Ronald Alexander Jarden was born in Lower Hutt on 14 December 1929. He was the son of a Christchurch horse trainer, Benjamin Alexander Jarden, and Jean Johnston, who was later to be one of the world’s leading croquet players. Ron Jarden’s sporting abilities were evident when he attended Hutt Valley High School, though it was as a track and field athlete rather than as a rugby player that he first made his mark. He set a school record for 880 yards of 2 minutes 5.8 seconds that was to last for nearly 20 years, and his 1947 record of 52.3 seconds for the 440 yards was unbeaten for 50 years. He was chosen for the school’s rugby First XV in his fourth year, teaming up in the three-quarters with two other speedsters: Don Jowett, a British Empire Games gold medallist in 1954, and Lionel Smith, who was to run sixth in the 120 yards hurdles at the Empire Games in Auckland in 1950. ‘My only quality was speed and I soon discovered the safest place on the football field was over the goalline’, Jarden said.
In his first year out of school Jarden attended Victoria University College part time and worked in a timber yard to help pay his way. He graduated BA in 1953 and taught for a short time. A by-product of the timber yard work was that his rather slight frame developed physically into one more suited to rugby, and in 1949, when 19, he was chosen to play on the wing for Wellington. With characteristic determination, Jarden practised goal-kicking and other rugby skills assiduously; he was frequently a lone figure in descending dusk on the playing fields at St Bernard’s school near his home. In 1950 he won selection for the North Island in the annual inter-island match, but the match that marked him down for future national honours was that played for the Barbarians against Auckland at Eden Park in October 1950. Surrounded by established All Blacks, Jarden scored three tries.
By the following season Jarden was being described as a ‘genius’ and a ‘freak’. He toured Australia with the New Zealand Universities team, which won all its seven matches, including two against Australian Universities, then stayed in Australia to join the national team on tour. He made an astonishing impact, scoring 88 points in 6 matches, including 38 points (6 tries and 10 conversions) against Central West, New South Wales, a world record that lasted until 1974. He played in both tests when Australia toured New Zealand in 1952, and in 1953 he scored 113 points in first-class games, including all the points (a try and two penalty goals) when Wellington beat Waikato for the Ranfurly Shield.
Jarden played in all five tests on the All Blacks’ 1953–54 tour of Britain, Ireland and France, but with less conspicuous success than previously. He had married Joan Ella Morton at Wellington on 4 April 1953, and his inconsistent form may have been the result of homesickness. He played three home tests against Australia in 1955, and after the tumultuous series against South Africa in 1956, during which he scored a crucial try in the first test in Dunedin, he announced his surprise retirement at the age of 26.
In a relatively brief career Jarden became one of New Zealand’s greatest wing three-quarters, making use of his great pace and acceleration and showing exceptional anticipation, born of intelligence and the ability to ‘read’ a game. A Jarden trademark was a run down the left wing and a pinpoint centring-kick to his loose forwards following up.
Jarden left rugby to devote his energies to business, saying that his employer, the Shell Company of New Zealand, had allowed him time off to play rugby and it was time for him to repay the debt. He rose rapidly in the corporate world and formed his own stockbroking firm, R. A. Jarden and Company. He became a director of several companies as well as taking an active interest in the Music Federation of New Zealand, and he was a trustee of the National Art Gallery and National Museum.
Although he had never been politically active, in 1975 Jarden became a member of a loosely knit group called Sportsmen for Muldoon, which supported the New Zealand National Party led by Robert Muldoon in the general election of that year. After National became the government, Jarden was appointed chairman of the Broadcasting Council (later the Broadcasting Corporation) of New Zealand at a time of the restructuring of the state broadcasting system into three separate entities: two television channels and a radio organisation. He was criticised as a government ‘stooge’ but belied that with public criticism of the financial base on which the restructuring was founded and by praising the previous government’s minister of broadcasting, Roger Douglas, for his foresight in initiating the first phase of the broadcasting changes. His independence was later praised by the leader of the opposition, Bill Rowling.
Jarden had not given up sport. A friend took him gliding in 1974, and he so liked the effect of wind on craft that he asked to be taken sailing. He bought a yacht, Barnacle Bill , and by the following year had mastered sailing it to such an extent that he won the right to represent New Zealand in the Admiral’s Cup international series in Britain.
Jarden died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Lower Hutt on 18 February 1977. He was survived by his wife and their two daughters. Like many rugby players who achieved success in other areas, he remained best known as a great All Black.