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Historical Rugby Milestones 1880s

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

1880s A short Historical Back drop of Britain

  • Education becomes compulsory for children under ten 1880
  • National Eisteddfod Association holds its first meeting 1880
  • Sir William Armstrong's home becomes the first to use electric light 1881
  • Second Land Act reforms Irish property law 1881
  • Married women obtain the right to acquire their own property 1883

1880 - Canadian RFU founded.

The origins of the Welsh Rugby Union can be traced back to 1880 at the Tenby Hotel in Swansea but its actual foundation occurred at the Castle Hotel, Neath a year later.

28 February - England become the first winners of the Calcutta Cup when they defeat Scotland by 2 goals & 3 tries to 1 goal.

A famous author and philosopher of the day, Tom Hughes (Rugby school old boy), had earned fame as an author of a series of books the most famous of which was 'Tom Browns School-Days, by an Old Boy' (dedicated to Mrs Arnold of Fox Howe), which came out in April 1857. On October 5th 1880 he dedicated the new cooperative settlement of Rugby, Tennessee as the site of his noble experiment in social living. By 1884 Hughes vision seemed bent on becoming a thriving reality Colonists visitors enjoyed rugby football, horseback riding, croquet and swimming in clear flowing rivers surrounding the town site. The Grand Tabard Inn, named for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, soon became the social center of the colony. Hughes died at Brighton, on 22nd March 1896.

In the USA the Scrum was replaced by the line of scrimmage, drawing emphasis from the free-running characteristic of the game.

Three three-quarters first used in an international game by Scotland against Ireland.

Leicester Tigers were formed in August 1880 at a meeting in the George Hotel, Leicester and was an amalgamation of three clubs: Leicester Societies AFC, Leicester Amateur FC and Leicester Alert. Leicester Football Club played their first game that October against Moseley at the Belgrave Cricket and Cycle Ground in their original club colours (black) and Leicester were known as "The Death or Glory Boys".

On 22nd December a letter send from Matthew Holbeche Bloxham (O.R.) was published in "The Meteor". Read the full text here.

The RFU agree travelling expenses for international matches.

SC 1880 Frankfurt, Germany was formed through the merger of two local rugby sides, Germania and Franconia. It was formed as FC 1880 Frankfurt as a distinction between rugby and football was not made in Germany at that time.

Sport-Club Frankfurt 1880 - L. Bener, E. Poppe, R. Ludwig, H. Latscha, F. Muller, G Wenderoth, H. Kreuzer, W. Hofmeister, A. Stockhausen, E. Ludwig, H.Reitz, A. Amrhein, A. Landvoigt, J. Herrmann, H. Betting, A. Schmierer.


1881 - 19 February 1881 the first International played by Wales against England at Richardson's Field, Blackheath. The team is organised by Richard Mullock, who will become the first honorary secretary and treasurer of the WRU. England won by 7 goals, 1 dropped goal and 6 tries to nil or put into modern scoring 82 - 0. This did much to bolster support and discussion on how the team could be improved.

Independent referee introduced for international matches.

The Welsh Rugby Union was founded at the Castle Hotel, a coaching inn dating from the seventeenth century, Neath on March 12th 1881. Representatives from 11 clubs: Bangor, Brecon, Cardiff, Lampeter, Llandilo, Llandovery, Llanelli, Merthyr, Newport, Pontypool and Swansea were present and a vote was cast by the representatives to form what was then called the Welsh Rugby Football Union. It is a testament to the success of rugby that each one of them still thrives and prospers today in a union which now boasts more than 300 clubs.

Swansea president CC Chambers is elected the first president. The Welsh Rugby Union was run by Walter Rees from his home in Neath for over 50 years.

The historic meeting is commemorated at the Castle Hotel to this day with an array of rugby memorabilia on view in their Centenary Room including the plaques of each of the 11 clubs.

1882 - 2nd September 1882 it was agreed at a special AGM that "Bedford Britannia would henceforth play football of the Association code". Those members who wanted to play rugby code left and immediately formed a new Club to be known as Bedford Swifts Football Club.

Queensland RU was founded.

Arthur Evanson and Arthur Taylor played for England against Wales and became the first international players to follow their brothers into becoming internationals too. Their brothers Wyndham Evanson and Henry Taylor having played for England previously.

Wales beat Ireland in their second international, 2 goals and 2 tries to nil.

The first overseas tour takes place when New South Wales visit New Zealand and the boat journey takes 5 days. Even though the tourists expect to win all of their seven games, they underestimate the strength of the New Zealanders and only win four.

1883 - 28th April, 1883 the first sevens tournament held at Melrose Football Club, Scotland. The club was casting around for ideas to help the Club's finances when the suggestion of a football tournament was put forward by NED HAIG. The thought a football tournament might prove attractive but as it was not possible to hold several games in one afternoon with fifteen players on each side, the teams were reduced to seven men. The competition was played under rugby rules, fifteen minutes play being allowed to each heat, and seven members of each club competing.


Winners 1883
(Standing: J. Tacket, A. Haig, J. Simpson, J. Riddell. Sitting: T. Riddell, G. Mercer. Front: D. Sanderson)
Credit: The official history of the Melrose sevens - Walter Allan


March 3rd - England completed what is now recognised as the first Triple Crown season courtesy of their victory by two tries to one in the decider against Scotland in Edinburgh. England used six backs against Scotland's five, but the match was marred by controversy when Wilf Bolton's winning try was greeted with a hostile response by the home crowd. The president of the SRU was moved to apologise to his England counterparts at the post-match dinner.

1884 - Rugby was first played in Fiji by European and Fijian soldiers of the Native Constabulary at Ba, on Viti Levu Island. Garryowen Football Club was founded in Limerick in Sept. 19th 1884, at Athenaeum and takes its name from the Garryowen area of Limerick. Garryowen has become part of the terminology of the game - ‘A Garryowen’ – the origin of the internationally famous kick, the up-and-under.

The first use of four three-quarters by a club (Cardiff) when they brought in a young reserve F E Hancock (an Englishman) to play against Cheltenham College and had a very good game thereby keeping his place for the next game. Thus on 23 February in the game against Gloucester (played at home) four three quarters were played. There was no score in the game but the formation was seen as a success and thereby became a set formation.

First New Zealand tour, to New South Wales (Australia). The tourists do not play any tests, but win all of their matches.

England and Scotland match took place in March 1st, 1884 at Blackheath. In general estimation the Scotchmen were rather the better team, showing greater speed than their opponents. Scotland secured a try; England did the same just afterwards, and obtained a goal. Thereupon one or more of the Scotch players entered a protest against the goal, the ground of the objection being that rule 26 had been infringed by one of the Scotch team prior to the goal being obtained by England; that the ball was therefore dead, so to speak, and subsequent play nullified. Now rule 26 of the Rugby Union Code at that time provides that' knocking on—i.e, hitting the ball with the hand— and throwing forward—is not lawful,' and then states the penalty that the opposite side may, at their option, exact. Scotland asserted that one of their team did hit the ball with his hand, though not in the direction of the opponents' goal-line ; but they nevertheless maintain that this touching the ball with the hand constituted a violation of rule 26, and that the subsequent try and goal achieved by England were null and void. The referee of the game that gave rise to the dispute declined to give a decision on the spot, and wished to refer the matter to the English Rugby Union who framed the rules. The English team declined to refer the matter, alleging that there was nothing to refer. 1

The rule, as worded at the time, was certainly ambiguous, and a further difficulty was created by the fact that in other editions of the same rule the passage is differently punctuated. Both sides drew up their own version of the facts, but the dispute went on as Scotland then declined to abide by the rather informal adverse decision of the referee, given in writing some time afterwards. It was not an unreasonable suggestion on the part of the Scotch team that the whole question should be referred to some neutral body, though, at the same time, making the protest at all seems very like trying to take advantage of their own wrong. As a result there was no England v. Scotland match in 1885—the first break for thirteen years. Read further article by Peter Shortell

1884 First rugby match in Russia. Rugby struggled for recognition under Soviet rule and Russia did not play its first international match until 6 June 1992, when it beat the Barbarians 27-23.

1885-86 Referees were allowed to use a whistle! Umpires were given sticks.

At Cardiff F.E. Hancock was appointed captain (only one of three Englishmen to even have captained Cardiff). They recorded there most successful year using the new four three quarter system and only lost once to Moseley.

1885 - Twenty-six clubs were affiliated to the Irish Union of which ten were in Ulster, nine in Leinster, seven in Munster. First visit of a French team (Paris F.C.) to England.

England and Wales played at Swansea on January 3, 1885, and resulted in favour of England by one goal and four tries to one goal and one try. There was one alteration from the original selections for both sides. For Wales Jordan took the place of Pryce-Jenkins ; for England Henderson played vice Tatham, who had not recovered from injuries sustained in the North v. South match. The Welshmen "were most enthusiastic over the doings of their champions, the forwards fully deserving all the encomiums bestowed upon them; but the play of the English backs was unquestionably the feature of the game. 1

The third international match between Wales and Scotland, under Rugby rules, was played at the West of Scotland Ground, Glasgow, on January 10, 1885, when accurate play was out of the question owing to the ground being like a quagmire, while several showers of sleet and rain did their share towards making players and visitors—there was a large attendance of the latter— uncomfortable. After a short spell of play the critics foretold the triumph of the Scotch team, a termination that seemed probable after the England v. Wales match. Football, however, has its uncertainties like cricket, and this was one of the surprises, for, after much brilliant play, the combatants had to shake hands over a drawn game. The Welshmen, who regarded their defeat almost in the light of a moral certainty, were much elated at the turn events had taken, and they are certainly to be congratulated on the result, for they played a plucky and skilful game, aibeit their system of stopping rushes by lying on the ball is not one that commends itself to football players. 1

This was the first international game to have a brothers on each side. Scotland vs. Wales where George and Richard Maitland played for Scotland and Arthur and Bob Gould for Wales.

February 21, 1885, brought the Scotch team to Belfast to play Ireland under Rugby Union rules. Fine weather had prevailed for a week, the morning was fine, and both teams were on the ground, when suddenly a blinding storm of sleet came on, the wind blew a whole gale, and after the ball had been blown back over the kicker's own goal-posts, the game was abandoned until a future occasion, after twenty-five minutes' play—a termination that probably robbed the Irishmen of a victory, as they were very strongly represented. There was a special interest attaching to this contest. Thanks to the dispute between England and Ireland, and the unlikelihood of deciding the question of supremacy, the Scotland v. Ireland contest has increased in importance, as tending to give some sort of a line, through the Irish team, of the relative merits of the English and Scotch ones. The second attempt to bring off the match was attended with great good luck in the matter of weather. March 7 was the day appointed for the renewal of hostilities, and Raeburn the scene of the encounter. March winds and March dust perhaps asserted themselves a little too strongly, but the day was in other respects a fine one. Very nearly 10,000 persons came to look on, and enthusiasm ran high. In the end the Scotchmen proved more than a match for the Irish, and when all was over Scotland had secured the substantial victory of a goal and two tries to nothing. This made the eighth international match (nine have been arranged, but in 1878 no match took place in consequence of frost), of which seven have been won by Scotland, and one (1881) by Ireland. 1

Rugby Union football has taken such deep root in Lancashire that the county executive arranged a match in which the Northern division were to play the South. The affair created no lack of interest, and two thoroughly representative teams were selected. The contest took place at Barrow-in-Furness on the 7th of last November, about 4,000 persons assembling in Cavendish Park to witness the contest. In consequence of the rain that had fallen the ground was very greasy, a circumstance that was not without its effect upon the play. Somewhat contrary to general expectation, the North were quite overmatched, the South winning by one goal, four tries, and one minor point, to one minor point. 1

1886 - The foundation of the International Rugby Board by Scotland, Wales and Ireland. England declines to join since they believe they should have greater representation on the board for having a greater number of clubs. They also refuse to accept that the IRFB should be the recognised law maker of the game. The IRFB agrees that the member countries will not play England until the RFU agrees to join.
Points for scoring adopted by IRFB.
The 'broken time' issue starts to be discussed in Lancashire, where soccer and cricket players can be recompensed by their clubs for time taken off work to play sport, whilst rugby players can not.

Bedford RUFC
was founded in November 1886 after an amalgamation between Bedford Rovers (1876) and Bedford Swifts (1882) although the name change was not formally voted through until the Annual General Meeting on 14th September 1887. The Blues, as they were called, were born, but the name Swifts was to be lost for 63 years (see 1950).

  bedford 1887  

The Connacht Branch, Ireland was formed.

Rugby Union adopted scoring by points which was a system which had been existence at Cheltenham College for many years. Goal = 3 points and Try = 1 point.

The first international where the four three-quarter system was tried by Wales was against Scotland in 1886 with six Cardiff players in the side, however, the experiment was not successful and it was cast aside until it was brought back against the New Zealand Natives team in December 1888, Wales won by a goal and two tries to nil.

In 1887 Middlesex as the strongest county in the south was selected to do battle with Lancashire, the champions of the north, on the occasion of the Charity Festival organized in London jointly by the Rugby Union and the Football Association. A stubbornly contested match resulted in Middlesex, though having the best of the game, being defeated by a try. As a matter of fact Middlesex also gained a try, but the short space marked out between the goal line and the dead-ball line lost them the point. It is worthy of note that his Majesty King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, was present at the match, and at the conclusion of the game several of the players were brought and introduced to his royal highness. Causa honoris we give the names of the Middlesex team:-E. T. Gurdon, A. Rotherham, W. E. Maclagan, C. J. B. Marriott, John Hammond, A. E. Stoddart, W. G. Clibborn, J. H. Roberts, C. J. Arkle, G. L. Jeffery, G. C. Lindsay, E. S. McEwen, C. Collier, T. Riddell, and A. S. Johnson.


In 1886 a regular team of Royal Engineers Rugby Football players (normally officers) formed to make the' Sappers' Rugby Club. Some of these founder players were skilled players; notably A. WALPOLE who played twice for Ireland. The team was able to play many of the best clubs In the south of England and for some years played the team of the Royal Artillery, at this stage it did not rank as a club representing the Corps but this is believed to be the longest and still standing fixture played between 2 Corps in the British Army. The first recorded game was played at Woolwich on December 11th, 1887. The Sappers won 24 - 0.

1888 - British team tours Australia and New Zealand which was the first major tour abroad.

A fourth three-quarter was introduced and adopted by the Welsh Union.

In December the New Zealand team lost to Wales who used the four three quarter system by a goal and two tries to nill. It was also notably used by Wales to win the 1889-90 match vs. England .

Newbridge (Wales) formed.

New Zealand Native team tours Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. On the longest tour ever, they play 107 matches, winning 78, drawing 6 and losing 23. The tour lasts for over a year.

In 1888, the year before the County Championship was officially recognized, Middlesex was without question the strongest Rugby team of the season.

1889 - British Columbia Rugby Union and South African Rugby Football Board formed.

The RU recognized the county championship for the first time.

March 2nd - Ireland's first Test victory on Welsh soil, beating the home side by two tries to nil on the St Helen's Ground, Swansea.

The South African Rugby Football Board was established to link up and govern the various unions. They held their first tournament the same year ay Kimberley where the Western province, Transvaal, Griqualand West and Eastern province competed. The Western province won the tournament and went on to win the next eight.

The SA Rugby board decided that a larger competition was a good idea and created a provincial tournament (later to be called the 'Currie Cup', the participating unions were Western Province, Griqualand West, Transvaal and Eastern Province. The first tournament was held in Kimberley and was won by Western Province. As a prize they received a silver cup donated by the South African Rugby Board, now displayed at the SA Rugby Museum in Cape Town.


1. The year's sport: a review of British sports and pastimes for the year, 1885 By Alfred Edward Thomas Watson




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