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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 April 2007, 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK
Former Irish coach Davidson dies
By Jim Stokes

Ireland and Ulster coach Jimmy Davidson
Jimmy Davidson won six caps at flanker for Ireland in the Seventies
Former Ireland and Ulster coach Jimmy Davidson died peacefully on Saturday after a long illness. He was 64.

Davidson was said to be a coach well ahead of his time with many of his ideas now utilised in the modern game.

He took over an average Ulster squad back in 1983 and proceeded to guide them to three successive inter-provincial Grand Slam titles.

As a flanker he won six caps for Ireland and had a three-year spell as national coach from 1987 to 1990.

However, those were not particularly happy days for Davidson whose ideas for Irish rugby were not seriously taken on board by the IRFU, nor by some players.

It was as if he realised the way the game was going to evolve, as he recommended a regime of diet, weight training, conditioning and regular fitness testing of players.

He wanted to play a high-tempo game where endurance, power, pace, strength and flexibility would give a side the edge over the opposition.

In the main he achieved those goals turning the majority of the players at his disposal into genuine athletes.

Davidson was born in Armagh in October 1942 before moving to the West Country as a toddler.

Although living in Western-super-Mare, he was schooled in Bristol where he came under the influence of Welshman Alwyn Price at St Brendan's College, a rugby institution of some note.

I might not be much of a player, but boy I played and coached some crackers

Jimmy Davidson

Davidson was soon to catch the eye, and played for the England Schools' squad at various age-groups and turned out for the senior Bristol side as a 17-year-old flanker.

Because of his Irish roots, his grandfather was a Dungannon stalwart, Davidson was to return to Northern Ireland for an Ulster trial at Cherryvale in the early Sixties, and that was following a 20-hour journey from Somerset.

It obviously paid off when he made his provincial debut in the mid-Sixties. He was also a member of the Combined Universities side that defeated the powerful touring Springbok side 12-10 at Thomond Park in 1965.

Davidson studied Geography at Queen's University where he represented the senior team as a fresher. He later undertook a post graduate course in physical education at Loughborough College.

He originally taught at Royal School Dungannon before moving on to Stranmillis College in Belfast where he lectured in physical education and sports psychology.

He said that he saw coaching as an extension of his day job.

Davidson made his Ireland debut in the defeat by France in 1969 when he played in the back-row alongside Noel Murphy and Ken Goodall.

The last of his six caps was during the tour to New Zealand in the summer of 1976 when he was called up for the injured Seamus Deering.

Loved coaching

Davidson was playing club rugby for Dungannon at the time and was known as a real groundhog with a dictat that if his side did not get the ball from the breakdown, neither would the opposition.

I can vouch that he was very frustrating to play against. Everywhere the ball was, so was Jimmy.

Many tried, without success, to stop him talking and encouraging his team on the field. Off the field you could listen the scope of his knowledge about the game.

But he would always talk himself down saying that he was a good club player and no more. He once said: "I might not have been much of a player, but boy I played with and coached some crackers."

By the late Seventies he had moved into coaching, although while studying for a Masters at Queen's University he again donned the playing gear for the students at the age of 38.

But he loved coaching. A deep thinker of the game, he soon wracked up success in guiding a star-studded Queen's side to league and cup successes.

Although he might not have been fully appreciated, Irish rugby and beyond will be immeasurably poorer with his passing

He had a raft of intellectually-gifted rugby players at his disposal such like Phil Matthews, Nigel Carr, the Irwin and Moles brothers, Rab Brady, Philip Rainey. Kenny Hooks and Trevor Ringland.

His next step was the obvious one when his province came calling. Ulster were paddling along without too much success at the time.

The inter-provincial championship was the big thing in Irish rugby at the time, but after a good start, his job was on the line when Ulster lost for the first time in two decades against Connacht, then were defeated by Leinster.

But in the final game of 1983, a Keith Crossan injury-time try gave Ulster a 13-12 victory over Munster which not only saved Davidson's job, but signalled the start of Ulster's most successful period in their history.

A winning 15-match streak was only halted by Roger Gould's touring Queensland side who with 15 Australian internationals on board, won 6-4 in hurricane-like conditions at Ravenhill.

Nonetheless under Davidson, Ulster continued to maintain their unbeaten run in the inter-provincials and carved out a little bit of history when a late Philip Rainey penalty gave them a remarkable 15-13 victory over the 1984 Grand Slam Wallabies.

With the David Irwin/Willie Anderson axis controlling things on the field, Davidson boasted that Ulster were the third best club team in the world behind Auckland and Queensland ... and he was right.

After coaching, Davidson turned to the media as an outlet for his forward thinking and acerbic thoughts. Even in that environment he came over as a genuinely nice guy.

A devloted family man, Davidson was a gentleman to deal with even in the days when he was under pressure.

Although he might not have been fully appreciated at the time as national coach, Irish rugby and beyond will be immeasurably poorer with his passing.

Our thoughts are with his wife Norma, daughters Kelly and Christy and family circle.


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