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First Rugby Union international, 1871

Jan 12, 2018
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The issue of the sporting journal Bell’s Weeklypublished on 8th December 1870 included the following challenge issued by the captains of five Scottish rugby clubs: “with a view of really testing what Scotland can do against an English team we […] hereby challenge any team selected from the whole of England, to play us a match, twenty-a-side, Rugby rules, either in Edinburgh or Glasgow”. Frederick Stokes, captain of Blackheath F.C. in London accepted the challenge and raised a team. The Scottish committee arranged for the game to take place on 27th March 1871 at Raeburn Place, the home of the Edinburgh Academical Club.

On the day of the match, over four-thousand people paid a shilling to watch the match, which was played over two fifty-minute halves. The Scots, captained by Francis Moncrieff, wore brown shirts, and the English, captained by Stokes, wore white shirts emblazoned with a red rose. The match umpire was Hely Hutchinson Almond, headmaster of Loretto School in nearby Musselburgh.

The Scots scored first when William Cross converted Angus Buchanan’s try. John Arthur went over the English goal-line for the second Scottish try, but he knocked the ball on before grounding it. While this was not allowed in the English game, it was perfectly acceptable in Scotland. The umpire judged the knock-on to be inadvertent and ruled that the try stood, to the annoyance of the English. Further controversy was avoided when the Scots failed to convert the try and thus received no points, as were the rules of the day. The English also failed to convert a try, so the first international rugby match ended with the Scots winning 1:0.

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