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The History of Rugby - Part 4

As we have seen, the history of rugby is a complicated story steeped in traditions, some of which live on as annual games played in various parts of England . Internal conflicts between the members of the founding associations lead to rifts that continue to divide codes, clubs and supporters alike...

Despite the split between the various forms of football between 1860 and 1900, there are strong links between early rugby at an international level and another very English sport: cricket.

Indeed, the formation of Aussie Rules Football came about to give the Australian cricketers a winter sport to play.

The Lions

The first British rugby tour was arranged at the request of the touring English Cricket team on their return from Australia in 1877. Three team members, Shaw, Shrewsbury and Stoddard had such a good time while on tour that they thought that their fellow rugby players should also take the opportunity to travel.

They approached the RFU who allowed the tour to proceed provided that the all-important amateur status was maintained.

The first of these rugby tours began on 08 March 1888 when a party of mainly English players plus a few Scots and a lone Manxman set off for a nine month tour of Australia and New Zealand . Some 54 games were played, some under Aussie Rules and there were 2 losses, both at the hands of New Zealand .

It is generally accepted that the first team consisting of representatives from all of the home nations was the touring side of 1910 to South Africa . In that year, 3 games were played with the Springboks winning 2-1.

It was to take another 14 years before the representative team from Britain took on the identity of the Lions when, again on their tour of South Africa , the name was born from the logo worn on the team tie. Once more, South Africa claimed the series winning 3 out of 4 games, the remaining match ending in a tie.

Lions Tours are now a well established event in the rugby calendar, taking place every four years to South Africa , Australia and New Zealand .

The Calcutta Cup

It seems odd that not more people question why the oldest international fixture in the world, between England and Scotland , is linked to of all places, Calcutta .

The association goes back to the early years when Rugby Rules football was being spread throughout much of the world by travelling sportsmen, often cricketers, public school connections and the military.

The Calcutta Rugby Club was set up in 1872 but did not really gain a foothold; rugby is far too physical to play in the stifling heat of India and, besides, there was competition from other sport like polo and cricket; far more leisurely and civilised.

The members realised this and the Club was wound up after only five years, but on finalising the books, the coffers were found to be quite healthy; the Calcutta Rugby Club was sitting on the princely sum of around 60 - all in silver rupees!

The decision was made to have a trophy of some sort produced from these silver rupees and to offer the trophy to the RFU with the condition that it should be played for in a rugby match. The RFU agreed and the first Calcutta Cup match was played between England and Scotland in 1879; the game that year ended in a draw 1 goal to 1 drop goal - see the previous article on points scoring if this does not make any sense.

The first winner of the trophy was England the following year, 1880, which saw England triumph by 2 goals and 3 tries to 1 goal.



Ian Birks, 2005
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