RFU150 – World Rugby

As the Rugby Football Union celebrates its 150th year, we examine six influential governing bodies and their roles in the history and development of Rugby Union since 1871.

Part 3 – World Rugby

DUBLIN, IRELAND – MAY 11: The World Rugby logo is pictured during a media conference to introduce the new World Rugby Chairman and Vice-Chairman on May 11, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The establishment of an International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) was agreed on in 1886 by representatives of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The catalyst for the development had been an on-field dispute between England and Scotland.

In 1884, a late try by Richard Kindersley had allowed England to take the lead in a match that would deliver them the Calcutta Cup, Triple Crown and Championship. The Scottish players, however, believed that a knock-on by their own player in the move that lead to the try meant that it should not stand.

After the match, Scotland appealed to the RFU, who backed the decision of Irish referee George Scriven. Unsatisfied with this, Scotland refused to play England the following season and appealed to both Ireland and Wales to inaugurate on independent body to settle such matters. The IRFB was the result.

The RFU initially refused to recognise the rival body and England subsequently found herself without Home Nation fixtures for the 1888 and 1889 seasons. The situation was eventually resolved in 1890, when the RFU accepted the primacy of the board in exchange for 6 seats on its 12-man executive body.

Disputed try aside, the board’s existence derived from a lack of early clarity over the purpose of the RFU after 1871. If the RFU was truly a global body, then it follows that and English Rugby Football Union ought to be subsidiary to it alongside the SRU. That such a body never came into being highlights a conflict of purpose for an organisation that had, from the very beginning, taken responsibility for the English national team.

The IRFB was later expanded with the addition of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia in 1948 and France in 1978. Renamed World Rugby in 2014, it now represents 102 member unions.

Ostensibly a law-making body, the organisation derived new purpose in 1987 with the launch of Rugby Union’s first Rugby World Cup. In the professional age, the tournament has grown into the third largest sporting event in the world. The return from this has allowed World Rugby to invest in the development of rugby in multiple settings all over the world.

See also:

Part 1- The Rugby Football Union

Part 2- The Scottish Rugby Union

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The Formation of Sunderland FC

Keith Gregson examines links between the founding of the Rugby Football Union in 1871 and the establishment of Sunderland Football Club in 1873.

Between Christmas and New Year 1873 a group of young men assembled on the ground of Sunderland Cricket Club at Holmeside near the town centre in order to play a game of football under the rugby rules. This was reported in the local press as the first game for the recently formed Sunderland Club. A ‘large number of spectators’ was present and the two sides were described as ‘pick-up’. The local paper named the two captains as well as the scorer of the only try. There is also a photograph in the club archive of some of the players early in 1874 when the club had started to play regular games against other sides. The players involved in Sunderland’s first match and first season were all from well-heeled families involved in shipbuilding and allied trades, shipping and the professions. Some were teenagers and two, at least, were still away at school and thus recorded as ‘absent’ when the photograph was taken.

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RFU150 – The Scottish Rugby Union

As the Rugby Football Union celebrates its 150th year, we examine six influential governing bodies and their roles in the history and development of Rugby Union since 1871.

Part 2- The Scottish Rugby Union

JW Arthur’s 1871 Scotland Cap

It was the captains of five Scottish sides who, in 1870, issued the challenge that led to the world’s first recognised international football contest. Scotland hosted and won the match at Raeburn Place in 1871, demonstrating how firmly established the Rugby School code was north of the border.

Initially called the Scottish Football Union, the organisation was established in 1873 as a national governing body, subsidiary to the Rugby Football Union which, at the time, was understood to be a multi-national affair. One of the SFU’s first orders of business was to register as a member of the RFU.

A decade later, however, it was the SFU that opposed the RFU most vociferously after a disputed try in the 1884 meeting between England and Scotland. The failure to resolve the issue cast England into international exile and eventually led to the formation of the International Board, now World Rugby, who would replace the RFU as the prime legislator for the sport.

In the aftermath of the 1895 split, the SFU were one of the staunchest defenders of amateurism. The 1908 Anglo-Welsh side, now counted amongst the prototype British & Irish Lions, were only known thus because the SFU and IRFU objected to the payment of expenses and banned their players from participation.

The SFU became he Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) in 1924 and opened Murrayfield Stadium in 1925. In the stadium’s first international match, Scotland defeated England and later went on to claim a Grand Slam of victories for the first time.

When the SRU celebrated its Centenary in 1973 it hosted an International Seven-a-side tournament. Rugby Sevens originated in the Scottish Border town of Melrose in 1883.

See also Part 1- The Rugby Football Union

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RFU150 – The Rugby Football Union

As the Rugby Football Union celebrates its 150th year, we examine six influential governing bodies and their roles in the history and development of Rugby Union since 1871.

Part 1- The Rugby Football Union

Arthur Guillemard’s 1871 England Cap

It is not known which telegram or conversation among gentlemen led to the birth of international rugby in 1871, but it is clear that polite society was abuzz.  On the 4th December 1870, a letter was printed in the Times newspaper inviting representatives of football clubs to meet and form a code of practice for the handling code. Four days later another letter was printed in a different newspaper, the Scotsman, openly challenging the footballers of England to a contest in Glasgow or Edinburgh to be played in accordance with the rules of Rugby School.

The result of all this was a meeting, held at the Pall Mall restaurant on 26th January 1871. There representatives of 21 London based clubs established the Rugby Football Union (RFU). On March 21st 1871, a team selected by the RFU contested the world’s first international football contest. It was the start of an annual fixture that grew into the Home Nations Championship and continues to this day as the Six Nations Championship.

Since 1871, the RFU has been front and centre of almost every major development in the history of Rugby Union. It was the RFU that reduced international rugby from 20-a-side to 15-a-side in 1877. A disputed try against Scotland in 1884, however, led to the establishment of the International Rugby Football Board in 1887, which the RFU finally joined in 1890.

It was the RFU’s unbending commitment to the principles of amateurism that did most to fracture the sport into two distinct codes in 1895. Weakened for a generation, the RFU eventually rebuilt English rugby by constructing a stadium at Twickenham that remains one of the world’s most iconic.

The amateur status of its clubs and players allowed the RFU to call an immediate halt to all fixtures in the summer of 1914. The following year, the War Office produced a recruitment poster encouraging other sports to follow rugby’s ‘glorious example’.

In 1971, when the RFU celebrated its centenary it did so in magnificent style. 3000 guests from around the world attended a congress at Cambridge University, before a reception at the Westminster Banqueting Hall with the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister in attendance.

The RFU opposed the repeal of amateur regulations in 1995 but nonetheless adapted to the demands of professionalism by developing Twickenham Stadium as the commercial engine for investment in the sport in England. 150 years after its foundation, the RFU remains a central component of rugby’s identity.

Part 2- The Scottish Rugby Union

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SPECIAL EXHIBITION- The Rugby Football Union at 150

On 26th January 1871 the representatives of twenty-one football clubs met at the Pall Mall restaurant in central London to form the Rugby Football Union. 150 years later this special exhibition will chronicle the colourful history of one of the world’s oldest sporting institutions.

The exhibition will describe how a small group of men created the union and helped arrange the world’s first international football contest. It will describe how Twickenham Stadium saved English Rugby and the Red Roses blazed a trail for the women’s game. Finally, it will describe how the RFU adapted to the professional age and Twickenham Stadium became a 24hour 24/7 destination.

Star items include a 1:1000th scale model of Twickenham Stadium, a Letter from the King and articles from the very first 1871 meeting.

Says Museum Curator Phil McGowan “this exhibition describes how the Rugby Football Union has steered a course through War, class-conflict, commercial pressure and the new challenges of the professional age and how, for a century and a half, it has responded and evolved through all of these challenges and more.”

The official launch in 2021 will be precisely 150 years to the day since the RFU’s foundation date, 26th January 1871. A social media campaign presented by England Rugby will share content digitally until the museum is able to reopen to the public.

Tickets are included in the standard price for Museum Entry or can be combined with a joint ticket for Twickenham Stadium Tours. 

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Even Honours- Scotland v New Zealand 1964 and 1983

To defeat the New Zealand All Blacks in an international match has always been a major goal for the four home union countries.  While the English have a comparatively strong record with eight victories in 42 matches, Ireland have won only twice in 32 matches with their first victory coming after more than 110 years so memorably in Chicago in November 2016.  Wales had a distinguished record against the All Blacks up until December 1953 with three victories in four historic encounters, but it has been famine since then with 31 straight defeats over almost 70 years.

Scotland v New Zealand, 1964

For Scotland, that victory over the All Blacks has proved completely elusive in 31 matches, but there have been two matches in which the sides were so evenly matched that they could not be separated.

In January 1964, the All Blacks came to Murrayfield near the end of their long tour of the UK and France.  They had won their internationals against Ireland narrowly 6-5 in Dublin, Wales more impressively 6-0 at Cardiff Arms Park, and England convincingly 14-0 at Twickenham.  The Grand Slam of victories against the four home nations was within the All Blacks’ grasp, but Scotland had had a valuable “warm-up” 10-0 victory against France in the first international of the 1964 International Championship and were expected to be competitive.

The All Blacks side under the captaincy of prop Wilson Whineray was based on a fearsome pack of forwards supported by the formidable place kicking of their giant 17-stone full back Don Clarke.  Ken Gray and Dennis Young in the front row, Colin Meads in the second row and a back row of John Graham, Brian Lochore and Kelvin Tremain provided weight and pace unequalled in world rugby at the time.  If their backs were less individually impressive, they were nevertheless strong defensively and capable of flashes of inspiration.

The Scottish side under the captaincy of prop Brian Neill was initially unchanged for its second match of the season but the selectors were forced to make a late change when Jim Shackleton was brought in to replace Brian Henderson in the centre.  The team contained four players who had made their debut against France but Stuart Wilson at full back, Peter Brown in the second row and Jim Telfer in the back row would become among the finest Scottish players of their generation.  For ballast, Ian Laughland in the centre, Norman Bruce at hooker with David Rollo as his other prop, and Pringle Fisher at wing forward provided essential quality in this relatively inexperienced side.

The 1964 clash in front of 70,000 spectators was the last major international match to end in a 0-0 draw, but the score line does not do justice to the excitement of the game itself.  It was a frosty day and handling was difficult.  The lighter Scottish pack matched the All Blacks in the loose and, perhaps fortunately for Scotland, Don Clarke had a rare off-day with his boot.  He missed five penalty attempts and neither side was able to take advantage of the other’s mistakes.  The final whistle went after a surge upfield by Don Clarke came to nothing when his kick ahead was caught by his opposite number, Wilson, who calmly kicked the ball into touch.  The whistle went and Scotland had denied the All Blacks their desired Grand Slam.

Twenty nine years later, the All Blacks came to Scotland as part of their short 8-match tour of Scotland and England in the autumn of 1983.  The All Blacks had convincingly defeated the touring British Lions 4-0 in the tests, but a number of their stars had elected not to be available for this tour.  In the intervening years since 1964, Scotland had faced the All Blacks on seven further occasions but had never managed to secure that elusive victory despite coming close in 1978 and 1981.

The Scottish side under the captaincy of prop, Jim Aitken, was well balanced with a strong mobile pack of forwards supported by one of the best half back pairs in Scottish rugby history, John Rutherford and Roy Laidlaw.  Eight players, including the complete back row of Jim Calder, John Beattie and Iain Paxton, had toured New Zealand with the Lions that summer.

The New Zealand side contained six new caps including both props and the second row pair, but the back row of Mark Shaw, Murray Mexted and Jock Hobbs and the three-quarter line under the captaincy of the great try-scoring winger Stuart Wilson were highly experienced.

The match began with an exchange of drop goals from Rutherford and penalties from new All Black full back Robbie Deans.  Tries by Jock Hobbs and Bernie Fraser gave New Zealand the lead, but Scotland’s doughty full back Peter Dods kicked three penalty goals before half-time to keep Scotland in the game.  Fraser scored a second kick and chase try after half-time to extend the lead but Dods kept Scotland in the match with two further penalties before Deans kicked his third penalty to give the All Blacks a four-point lead with seven minutes to go.

Three minutes later the Watsonians centre David Johnston received the ball in midfield and shrewdly kicked diagonally to his right for the winger Jim Pollock to chase.  A thrilling race led to Pollock outpacing Deans and scoring in the right-hand corner.  The score was now 25-25 and all that was left for a Scottish victory was for Dods to kick the touchline conversion.  He just missed his kick, and in the final minutes the All Blacks were given the opportunity to win the match but were denied a kickable penalty due to a punch thrown by their fiery winger Bernie Fraser and spotted by the touch-judge.  The final whistle went very shortly afterwards with the score 25 all, a world record highest score for a drawn match.

Scotland went on to win an historic second Grand Slam in the 1984 International Championship and the All Blacks, although they lost to England a week later, quickly re-built their team and moved on to win the first Rugby World Cup in 1987.  Scotland have still not beaten the All Blacks so these two draws remained treasured memories in their rugby history.


A Century of the All Blacks in Britain and Ireland – Fox, Bogle & Hoskins (Tempus Publishing 2006)

The History of Scottish Rugby – Sandy Thorburn (Johnston & Bacon 1980)

Men in Black (Commem 20th Century Edition) – Chester, Palenski & McMillan (Hodder Moa Beckett 2000)

Scottish Rugby Game by Game – Kenneth R Bogle (Luath Press Limited 2013)

Newspapers: Glasgow Herald – Scotsman – Sportsman – Times

About the Author – A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has had a life-long love of sport.  He has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005.

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Denzil Batchelor’s All-Star XV

Denzil Batchelor was a sports and war correspondent, poet and playwright. He played rugby at Oxford University in the 1920s and was a lifelong fan of cricket and rugby. This All-Star XV is an extract from his book ‘Babbled of Green Fields’ published in 1961.

You will want me to pick a side to play Mars.  I shall confine my candidates to those I have seen in action and thus give myself the excuse of well-meaning ignorance for having the bad manners to omit certain past-masters.

I begin with George Nepia (New Zealand) at full-back; next in order being Bob Scott, Dan Drysdale, and K. Geddes, who only got four caps for Scotland but who never forgot the full-backs’ second most important duty—the first is to tackle—which is to make a fifth three-quarter when needed.

George Nepia
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A Sunderland Discovery!

We’re starting 2021 off with an exciting discovery for Sunderland FC and the wider rugby community…

1881 Sunderland rugby team. 15 players seated and standing. Trophy in the middle.

This photograph shows the Sunderland team which won the inaugural Durham County Cup in March 1881. Seated on a reversed chair in the middle row, second from left, is Alfred George Milbanke Hudson (1855-1908), who scored two of the three tries which secured the challenge cup. In September 2020, a complete rugby kit belonging to Alfred resurfaced in the home of his direct descendants. It is in pristine condition, and it is tempting to speculate that this kit could be the very one seen in this 140-year-old photograph.

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#FromTheVaults – RFU Christmas Card, ‘Fougasse’

Merry Christmas from everyone at the World Rugby Museum!

This month’s featured object from our collection is a Christmas card designed for the Rugby Football Union by one of Britain’s best loved cartoonists, Cyril Kenneth Bird CBE (1887-1965).

RFU Christmas card, of unknown date, shows Father Christmas diving over the try line with a sack of gifts, his red overcoat flying behind him to reveal rugby shorts and striped socks. He crosses the line between the posts – two festive fir trees.

Cyril Bird, the son of cricketer Arthur Bird, was born in London in 1887. Although he graduated from Kings College with a BSc in Engineering, he also showed promise as an artist, and had attended art classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic and the School of Photo-Engraving.

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Rugby Raptors: The History of Birds of Prey at Twickenham Stadium

Twickenham has had a long history of welcoming birds of prey through its gates for various reasons. Initially, they were a necessity, employed to deal with the stadium’s serious pigeon problem, but now they come of their own accord.

Until 2012, Harris Hawks were brought in on a weekly basis from local pest control firm Hawkforce. Pigeons had become a nuisance, gathering in large numbers to feast on grass seed, preventing turf regrowth and therefore damaging the grounds. Though weekly hawk flights did not eradicate their presence altogether, they did scare the pigeons enough to stop them nesting in the stadium, limiting the damage caused by reducing the feral pests to visitors, rather than residents.

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