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Historical Rugby Milestones 1870s

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

1870s A short Historical Back drop of Britain

  • Irish Land Act gives rights to tenants 1870
  • Women obtain limited rights to retain their property after marriage 1870
  • Voting by secret ballot is introduced 1872
  • Tay Bridge collapses in gale force winds 1879


Wanderers, Ireland formed. Burton Football Club formed and played both Rugby and Association football until 1876, when it adopted Rugby Union rules only. Civil service club formed. There were now 49 clubs in England (source: Alcocks Football Annual). These different clubs have different interpretations of the laws as played at Rugby School.

November - an anonymous surgeon writes to 'The Times' complaining that Rugby football is dangerous. The need is felt to form a body to regulate the laws.

In December 1870 Edwin Ash the Secretary of Richmond Club published a letter in the papers which said, "Those who play the rugby-type game should meet to form a code of practice as various clubs play to rules which differ from others, which makes the game difficult to play". This lead to a meeting in January and the formation of the RFU.

The first rugby game in New Zealand between Nelson College and Nelson football club, played on 14 May 1870 (Auckland, Canterbury and Otago clubs develop the game there over the next several years).

Credit for the introduction of rugby to New Zealand goes to Charles John Monro, son of Sir David Monro, Speaker in the House of Representatives from 1860 to 1870. Charles Monro, who was born at Waimea East, was sent to Christ's College, Finchley in England to complete his education at age 16 and while there he learned the rugby game. On his return to Nelson, age 19, he suggested that the local football club (Nelson) try out the rugby rules. The game must have appealed to the club members for they decided to adopt it.


Following this, he organized the first game in New Zealand between Nelson college and Nelson club at the Botanical Reserve, Nelson, on Saturday, May 14, 1870. The Nelson club won by 2 goals to nil (they played 18-a-side).

A visit to Wellington by Monro later in 1870 resultedin him organizing a game between Nelson and Wellington. Mr Tennent wrote and challenged Mr Monro who organized some Wellington players who had been playing a mixture of Victorian and association rules football into a team. This match was played at Petone on 12 September and was won by Nelson by two goals to one. (note: Nelson played with 14 players against Wellingtons 13).

In a letter to the editor of The Dominion (Wellington) and later published in that journal July 5, 1928 Monro wrote: "Mr Tennent was a member of the Nelson club, not one of whom had ever seen the Rugby game, which they adopted at my instigation, and played under my tutelage, until familiar with the rules. No credit is due to me in the matter. My introduction of Rugby to my native land was merely a coincidence of circumstances. As a matter of fact, the first match at Petone was played in the same year that I introduced the game to Nelson. I made the whole arrangements, even to picking the Wellington team, since there was no football club there in those early days. It was Mr Tennent who wrote me asking if it could be possible to arrange the match, and he played as one of the team."



26th January, The Rugby Football Union founded in the Pall Mall Restaurant in Regent Street, London to standardize the rules that also removed some of the more violent aspects of the Rugby School game. The meeting was initiated by Edwin Ash, Secretary of Richmond Club, who submitted a letter to the newspapers in the previous December which read: "Those who play the rugby-type game should meet to form a code of practice as various clubs play to rules which differ from others, which makes the game difficult to play".

The 21 clubs that attended the first meeting chaired by the club captain of the Richmond Club, one E. C. Holmes, included Harlequins, Blackheath, Guy's Hospital, Civil Service, Wellington College, King's College and St. Paul's School which are still playing today. Other clubs now defunct, or playing under other names, were the picturesquely named Gipsies, Flamingoes, Mohicans, Wimbledon Hornets, Marlborough nomads, West Kent , Law, Lausanne, Addison, Belsize park, Ravenscourt park, Chapham rovers and a Greenwich club called Queen's House. Many famous provincial clubs, founded before 1871, were not founder members of the Rugby Football Union, though, of course, they became members later; among these were Bath, Bradford, Liverpool and Brighton.

Note: Belsize Park were disbanded in 1880 and many players joined Harlequins. A new Belsize club was founded in 1971.

One famous name that was missing, though, was the London club Wasps. Somehow they managed to send their representative to the wrong venue at the wrong time on the wrong day but another version of the story was that he went to a pub of the same name and after consuming a number of drinks was too drunk to make it to the correct address after he realized his mistake.

Algernon Rutter (of Rugby and Richmond) was elected the first president of the RFU and E.H. Ash was elected treasurer.

Other committee members were: R H Birkett (Clapham Rovers), F I Currey (Marlborough Nomads), W F Eaton (Ravenscourt Park), A J English (Wellington College), J H Ewart (Guy's Hospital), A G Guillemard (West Kent), F Hartley (Flamingoes), E C Holmes (Richmond), and F Stokes (Blackheath). Secretary & Treasurer: Edwin H. Ash (Richmond).

The joining fee and the annual subscription fee for a member club were both set at 5 shillings.

See past presedents of the RFU

Other National Rugby Unions

27 March 1871: The first ever international game

Scotland v England played at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh, March 27th, in front of a crowd of 4000 (Scotland won by one goal and one try to one goal, the teams were 20-a-side and Halves were 50 minutes each).

Scotland, who revealed better team-work, proved to be the fitter side and lasted the pace longer, but that was hardly surprising. The English team had a hard night's travel on the Sunday on bare board seats in third-class carriages and the journey told against them. Incidentally, they all paid their own expenses in full. A. G. Guillemard, the English player, whose writings about the early days of the game exceeded in value even his services as a player and official - at various times he was Secretary, Treasurer and President of the Rugby Union - wrote several accounts of the game.

In one of his accounts Guillemard wrote: "'The game was very keenly contested until half-time, after which the combination of the Scots, who knew each other's play thoroughly, and their superior training began to tell a tale. After a maul just outside the English goal line Dr H. H. Almond, the famous Headmaster of Loretto, who was one of the umpires (the other was A. Ward, England) ordered the ball to be put down in a scrummage five yards outside the line. The Scottish forwards, instead of putting the ball down, held it up off the ground and pushed our men bodily over the line and secured the touch. We admitted the try because they assured us it was a fair try according to Scottish rules. At any rate, the honour of scoring it belonged to the whole Scottish front rank though it was Buchanan who actually grounded the ball and so had the distinction of being the first player to score in an international. W. Cross kicked the goal and in those days a goal was the vital score. 'Our first and only try in the match was scored by R. H. Birkett. We pinned the Scots near their own line for some time before Birkett ran in close to the corner flag. Stokes, our captain, failed with a long, difficult place-kick in the cross wind. The second Scottish try was also got in a peculiar and, in our view, an illegal way. A long throw-in from touch by a Scot went past our forwards and one of theirs literally fisted the ball over our line and W. Cross, racing after it from behind, touched it down, but his place-kick was unsuccessful.
'Cross, for Scotland, and J. F. Green and F. Tobin for us, played splendidly behind the scrummage. Unfortunately for us Green, who was a brilliant runner, was injured in the match and never played again."

Nearly all of the foregoing and much of what follows appeared in an article in a London newspaper some seventy years ago when Guillemard was interviewed by Hamish Stuart, a noted critic and perfervid Scot who was always completely unbiased and did not mind who a Scottish team defeated.
'Those early Association matches,' said Mr Guillemard, 'which you mentioned in your paper last week were the origin of international football, and it was a game under Association rules at the Oval, and given the title of England versus Scotland which brought matters to a head and resulted in the Scottish challenge in a paper called Bell's Life.'
'Like the Scots whose challenge was signed by F. Moncrieff (Edinburgh Academicals), J. W. Arthur (Glasgow Academicals), A. H. Robertson (West of Scotland), B. Hall Blyth (Merchistonians) and J. H. Oatts (St Andrews University), and the first three eventually played against us, we too thought it farcical that the game at the Oval played in November 1870, with the Scottish team little more than a pick-up of players some of whom had never crossed the Border, should be described as an international.
'The popular code at the time in both countries was rugby so we formed a committee and approached Scotland on the matter. Fred Stokes was strongly urged by Luscombe of the Gipsies to accept the challenge. A reply to that effect was duly sent by B. H. Burns, the Blackheath Secretary, and so the match was arranged.
'Strictly speaking, the first game was not under the direct auspices of the Rugby Union. The Union was formed on 29th January 1871, and the only business done up to the date of the match in Edinburgh was to frame the bye-laws. 'While the Scots had held two trials of sorts, we had none and our men were picked on their club form.

First Scot to play for England: Burns, a Scot of the Scots, had charge of the arrangements and it is a remarkable thing that he played for us. How that happened is quite simple. He played as a substitute for F. S. Isherwood of Oxford University and Ravenscourt Park, a grand forward and our place-kicker, who failed to turn up. So Burns was, therefore, the first Scotsman to play for England, and he played just as well for the land of his adoption as he would have played for the land of his birth.'

Burns is mentioned as having been an Edinburgh Academical yet his name is not given in the club records of its international players as one of those who played for another country.

There are other noteworthy points. For instance, it seemed to be unusual that the international was played on a Monday, but that was apparently not unprecedented in those far-off days, for when Ireland first met England in a match at the Oval in 1875 it is recorded that the Irish team arrived in London at mid-day on the Sunday and the game was played the following afternoon. Then Colville of Merchistonians can be regarded as the first Anglo-Scot to be included in a Scottish team, for at the time of the match he was playing for Blackheath.
Regarding Scotland's goal which won the match, it seems that the score was not unquestioned and according to one account the Englishmen 'stoutly contested the legality of the try from which the goal was kicked.
Some time later, Dr Almond referred to the disputed score and wrote: 'Here let me make a personal confession. I was umpire, and I do not know to this day whether the decision which gave Scotland the try from which the winning goal was kicked was correct in fact. The ball had certainly been scrummaged over the line by Scotland, and touched down first by a Scotsman. The try, however, was vociferously disputed by the English team, but upon what ground I was then unable to discover. I must say, however, that when an umpire is in doubt, I think he is justified in deciding against the side which makes the most noise. They are probably in the wrong.'

The scores for Scotland were obtained by Angus Buchanan, from whose try W. Cross kicked a goal, but he was unsuccessful in his attempt to convert the second try which he scored himself. The English try was credited to R. H. Birkett, but F. Stokes, the English captain, was unsuccessful with the place kick.

England Scotland
A. G. Guillemard (West kent) - Back W. D. Brown (Glasgow Academicals) - Back
A. Lyon (Liverpool) - Back T. Chalmers (Glasgow Academicals) - Back
R. R. Osbourne (Manchester) - Back B. Ross (St. Andrews University) - Back
W. Maclaren (Manchester) Three-quarter back J. W. Arthur (Glasgow Academicals) - Half-back
J. E. Bentley (Gipsies) - Half-back F. Cross (Merchistonians - Half-back
F. Tobin (Liverpool) - Half-back T. R. Marshall (Edinburgh Academicals)
J. F. Green (West kent) - Half-back F. I. Moncrieff (Edinburgh Academicals), Captain
F. Stokes (Blackheath), Captain A. Buchanan (Edinburgh University)
R. H. Birkett (Clapham Rovers) A. B. Colville (Merhistonians)
B. H Burns (Blackheath) A, Drew (Glasgow Academicals)
J. H. Clayton (Liverpool) W. Forsyth (Edinburgh University)
C. A. Crompton (Blackheath) F. Finlay (Edinburgh Academicals)
A. Davenport (Ravenscourt Park) R. Irvine (Edinburgh Academicals)
J. M. Dugdale (Ravenscourt Park) W. Lyall (Edinburgh Academicals)
A. S. Gibson (Manchester) H. Mein (Edinburgh Academicals)
A. St. G. Hamersley (Marlborough Nomads) J. W. McFarlane (Edinburgh University)
J. H. Luscombe (Gipsies) D. Munro (St. Andrews University)
C. W. Sherrard (Blackheath) T. Ritchie (Merhistonians)
D. P. Turner (Richmond) F. Robertson (West of Scotland)
H. J. C. Turner (Manchester) W. Thomson (St. Andrews University)

No fewer than 10 of the English 20 were old Rugbeians.

The first England international side - 1871
scotland 1871  
The first Scotland international side - 1871

Which rules/laws were applied? On March 25, 1871 the Glasgow Herald reported that the match would use the Rugby School rules with two minor alterations (both which were customary in the London area):
1. The ball, on going into touch, is to be thrown into the ground again from the spot where it crossed the line, and not where it first pitched into touch.

2. For a try at goal, the ball is brought out in a straight line from where it was touched down. (This would eliminate the alternative choice of punting it out after a touch down).

In the London area there was a generally-observed rule that a player could gather up a ball whether rolling or bounding. Scottish clubs only allowed it in the latter case and this was agreed for the first international.

England got their revenge in the return fixture the following year at the Oval.

22 June 1871

Along with the founding of the Rugby Football Union a committee was formed, and three ex-Rugby School pupils (Rutter, Holmes and L.J. Maton), all lawyers, were invited to help formulate a set of rules, being lawyers they formulated 'laws' not 'rules'. Most of the work was done by Maton as he broke his leg playing rugby and was laid up so he attempted the first draft. He did this in Holmes' law chambers. This task was completed and the laws were accepted by the full committee on 22 June 1871, and brought into force by a Special General Meeting 2 days later. The laws outlawed the practice of hacking and tripping.

Algernon Rutter
President 1871-74
E C Holmes
L J Maton
President 1875-76
(Wimbledon Hornets)

The laws have changed a great deal since then and spawned other games, notably American Football and Australian Rules Football.

Streatham club formed.

Harrogate Club originally formed

The first match, played on 16th December 1871, was played opposite The Coach and Horses on the area currently known as the West Park Stray. Harrogate fielded 16 players to Leeds 11. Harrogate lost the match. The result was Leeds one goal and five touchdowns, Harrogate 1 touchdown. Four brothers played in the match Frank, Fred, Tom and William Fawcett. This was the only game lost in the club’s first four seasons.

The club was reformed in 1923 after the original club became an association club in 1914.

Birkenhead Park RFC formed.

Birkenhead Park was formed from the emalgamation of two smaller clubs, Claughton and Birkenhead Wanderers during the 1871/72 season.

Neath, the first Welsh club, formed by a Scotsman, Dr T P Whittington who also became the first international coming from a Welsh club when he played for Scotland in 1873.

In New Zealand, the game became organized in Wellington and it had spread to Wanganui by the following year.

Langholm Rugby Football Club formed, reputed to be the oldest Rugby Club in the Borders of Scotland.


The first rugby club formed in France by British residents, Le Havre.

The first club was founded in Germany by Students under the guidance of the teacher Edward Hill Ullrich at the Heidelberg Rowing Club - Neuenheim College - now called Heidelberg College (with Rugby Football in the winter time and rowing on the Neckar River in the summer time). Heidelberger Ruderklub von 1872 (HRK 1872) is the oldest German rugby club.

Cambridge, Llanelli (Wales), Swansea (Wales), Leicester, Clifton, Landsdown (Ireland) and Exeter clubs formed.

William Webb Ellis dies a bachelor in Menton, France (see 1959) leaving 9,000 pounds to charitable causes incl. the society for the rescue of young women and children; and the residue to the widow of his brother Thomas.

His tomb was rediscovered in 1958 by a local journalist, former rugby player Roger Dries and Ross McWhirter

The first Oxford - Cambridge game played on 10th February. Oxford wins by 1 goal to nil. This fixture will become known as the 'Varsity' match.

23rd of November 1872

Edinburgh Rugby (formerly Edinburgh Reivers, Edinburgh Gunners) played Glasgow Warriors in the first ever inter-district match against Glasgow in 1872, winning the match by a drop goal to nil (3–0).

Glasgow Accies hosted the challenge match between Edinburgh and Glasgow at a pitch on Gt. Western Road near St Georges Cross and within a stones throw of Firhill known as Burnbank.

1872 ground
Ground Location Credit: Glasgow Accies RFC

The match was played 20 aside and it was to be used in helping to select the Scottish team for their upcoming match with England early in 1873.

Prime movers in the arrangements for the match were J W Arthur of Glasgow Accies and W Kidston of West, the former having been one of the signatories to the famous challenge letter sent to the clubs of England to meet the Scots under the rugby rules which led to the birth of international rugby in 1871. His cap from that match still remains on display at New Anniesland and is believed to be one of only two still in existence the other being in the RFU Museum at Twickenham.

Both the Glasgow clubs that made up the team Accies and West were both members of the (Engish) RFU at that time as there was no Scottish Union That was soon rectified in 1873 at a meeting held in the Glasgow Academy then situated in Elmbank St and the Scottish Football (Rugby) Union was born.

The matches were played on a home and away basis up to 1876 when the match was significant as the first when tries were counted if the teams were equal on goals.

Edinburgh Rugby were reformed in 1996 to compete in the Heineken Cup.

2011 Edinburgh vs Glasgow
Keenly competed 2011 1st leg held a Murrayfield ended in a 23 - 23 draw (Credit: BBC Alba)

1873 - Moseley, Gloucester, Rugby, Bedford Britannia, Carlisle, Carlow (Ireland), Dungannon (Ireland), Gala (Scotland) and Lansdowne (Ireland) formed.

March 3rd - Scottish RFU formed. Around 5000 people watch Scotland and England draw 0-0 at Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow. Across the city the Scottish Rugby Union is formed at a meeting held after the Scotland-England match.

Auckland, New Zealand adopted Rugby.

On October 19, 1873, representatives of Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York to thrash out the first set of intercollegiate rules in America. By eliminating carrying and the use of hands they defined a game which was soccer in nature. Harvard, although invited, chose not to attend. This was notable since Harvard still needed someone to play against who permitted use of the hands (see 1874).


UCC, Ireland founded. From 1874 to 1879 there were two Unions in Ireland. The Irish Football Union had jurisdiction over Clubs in Munster, Leinster, Munster and Connaught; the Northern Football Union of Ireland controlled parts of Ulster. They agree to select a number of players each for Ireland’s international fixtures.

In 1874 a Coventry rugby fifteen comprising several members of Stoke Cricket Club played Allesley Park College at Allesley. This appears to have been the origin of the Coventry (Rugby) Football Club, with headquarters at Bull Fields, later the Butts. The Butts ground was lost in 1911 to a Northern Union club which did not survive the First World War, and the Coventry rugby club eventually moved to a new ground at Coundon in 1921. From: 'The City of Coventry: Social history from 1700', A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8: The City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick (1969).

On May 14, Harvard University hosted Montreal’s McGill University at Cambridge, Mass. In fact it was a series of three games. The first game was played to Harvard's rules using a round ball and Harvard won 3 goals to nil. The next day they played again to McGill's rules and used an oval ball, the game ended a scoreless draw. After this Harvard adopted largely the rugby rules and the third game of the series was played at McGill Uni. in the fall where Harvard won.

Here is an extract from a very well written article produced by the Professional footballers researchers association

Harvard-McGill: 1874

Harvard's funeral for Football Fightum turned out to be premature, to say the least. By 1871, only ten years after the burial, they were playing at Cambridge once more. The Boston Game, developed by the Oneidas, was favored by the Crimson for its class games. This, remember, was a combination of both soccer and rugby. The emphasis seems to have been on kicking, but the ball could be caught and run if the catcher was pursued. That made it just different enough to cut off Harvard from competition with other schools, all of whom played the strict kicking game.

When the invitation came to attend the 1873 meeting [meeting , Harvard had a tough decision to make: should they keep running by themselves or kick with the pack?

They decided to stay home and keep running. Some people have called it the most momentous decision in the history of American football. Some people exaggerate. Football lends itself to hyperbole -- the greatest, the best, the most, etc. Harvard's decision was important. Let it go at that.

The reason it was important is that Harvard began to look high and low for someone to play their precious Boston Game against. No other U.S. school would touch it.

Finally, in the spring of 1874, McGill University of Montreal, Canada, issued a challenge to the Crimson. Captain Harry Grant happily accepted. It turned out Harvard got more than it bargained for. McGill agreed to come to Cambridge for a session of Boston Game if Harvard would then have a go at a game by McGill's rules. McGill played rugby. The two teams met on May 14. Played under Harvard's rules, the game was such a rout they called it off after only 22 minutes with the home team in front 3-0.

"Just wait until tomorrow when we play rugby!" warned the McGill men.

The Harvard team laughed, but when the McGill players were out of earshot they asked each other nervously, "What's a rugby?"

Years later, a member of the Harvard class of 1874 said, "There were many points of difference [in the Boston Game] from the Rugby game. It was eminently a kicking, as distinguished from a running and tackling, game. The rules ... existed only in tradition. We went to work to learn the Rugby game, but I should question if there were three men in college who had ever seen the egg-shaped ball. A drop kick was an unknown and incredible feat, and the intricacies of `off side,' `free kick,' `put out,' and such commonplaces of the game seemed inextricable mysteries to novices like us."

The game played the next day, May 15, was the first rugby game on U.S. soil. Harvard acquitted itself very well and struggled to a scoreless tie. More importantly, they fell head over heels in love with rugby and all thoughts of the once-cherished Boston Game disappeared. Harvard couldn't wait until the next fall. When it came, they raced up to Montreal to play some more rugby. In addition to kicked goals, the Canadian version of the game allowed touchdowns to count in the scoring. Harvard scored three of them to win.

Flushed with success, the Crimson came home and, the next year, challenged Yale to a rugby match. The sons of Eli thought it over and decided it might be fun. The two schools scheduled a game for November 13, at Hamilton Park in New Haven, to be played under what were called the "Concessionary Rules". These had nothing to do with selling beer, hot dogs, or crackerjacks, but were instead a special set of rules agreed to in which each side gave up a little.

Harvard sacrificed counting touchdowns in the scoring. The only thing a TD gained was the right to try for a goal. Yale agreed to play with 15 men instead of the eleven they preferred. They had been won over to the smaller group two years earlier when they played soccer against a traveling team of eleven Englishmen from Eton. Yale found it made for a more open, exciting game. From then on they kept pushing for eleven on a side until everybody was sick to death from hearing about it. For Yale to agree to put four extra men on the field was a major concession and showed real sportsmanship.

In their first rugby game, Yale's nice guys finished last. Harvard ran all over them, and the poor sons of Eli, knowing nothing about tackling, let them. The final stood 4-0 Harvard, with one of the goals coming after a touchdown. Despite the one-sided defeat, Yale was completely captivated by rugby. Forthwith, they decided, they would play it themselves. "

Newport (Wales), Weston-super-Mare and Trojans formed. Universities reduced their sides from 20 to 15-a-side.

Hamilton (New Zealand) adopted Rugby.

Rugby first played in Cape town, South Africa. South RFU formed in NSW Australia.

Queen's College club, called "Cork", had played before, in 1872 was also formed in 1874.

First governing body formed in Australia. NSWRU (The Southern RU). Of the original clubs which took part in the very first club competition of 1874, Sydney University, Balmain (now called Drummoyne), Newington College and The King's School are still in existence.

Wellington, Somerset were founded by Harry Fox. Over the years several Wellington players were selected to play for England:

  • Francis Hugh Fox ( 2 caps ) 1890
  • Percy John Ebdon ( 2 caps ) 1897
  • Reginald Forrest ( 5 caps ) 1899-1904
  • Herbert Temlett Gamlin "The Octopus" ( 15 caps ) 1899-1904

The United Hospitals instituted the oldest cup competition in the game of rugby.

The United Hospitals Challenge Cup, also known as the Inter-Hospital Challenge Cup, is the oldest cup competition in the game of rugby. The first final was played on Wednesday 3 March 1875 at The Oval between Guy's Hospital and St George's Hospital with Guy's winning by 1 Goal (a converted try) and 1 try to 2 tries. With the exception of breaks for the two world wars of the twentieth century, the United Hospitals Challenge Cup has been played for without interruption since that first final.


Ballinasloe (Ireland) founded. Ballinasloe and Athlone amalgamated in 1994 to form Buccaneers. Pontypridd (Wales) & London Welsh formed. Mountain Ash, Wales founded.

The first International between England and Ireland was watched by 3000 spectators on 15th February 1875. The teams were twenty a side and the Irish team included 12 players from Leinster and eight from Ulster. England won by 1 goal, 1 drop goal and a try to nil.

The game had become established all over New Zealand and a team representing Auckland clubs undertook a two-week southern tour. Matches were played (and lost) against teams from Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch, Nelson and Taranaki.

Matches were decided by the number of tries scored if both had the same number of goals.

Rugby is introduced to South Africa by British troops garrisoned in Cape Town. Various clubs formed but Hamilton RFC probably has the strongest clain at being the first, disputed by Villagers RFC.

13 December - Oxford and Cambridge are the first to reduce their teams from 20 to 15-a-side.

In the US Harvard played Yale with an oval ball and with 15 men a side and also saw the first uniforms worn in an American football game. Yale wore dark trousers, blue shirts, and yellow caps. Not to be outdone , Harvard showed up in crimson shirts, stockings, and knee breeches. Two fellows who watched the game were W. Earle Dodge and Jotham Potter, both of Princeton. They rushed back home singing rugby's praises to high heaven and to any Princetonians who would listen. So rugby was the up and coming game on at least three American college campuses.


From 1875 many matches were played as 15-a-side but the alignments varied a good deal. At that time there were ten forwards, two attacking half-backs, and three backs who were largely defensive. A major change was to move up a defensive back to play with the half-backs (this was the first three-quarter).


London Scottish, Abervon, Cardiff, Bedford Football and Athletics Club (who changed their name in 1878 to Bedford Rovers) and Saracens formed.

Players in international teams reduced from twenty to fifteen.

In the US various colleges met to form an intercollegiate football association they adopted the makeshift rugby game which was played at that time but this organization was disbanded in 1895. Walter Camp enrolled at Yale the same year.

First rugby game at Lansdowne Road.

First game between the Royal Military Academy (RMA) Woolwich and the Royal Military College (as it was then) Sandhurst (Woolwich won).


The first fifteen a side international match between Ireland and England on February 5th at the Oval. England wins by 2 goals & 2 tries to nil. England then played Scotland on March 5th at Raeburn place.

The Calcutta cup presented to the RFU.

Melrose RFC founded.

Scotland's HH Johnson is the first to play as a single full-back.

On 1 May 1877, a meeting at 'Ship Inn' saw the foundation of Newcastle Football Club, NSW, Australia.

Also in 1887 saw Wallsend and Maitland Clubs being formed.


At Cardiff, Wales, they developed a short pass to one of the half backs who would then go charging ahead with the ball. He became known as the flying half back which over time got shortened to the fly half.

The first recorded rugby match under floodlights took place when Broughton played Swinton on 22nd October 1878 at Broughton's Yew Street ground in Salford, Greater Manchester. Two Gramme's lights were used suspended from 30 foot poles. "At the call of "no side" the score stood at; Broughton two-goals, three tries, three touchdowns; Swinton, nil. C.Sawyer kicked one of the goals from the field of play. Mudie the other from a fine try by J.Sawyer, while the three unsuccessful tries were secured by Riley, A.Bowam and Shut". "Probably 8,000 to 10,000 persons were present when the time for kick-off arrived." The above quotations are taken from the Salford Weekly News dated the 2nd November 1878.

Another match took place in Liverpool later that month and the practice became very popular as the electric companies attempted to overturn the gas companies monopoly.

In November a white ball was used in a match staged at Old Deer Park between Surrey & Middlesex. Surrey won the match which was enlightened by four lamps driven by a couple of Siemens electro-dynamo machines.

Lansdowne Road, Dublin, held its first international rugby fixture, Ireland vs. England (15-a-side).

The the Yorkshire Challenge Cup competition was founded (now known as the Yorkshire Cup), the first knock-out competition in the UK. It was open to all clubs in the Yorkshire area . The proceeds from the final were distributed among local charities. In the first season, 16 teams competed for the T'owd Tin Pot, with Halifax beating York in the final by1 goal, 1 try and 9 minor points to nil. Results

Bridgend, Wales formed.

The first Army vs. Navy game was played February 13th, 1878 at the Kennington Oval in England but the match fell into abeyance until resuscitated in 1906/7. The Navy won the game by a goal and a try to a goal.

The Corps of Royal Engineers had started a football club in 1870 playing FA rules but in 1878 they played their first recorded rugby game against Royal Military Academy (RMA) ('The shop') played at Chatham on October 24th and resulted in a draw, the Academy scoring 1 try, four touches against 1 try. This was the only annual fixture played under rugby rules until 1885.


Mr G. A. J. Rothney, one of the founder members of the Calcutta club brought the Calcutta cup over to England. The Calcutta cup was presented to the RFU to be awarded for the winner of the annual England Scotland international. The trophy originated in India. The Calcutta football club which had been started by former students of rugby school 4 years earlier had been wound up and the remaining rupees in the club's funds were melted down to be re-worked into the trophy.


Rosslyn Park, Ipswich, Penarth (Wales) and Ebbw Vale (Wales) formed.

From 1874 to 1879 there were two Unions. The Irish Football Union had jurisdiction over Clubs in Leinster, Munster and parts of Ulster; the Northern Football Union of Ireland controlled the Belfast area. The two Irish Unions agreed to amalgamate and become the Irish Rugby Football Union on the following terms:
(i) A Union to be known as the Irish Rugby Football Union was to be formed for the whole country.
(ii) Branches were to be formed in Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
(iii) The Union was to be run by a Council of eighteen, made up of six from each province.

The Council was to meet annually. The Council of the Union still meets annually, but the day to day affairs are managed by a Committee comprising a President, two Vice-Presidents, the immediate Past President, the Honorary Treasurer and nineteen members.

Extracts from Charles Dickens (jr) - A dictionary of London:

"Football is by far the most popular out-door game of the winter months. The Association matches have 11 players, the Union 15 players on each side The leading Union clubs in London and the suburbs are Blackheath, head-quarters, Richardson’s field, Blackheath; Richmond, Richmond Old Deer-pk; Royal Military Academy, Woolwich; Royal Naval College, Greenwich-park; Wimbledon, Wimbledon-common; Clapham Rovers, Wandsworth; West Kent, Chislehurst; Queen’s House, and Clevedon, Blackheath; Flamingoes, Battersea-park; Gipsies, Peckham; Guys Hospital, Blackheath; King’s College, Battersea-park; Lausanne, Dulwich; Old Cheltonians, Mitcham; Old Marlburians, Blackheath; Walthamstow, Walthamstow; Wasps Putney."

The first floodlit game of rugby played in Scotland at Hawick in their local derby vs. Melrose, whom they defeated by a goal to nil, attracted a healthy crowd of 5000 and a gate of 63 pounds sterling (as there was only one gate man present, many poured into the ground through a hole in the fence. (see also 1878).

The first unions in New Zealand were formed in Canterbury and Wellington.

10 March – 1st Calcutta Cup match ends in a draw.



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