The Return of the Springbok Girl

One of the World Rugby Museum’s most beloved paintings has returned home after a long term loan period in South Africa and to celebrate we thought that we would share her tale with you.

Springbok Girl

The Springbok Girl before going on display

The story begins not with an artist but with a rugby team on their first ever international tour. In 1906 South Africa hoped to replicate the success of New Zealand’s tour the previous year and embarked on a voyage to visit England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France. After learning how New Zealand had been christened the All Blacks during their tour they did not wish to leave their nickname to chance (or the British press!) and so began referring to themselves as De Springbokken.  The Daily Mail misquoted this as the ‘Springboks’ and the name stuck.

The 3 and a half month tour saw the Springboks play rugby against some of the best teams that the 5 nations had. Not only did they play matches against the 5 national sides, they also played against many of the clubs from each of the countries – spreading the word of the Springbok prowess on the field. They won 26 out of the 29 matches that they played, losing only two and drawing one and with this the legend of the Springboks was born.

Now this is where our painting enters the story. Continue reading

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England v Ireland 1911, as told by Robert Collis

In the early days of Five Nations rugby it was common for international matches to feature ornately embroidered touch-flags such as this one that was used at Landsdowne Road in 1911. This particular match was much celebrated in Dublin as Ireland recorded a first win over England since 1907.

2001-56 6x4

The match was a close affair. England were reigning champions and wing Danny Lambert had scored no fewer than 22 points against France two weeks earlier. He was ably assisted by John Birkett at centre and the Stoop brothers (Adrian and Tim). Aware of the threat posed by the English backs, the Irish half-back pairing of Dickie Lloyd and Harry Read chose to pin the visitors in their own half with accurate place kicking. Continue reading

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England v Ireland 1988: The Nigel Melville Story

The Five Nations match between England and Ireland in March 1988 was a historic occasion for two reasons. First, it was the 100th encounter between the two countries. Second, after being 3-0 down at half time, England came out in the second half almost a changed side and won the game 35-3 thanks to a hat-trick of tries by Chris Oti (England’s first hat-trick at Twickenham for 64 years).

Chris Oti England 1988

Stunned by the turnaround from a team who hadn’t scored a single try in four consecutive test-matches, the watching faithful broke into song. It was the first recorded occasion that England fans sang the now familiar “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.

But what caused the sudden change in play? And what happened to captain Nigel Melville? Continue reading

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Rugby, Resistance and the RAF

After more than four years of Nazi occupation Paris was finally liberated on the 25th August 1944. Central to the French struggle had been their underground resistance movement and the air campaign of the Royal Air Force. In the aftermath representatives of both met at Parc du Princes for a unique game of rugby.

The following account was written and recorded in the minutes of the RAF Rugby Union. It is printed here in full:

Royal Air Force Rugby Union Minutes Book


Played in Paris on November 11th, 1944 at the Parc du Princes

The R.A.F. committee and team left by air on Friday morning, November 10th, arriving at La Bourget aerodrome about noon.  Very little damage to French towns and villages could be observed, but in the places where V1 sites were situated the sites and their immediate vicinity were plastered with bomb craters. Continue reading

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Historic Rugby Internationals: New Zealand v France, 1961

The second test in the 3-match series between New Zealand and France played in a gale at Athletic Park, Wellington on August 5th 1961 ranks as one of the most remarkable test matches ever played.

The French team was on an historic first tour of New Zealand and Australia during which they were to play thirteen matches including three tests in New Zealand and two matches including one test at the end of the tour in Australia.

France took the field for the 1st test match at Eden Park, Auckland on July 22nd having played four matches against provincial opposition.  Although they had won their first two games against Nelson/Marlborough and Taranaki, they had then suffered a heavy defeat against Waikato and a narrow defeat against North Auckland so they were not fancied to win the opening test of the series.


Players from the 3rd test match of the tour on 19th August 1961 in Wellington

Continue reading

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Who was Lewis Cobden Thomas?

Lewis Cobden Thomas was born on 6 August 1865 in Merthyr Tydfil, the fourth son and fifth of eleven children of Thomas Thomas, an ironmonger, and his wife Gwladys, nee Jones.  He was given the name of the radical liberal MP, Richard Cobden, who had fiercely opposed the Corn Laws, campaigned for their abolition and for an improved system of education.

Thomas, Lewis Cobden (small)

He was educated at Merthyr College, Queen’s College Taunton, University College Aberystwyth and University College Cardiff where he obtained a 1st Division Certificate London Matriculation.

A natural sportsman, he played rugby as a forward for Cardiff in 12 matches and scored 7 tries in the 1883-84 and 1884-85 seasons.  Continue reading

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Hartlepool’s Rugby History

Hartlepool Rovers, 1911/12

Hartlepool Rovers, 1911/12

By Chris McLoughlin. All images below are copyright Hartlepool Borough Council, and reproduced with permission.

Since RWC 2015 and as part of the “Impact Beyond 2015” initiative, the Hartlepool & District RFU has been engaged with the Hartlepool Museums and Library Services in cataloguing a large collection of Rugby ephemera dating between the 1870s and 1924. This collection is part of an even larger hoard of documents discovered in a Printers cellar in the early 1960s and rescued by a local Historian, Robert Wood, and now safely held in an archive by Hartlepool’s Museum Service. They cover many aspects of the standard work of a busy Printer in the boom times of the busy shipbuilding and coal exporting North East port. Every aspect of life is covered, whether business, religion, theatres, entertainments, flower shows, political meetings, sporting events, and even early cinema.

The Hartlepool area has long been a strong supporter of rugby, with many clubs operating over the years and the rugby ephemera reflects this. Continue reading

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