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Leonard Haigh

Leonard Haigh was born in Prestwich, Manchester , on October 19th 1880. Educated at Sandringham House School , Southport , he played association football and cricket for his school, but was unusual in as much that he did not take up rugby until later in his life. A good all round sportsman and always physically active he also became an adept fisherman and shot as well as a good golfer.

Having joined Manchester Rugby Club he soon began to adapt to his new sport, playing in the forwards. He progressed through the usual route of the time, advancing to county standard for Lancashire for whom he eventually gained eighteen caps. From here he moved to the England selection matches of North v South, the Rest v England and England v South before being picked for his debut cap against Wales in 1910. A late starter in the game, this international call up also came unusually late in life for Haigh, who was nearly thirty at the time of the match.

The game against Wales , played on January 15th 1910, was not only Haighs debut cap but also the first international match played at England ís new home in Twickenham. The English team had a reputation for taking their time to settle into a game, but this time took to the pitch ready to play. With very little to choose between the two sides the English pack did well in loose play, although the Welsh gained ascendancy in the scrum during the second half leaving the English  on the defensive as they edged to an eleven points to six victory.

On the back of this success Haigh kept his place for England ís next match against Ireland on February 12th. Also played at Twickenham it resulted in a scoreless draw, although England were fortunate to avoid defeat as the Irish had the better of the play and were unlucky not to score. The Irish pack played particularly well, being both fast and strong whilst an out of sorts England never looked threatening in attack.

Despite missing the next game against France Haigh returned to the colors of England for the final game of the season against Scotland at Inverleith on March 19th. Prior to kick off the strong Scotland side was expected to prevail with the benefit of home advantage. Their skillful pack played with flair, overshadowing their English counterparts in the first half. This was tempered by a below par showing by their back line who proved weak in attack. Changing ends at one goal each England gradually drew away to a fourteen points to five victory, although this final score line flattered in what had been a closely fought match. This said it was generally accepted that the English were overall the better fifteen on the day and to the victors went the spoils. As well as the Calcutta Cup England also claimed their first championship since 1892, the draw with Ireland costing them a first ever grand slam.

With the dawn of 1911 Haigh again found favor with the England selectors, playing throughout the season. This opened with England travelling to Swansea to take on Wales on January 21st. After the spectacle the England team were regarded as the best to have visited the principality in years. The pack particularly fired on all cylinders as England attacked more often than the equally on form home side. The Welsh team, who would go on to win the grand slam that season, were in the final analysis more clinical in their finishing, and this was the deciding factor in their fifteen points to eleven victory.

Although defeated in Swansea the English team were far from disgraced, and returned home to face France at Twickenham the following week on January 28th. The French, still relatively new to international rugby and hardly the world power that they are today, started well with England again starting the match slowly. The half time score was eight points to nil in favor of the stuttering England . The second half saw the England pack find their feet and up their game, overwhelming their visitors in an exhibition of strong forward play that directly led to the thirty seven points to nil final score, a record against France at the time.

England and Haigh next travelled to Dublin to meet the Irish at Lansdown Road on February 11th. The Irish started the match with characteristic passion playing well throughout and defending strongly. Such was the pace and commitment of the Irish pack thy may well have exhausted themselves but for a masterful tactical kicking game by the Irish backs that allowed a respite to their frenetic forwards. Their eventual three points to nil victory was considered fair, if not exactly expected, against a strong English fifteen.

England ís final match of the season saw them again at Twickenham to take on the visiting Scottish on March 18th. This was a very different Scottish fifteen to that which England had beaten at Inverleith the year before, being largely a young experimental side. From the off the English pack had the advantage in weight and power, but lost out in pace to their more fleet of foot opponents. In a fast and free game the Scottish backs lacked imagination and England proved too strong for them as they battled to a thirteen points to eight victory, retaining the Calcutta Cup as well as consigning Scotland to the ignominy of a whitewashed season as they lost all four of their games.

The Scotland match in 1911 was to be Haighís last in the white shirt of England , bringing his final tally to seven caps for his country. Just a month after the close of the international season further recognition was to follow as Haigh was invited to join the Barbarianís on their Easter tour to Wales . Pulling on the famous black and white hoops twice during the tour Haigh played in the thirteen points to six victory over Penarth on April 14th and again the following day in the fifteen points to eight defeat by Cardiff before returning home to Manchester .

With the Great War raging in Europe along with thousands of others Haigh enlisted to do his bit. A keen motorist with a particular interest in the inner workings of the motor vehicle, Haigh found himself an Officer Cadet in the Army Service Corps. The task of keeping a force as large as that the British were building in France supplied was a mammoth one. The Army Service Corps remit ran to provising it with all of its consumable needs such as food and uniform, although not ammunition which fell under the Army Ordnance Corps. At its height the Army service Corps numbered over ten thousand officers and three hundred thousand men. The nature of the trench warfare that had become a stalemate between the opposing forces allowed huge, yet efficient supply lines to be established that were vital to the military undertaking. The Army Service Corps itself was organized into companies that tended to specialize in either horse or motor transport. Although the day of the massed cavalry charge was largely over, horses still provided the backbone of the supply chain. The motorized transport of supplies was growing exponentially, but was a new and largely untried art and men such as Haigh with prior civilian knowledge were too valuable to consign to an infantry battalion. In a tragic turn of events the always fit and healthy Haigh was never to be commissioned and turn this knowledge to the benefit of his country. Whilst still in officer training at Woolwich he developed double pneumonia during a training exercise, succumbing to the illness on August 6th 1916.


"The Complete Who's Who of England Rugby Union Internationals", R Maule,  Breedon 1992

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© D A Hunter, 2008
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