HISTORY OF DUNS RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB
The Romans brought a game called harpastum to the Scottish Borders. Harpastum was an organised game, played within a rectangular area marked with a centre line, and involved two teams who tried to force a small hard ball over their opponents' end line. Running with the ball, passing or throwing the ball, and forms of tackling were all allowed.
This seems to have developed into the Scottish ba' game, which is still played annually in Duns, and also in Jedburgh, and has been played at Hawick, Hobkirk, Lilliesleaf, Denholm, Ancrum, Selkirk, Galashiels, St. Boswells, Melrose, Kelso, Yetholm and Morebattle. The game is played by the inhabitants, who divide into two teams and by throwing, carrying or kicking the ba', try to reach some target at the rear of their opponents' area.
At a time around 130 years ago, when Border rugby was being organised to join the Scottish Football Union, forerunner to the Scottish Rugby Union, there are various references to 'Dunse' in the records of several of the senior clubs. Kelso played Duns in their first season, 1876/77, as did Melrose in season 1877/78. There are results of matches from 1878 to 1886 against Kelso, Melrose and Hawick, with Duns beating Melrose at Melrose on 9th March 1878 by one goal to nil and drawing with Hawick at Hawick in season 1882/83, one goal each. Melrose, in their club history, state that the Border clubs in existence in 1879 were Hawick, Gala, Melrose, Earlston, Kelso and Duns.
For the next 40 years there are very fragmented references to rugby in Duns, and it would appear that the First World War from 1914 to 1918 put an end to rugby in the town.
The club's renaissance dates from 1959 when Archie McCulloch, physical education teacher at Berwickshire High School, assisted by David Mackenzie-Robertson and Ross Logan, re-formed the club. By 1963/64 Mackenzie-Robertson and Bill Simpson had become the driving forces behind the club, and its various fund-raising schemes, leading to the club acquiring its own clubrooms in 1972. Jim Small took over as club chairman from 1970-1974, and then as secretary from 1976-83, and was elected Honorary President in 1987.
The club played in the Border Junior League from 1961 to 1985, having their best season in 1973/74 when they finished as runners-up to Gala after a play-off. In season 1985/86 the club joined the Edinburgh District League, which was won at the first attempt, resulting in promotion to the National Leagues.
In 1985/86 the club took part in the Murrayfield Cup for the first time, beginning a period of unparallelled success in that competition. In eight seasons between 1985/86 and 1992/93 Duns reached the final of the Murrayfield Cup no fewer than seven times, winning the tournament on five occasions. In total, Duns played 32 Murrayfield Cup games, winning 29 and losing only 3.
Duns have enjoyed successes in the National Cup competitions over the years since they were set up by the SRU, winning the Bowl final against Garnock on the hallowed turf of Murrayfield in 1999, and narrowly losing the Plate final against Aberdeen University in 2009. And who could forget that memorable trip to Shetland in the first round of the Cup in season 2004/05
Duns spent six seasons in National League Division 7 from 1986/87 to 1991/92, when they won promotion as runners-up. This was the catalyst to a period of unprecedented success for the club, winning promotion in four consecutive seasons, and taking the Championships of Divisions 6, 5 and 4 along the way.In that period the club regularly turned out a First XV, Second XV, Third XV and Colts XV and there were regular matches ffor the Over 35's XV - there were many saturdays when 5 XV's turned out in Duns colours.
After re-organisation of the League structure by the SRU in 1995 the club stayed in National 1 from 1995/96 to 2005/06, apart from one season in National 2 where the Championship was won at the first attempt.
As playing numbers at the club dwindled, coupled with the formation of Eyemouth White Horses RFC, which deprived Duns of the services of around a dozen players at one fell swoop, so the club's playing fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. Relegation three seasons running has seen Duns drop from National 1 to East 1, but the current signs are very encouraging indeed. Numbers of senior players are greater than for some years, and the Colts side has been re-instated after an absence of five seasons. This offers great hope for the future, and wwith very strong set-ups at both midi and mini level there is every reason to be optimistic about the future for Duns Rugby Football Club.