Zealand as part of a gap year after finishing school, wanting to develop his game.
“I really enjoyed playing a different style of rugby to back home, as the way in which Scottish teams and New Zealand teams play is very different,” Matthew said.
“I met some amazing people who I will keep in touch with and hopefully see again someday when I return to New Zealand, or they make the journey across to Scotland.”
The connection isn’t official any more, but it’s certainly there. It started officially and has since continued through contacts.
“That’s what rugby is all about, through the great game we all love, you make friendships and memories that last a lifetime,” Fox stated.
The special ties, bonds and friendships with Melrose have continued.
Fox recalls crossing paths with Weir at Melrose. Weir died in November 2022 from motor neuron disease (MND) at the age of 52 but is remembered by all as a great man who never gave up his fight.
He set up the “My Name’5 Doddie” foundation which had raised £8 million ($16m) for MND research by the time he died.
The Doddie Weir Cup, which is contested between Scotland and Wales, was created to raise awareness of MND.
After Doddie’s diagnosis at the end of 2016, the Weir wider family travelled to New Zealand. Fox and his wife Elaine caught up with Weir’s younger brother Thomas, his wife Annie, and their young family.
David Fox with former Melrose and Scotland rep Graham Shiel in Melrose, Scotland.
There’s a long-lasting tie there, Fox said.
“It was very sad with Doddie’s passing, but he was a force of nature and left an impression.
“The reality is that all Doddie and Cath’s boys are playing at Melrose and the current players recognise the impact on the boys too. Melrose is a family and the impact really does extend to concern for them all.”
Many of Weir’s teammates back up those sentiments with former Melrose and Scotland rep Shiel saying that Weir “achieved a huge amount in his life”.
“He was a larger-than-life personality who represented his country and the community of rugby with distinction. After his diagnosis with MND, his character was never more evident nor the drive that he showed in raising awareness and fundraising to support finding a cure to this terrible disease,” Shiel said.
“He was certainly a character and fun to be around and those who were fortunate to have encountered Doddie will never forget him.”
Gary Flannigan remembers Weir in all facets of life at his home club.
“Whilst the wider world rightly recognises Doddie for his extraordinary contribution to raising the profile of the blight of MND and the personal bravery and his determination to represent those without a voice, at Melrose we’ll remember him for his sheer sense of fun.”
Former Scotland captain Rob Wainwright has also founded Doddie Aid, a virtual mass-participation exercise event.
Doddie Weir, David Fox and other Melrose vets players are clapped off the field by their opposition during the 2011 Melrose Vets 10s tournament.
Participants sign up using the Doddie Aid app, choose a district to represent, and log all their exercise miles on the app.
Any exercise counts, with the winning district being the one with the most miles at the end of the event.
The past three years have been incredible, almost 80,000 participants have covered more than 8 million miles and raised more than £4 million ($8m) for MND research in the process.
In 2024, the campaign will run for five weeks from January 1.
Fox said in 2028, there are talks of coordinating a Doddie Aid length of New Zealand walk, marking 40 years since the Scottish Under-18 tour of New Zealand which Weir, Shiel and several other Melrose players were part of.
Over a year on from Doddie’s death, the desire to reach his goal of a world free of MND is stronger than ever.
Jesse Wood is a multimedia journalist based in Te Awamutu. He joined the Te Awamutu Courier and NZME in 2020.
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you