GLEBE DIRTY REDS WERE A RUGBY POWERHOUSE

The ‘Dirty Reds’ nickname found a home at Drummoyne, but it was the Glebe ‘Dirty Reds’ rugby union club who first made the name famous.  Between 1900 and the start of WW1 the ‘Dirty Reds’ took out the Sydney first grade premiership title a remarkable seven times out of the 15 seasons played. Drummoyne’s origins…

Rugby’s Original Rabbitohs

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens; Oct 26, 2012 The NRL’s South Sydney club rightly takes great pride in their heritage and traditions, the cardinal and myrtle colours, the “rabbitohs” nickname. What few know is that the club name, colours and mascot were all originated by their predecessor, the South Sydney District…

NEWTOWN’S LUCKY CHARM

Only the Newtown District Rugby Club could boast of having Nellie Stewart as “First Lady Patron”. Woolloomooloo’s Nellie Stewart (1858-1931) was the most popular stage performer Australia has ever seen. Melba might have been the acme of high-brow operatic perfection, but Nellie Stewart was the actress-singer and musical theatre star popular with all ages. Very…

Oldest Rugby Rivals in Australia?

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens;  Dec 31, 2013 Which two teams still meeting today have the longest standing rivalry? NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds first played in 1882, but there are older 19th century match-ups still on offer today. The honour is generally acknowledged to remain with the ‘rivals of the…

THE OLD BALMAINS WERE A FORCE

Revived in 2005, the Balmain Rugby Club was in the code’s pioneering first half century one of its most famous teams. The Referee wrote in 1900: “In times gone by Balmain was a prominent and popular name in Sydney’s Rugby football. The old Balmain Club had many fine battles with the contemporary champions, University and…

Which Are Australia’s Oldest Rugby Clubs?

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens;  Dec 29, 2013 Which are Australia’s oldest Rugby clubs that are still going today, and why are there so few from the 19th century? The Maitland Rugby Club (1877), claim they are the second oldest Rugby club in Australia, following behind Sydney University (1863). Yet the…

Rugby Bounced Aussie Rules

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens; Dec 24, 2013 @ 05:31 It’s an intriguing question: Through the last quarter of the 19th century, how did rugby in New Zealand, New South Wales and Queensland manage to repel the advance of Australasian (later Australian) rules football – a code that was deliberately made safer…

RUGBY MADE ITS AUSSIE DEBUT IN 1840s TASMANIA

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens.com The first games of Rugby football in Australia were played in Tasmania in the 1840s. Thomas Hughes’ classic novel, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, is generally considered to be a semi-biographical account of life at Rugby School in the early 1830s. One of the chief characters in the…

Greetings of Defiance

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens; Dec 16, 2013 @ 10:45 The All Blacks have their war cry, but long ago so did the Wallabies and other teams. In 1884 the first New Zealand Rugby side was formed, journeying across the Tasman Sea to Sydney, Australia. The team’s enduring legacy is the tradition…

ORIGIN WAS RUGBY’S FORGOTTEN DREAM

While the ‘State of Origin’ tag was devised by AFL (well, more accurately, by the WAFL), and was followed by rugby league, the concept of non-residential based representative teams was not original to either code. Rugby’s Home Nations international teams have been since the tournaments inception in the early 1880s, used what is known to…

FALLEN ANZAC WALLABIES

Whenever I look up my photographs of footballers now I do so with no pleasure, for I am reminded of the number of truly grand men who have gone under in this fight of the nations. Rugby football must surely put every other sport into the shade in the matter of providing fighters who have…

WEBB ELLIS OUR OLD FRIEND

When did Aussies first hear of William Webb Ellis and his Rugby deeds?1980s? 1970s? Try the 1870s! Since the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, the William Webb Ellis Trophy has brought and kept the name of the Rugby School boy in the forefront of publicity and talk about the sport.  Of course prior to…

THEY WORE ALL BLACK BEFORE THE ALL BLACKS

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens.com The 1888-89 “New Zealand Natives Football Team” took their final curtain bow on British soil on 27 March 1889. They were the first team of footballers from New Zealand to travel to the Northern hemisphere, and apart from hearing of their ferocious fighting against British forces…

Riot & Revelry : Try 20-a-side Rugby!

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens;  Nov 26, 2013 Rugby today means 15 a-side, but 20 was once considered the superior ideal, the more the merrier! At times the game was more riot than football! The inspiration, of course, were the stories of hard-won glory in ‘Bigside’ matches at Rugby School, not…

WAS WEBB ELLIS RUGBY’S TRUE TRAILBLAZER?

Unveiled by the Old Rugbeian Society in 1900, the famous bronze plaque at Rugby School pays tribute to William Webb Ellis who, in their words, “with fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time at Rugby School, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the…

RUGBY WAS TABOOED AT RIVERVIEW

For a time ‘football’ at some of Sydney’s now most famous Rugby schools was Australian rules. At Saint Ignatius’ College its founder Father Joseph Dalton is purported to have openly declared his distaste “for that horrid Rugby Rule” and the Australian game of football was the only code played. Both Saint Ignatius (at Riverview) and St…

AFL WAS THWARTED BY HARD LUCK & DASTARD DEEDS

Why did Aussie rules fail to conquer Sydney, Brisbane and New Zealand? Listen to AFL fans, and it was all down to hard luck and being thwarted by the dastardly deeds of other codes, and never that the game itself simply didn’t find enough supporters. Let’s look at each of the areas and the usual…

THE PROPOSITION. HOW 130 YEARS OF WARATAHS & REDS BEGAN

The Waratahs-Reds match of 2012 stands as a monument to 130 years of inter-state rugby rivalry – but if not for the shrewdness and persistence of two NSW rugby officials, 1882 could instead be remembered in history as the year Australian rules began to become our national game, and rugby slid away into extinction. The…

BUY THE BOOK! “THE FIRST LIONS OF RUGBY”

THE captivating story of the first British Lions and their history-making tour of Australia and New Zealand. An epic eight month, 54-games expedition of high drama and adventure in the era of Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne and Jack the Ripper.

RUGBY MEN FOR THE FRONT

From the distance of 100 years since the start of WW1 it is difficult for us today to fully appreciate why men, particularly Rugby men, so willingly rushed to join the AIF and went ‘over the top’ when the officer’s whistle blew. Perhaps the words of “The Wallaby Captain” can give us some insight and…

BAD LUCK DOGGED FIRST WALLABIES

“The original Wallabies that flashed off to England in 1908-9 were not the luckiest lot — but they were tip-top fighters, with great courage,” wrote Sydney’s The Referee looking back at the tour two decades later. Losing players to long term injuries were the bane of all early touring teams in the era of six…

THE BEST OF ALL GAMES

John Chris Watson, Australia’s first Labor Prime Minister, was a former Rugby player, and never hid his love of the code when in office. The son of seafaring parents, Watson was born in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso in 1867. His early life was in New Zealand’s Otago region, where he took up playing…

MOB FOOTY DOWN UNDER

Folk (or mob) football, following its various traditional forms from across Britain, was played in the Australian colonies from at least the 1830s up to the early 1870s, usually as part of the bill-of-fare at festivals and holiday celebrations, and occasionally for money or other prizes. The most favoured time for football was across Shrovetide,…

THE MAROON-HEARTED WARATAH

It’s no revelation to anyone that the NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds in Super Rugby are essentially now clubs, no longer representative teams – players can and are sourced and contracted from far beyond their state borders. A prominent example of one of the early imported players to wear the Waratahs jersey, without ever having…

MIGHT OF WALLABIES & ALL BLACKS COMBINED

The Wallabies made their debut 18 months before the nation of Australia was born – yet the original ambition in 1899 was not for an Australian team, but the combined might of ‘Australasia’ instead. The NSWRU planned for a Test series to be played in Sydney between ‘Australasia’ and the touring Great Britain side. Given…

“WESTWARD HO!” : 1907’s FORGOTTEN WARATAHS

In 1907 a long forgotten NSW representative side ventured to Australia’s west coast, and though their matches and player ‘caps’ mysteriously don’t appear in the Waratahs record books, their tour was part of NSWRU’s plan to help restore Rugby to its place as Western Australia’s preferred footy game. Actions by rival codes in Sydney and…

ANZAC LETTERS FROM RUGBY SOLDIERS

“When the bugle-call to arms was sounded in 1914 he put aside the jersey for the khaki, the football for the rifle and the bayonet. To Gallipoli he went, and fought grimly by the side of gallant comrades of the football field, some to fall before his eyes.” A collection of letters and newspaper clippings…

NEW ZEALAND’S ‘ALL BLACKS’ JERSEY

One of the most iconic brands in world sport is the New Zealand Rugby team’s ‘All Blacks’ jersey. The black jersey with silver fern leaf was adopted by the NZRU in 1893. The choice of the nation’s native forest fern leaf (which under moonlight appears white/silver) as a badge to follow in the tradition of…

RUGBY vs THE RED BARON

The airplane pilots and men involved in ‘dog fight’ aerial combat during WW1 were (and often still are) portrayed as modern day knights, competing with gentlemen opponents under a chivalric code as the rules of engagement for something little more dangerous than a particularly “willing” game of Rugby… Common words and themes are often used…

DAY THE WARATAHS DREW 52,000 TO THE SCG

Of all the golden moments in the history of the Sydney Cricket Ground, there is one that is rarely mentioned: the winter Saturday in 1907 that the NSW Waratahs met the All Blacks, drawing a crowd of 52,000. ‘The Referee’ sports newspaper on 17 July 1907: The official figures in connection with the big match…

‘THE BLOODS’ OF SOUTH MELBOURNE RUGBY

The famous red-and-white strip of the AFL’s Sydney Swans has its origins in a club that once pursued a switch from Melbourne rules to Rugby to make football in Victoria “as honourable as cricket”. The South Melbourne FC that is now the Swans was founded in 1874, and adopted blue and white as its colours….

JOLLY JUMBUCKS OF THE HOME NATIONS

Perhaps Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, never really did say, “Being born in a stable does not make one a horse”, but many Home Nations Rugby officials have also thought bloodlines trump place of birth. At first glance you wouldn’t fancy there were many, but all three of the Southern Hemisphere Rugby superpowers could…

When the kicking tee could speak!

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens; Sep 30, 2013 @ 22:35 It is only today in extremely windy weather conditions in Rugby that we see a team mate hold the ball in place for a kicker to make his shot at goal. It was once the case that all place-kicks at goal had…

AUSSIE BARBARIANS AT PLAY

England’s Barbarian FC is Rugby’s most famous ‘itinerant invitation’ team. The majority of the players to have become a ‘Barbarian’ were from the four traditional Home Nations sides and British clubs, but until the 1950s the names of Aussies too can be found scattered amongst the team line-ups.   In March 1890, Blackheath FC’s W.P. ‘Tottie’ Carpmael…

AUSTRALIA’S FIRST RUGBY STAR

Tom Wills’ place in the founding of Australian rules history has cast into deep shadow his football deeds at Rugby School, and the veneration and recognition his name ought to have today for being Australia’s first Rugby star. “Tom Wills … both as player and general, has no rival on this side of the equator.”…

ROUGH RUGBY IN WARWICK

By the middle of the 1880s support amongst footballers for the Rugby code in Queensland was gaining momentum. In late 1883 the Northern (later Queensland) Rugby Union was founded, and in readiness for the 1884 football season two Brisbane clubs established – the Fireflies and Wanderers. Country towns and schools across Queensland soon followed the…

DID A PAINTING KICK-OFF FRENCH RUGBY?

Did a painting that depicted the 1886 Rugby meeting between Scotland and England kick-start interest in the game in France?… Our story begins in 1889 in Paris at the Exposition universelle internationale – or in modern terms, a World’s Fair. “Its central attraction was the Eiffel Tower, a 300-meter high marvel of iron by Gustave Eiffel….

HURRAH! FOR ‘TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS’

Much is made of Tom Wills’ “call for football” letter on 10 July 1858, but it was the arrival in the colonies six months earlier of the book Tom Brown’s Schooldays that really ignited interest in football in Australia, particularly in its largest city, Melbourne. The book told the story of student life at Rugby…

“WE ARE GOING TO KILL RUGBY DEAD”

“We are going to kill Rugby as dead as Queen Anne.” So reportedly said Essendon football club president, Dr Wilfred Kent Hughes, in Sydney in the late autumn of 1904. The Victorian Football League (now AFL) had sent the Essendon and Melbourne clubs to Sydney to play a competition match at the SCG, in the…

THE INNOVATOR WHO CHANGED RUGBY

Kicking the ball ahead in the scrum seems today to be an absurd move, but in the first 50 years of Rugby football to hook the pigskin backwards was regarded by one and all as dishonourable cheating. The objective of a scrum was to push the opposing forwards out of the way and propel the…

ENGLAND TO TOUR IN THE SUNNY SOUTH

In 1888 the first (what is now recognised as) British Lions sailed ‘down under’ – given the hazards, distance and communication difficulties of the time, merely bringing the venture to fruition was an astonishing feat in itself. Remarkably, nine years earlier, England’s rugby captain had made a similar daring attempt at organising a tour. The…

BRISBANE FC’S TOPSY TURVY FOOTY RULES

Founded in 1866, Queensland’s first football club is today claimed by AFL authorities as an Australian rules club, but in truth the Brisbane FC’s rules were unsettled throughout its two decades of existence. The annual meeting of the Brisbane Football Club … After some discussion it was resolved to adopt the Rugby Union rules for convenience…

GUNPOWDER RUGBY AT THE SCG

It took getting Rugby played on the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1870 to really get the code going, but the first game was not without its own dramas. Through the 1860s football-playing in the NSW capital had languished far behind that of its southern rival. In May 1870, with no news of any footballers rousing…

RUGBY BOOSTED SOCCER’S FIRST WANDERERS

A-League’s Western Sydney ‘Wanderers’ revives the name of the city’s first “English Association” football club, founded in 1880. The arrival of the club and code was not only embraced by Sydney’s Rugby officials, but suspiciously, they took an active role in making sure the round-ball game quickly became established in the NSW capital. Founded in…

THE FIRST RUGBY PASTOR OF MELBOURNE

The rise and fall of rugby in 1890s Melbourne coincides with the arrival and departure of Rev. John Hoatson. Raised and educated in England, Hoatson was a significant figure in the development of Rugby in New Zealand’s Canterbury province in the 1880s, where he was a representative team selector and senior RU official. In the…

FIRST FOOTBALL GAME IN COLONIAL AUSTRALIA

The first documented account of the playing of football in colonial time Australia was of a game held in the centre of Sydney in late July of 1829. Three newspapers reported of soldiers at the city’s George’s Square Barracks finding amusement and activity most days by playing football amongst themselves on the parade ground. The…

TOM WILLS OF RUGBY

Tom Wills, recognised by many (mistakenly perhaps) as Australian football’s founding father, always reckoned the Rugby rules were worth having a closer look at. In fact, if Wills had initially got his way, there might never have been an Australian football code at all. As John Harms explored in The Age [16/5/09], Australian football turned…

AFL KICK-TO-KICK HAS ITS ORIGINS AT RUGBY SCHOOL

The traditional “kick-to-kick” game of Australian rules football is claimed as unique to the code. In reality it is a tradition from Rugby School, where it was called the “punt-about”. I was interested to read that the AFL’s picnic day at the MCG commemorating the 1858 Scotch College match, included what was described as the…

AMERICAN FOOTBALL’S ‘BIG GAME’ MEANT RUGBY

Here’s a trivia question that might score you a few ‘biscuits’ one day…”In the decade before WW1, apart from the UK’s biggest cities and Sydney, what was the only other place in the world where at least one Rugby match each season would draw a crowd well over 20,000?” The answer? Not Brisbane, not Capetown, not Auckland…

THE RUGBY-PLAYING PADRE

British Lions 1899 tour captain Matthew Mullineux was a ‘padre,’ whose life was full of adventure, philanthropy and service to the British Empire. Small of stature with a happy face and cheerful smile, he looked a typical English clergyman. His life was far from ordinary, first coming to prominence as an international Rugby player in…

LIONS TOURS – LIFEBLOOD OF AUSSIE RUGBY

In the lead up to the visit of the first British Lions team in 1888, joint promoter of the tour, English Test cricketer James Lillywhite, twice put proposals to the Victorian Football Association. As revealed in The First Lions of Rugby, Lillywhite was seeking sanction for a series of matches under Australian rules against Melbourne’s…

MELBOURNE’S FIRST RUGBY REBELS AMBUSHED NSW

The NSW Waratahs playing in Melbourne is now an annual event on the Rugby calendar, but it was a long time coming. The team’s first game on Victorian soil was 118 years ago – a match that produced an unexpected defeat, and gained Rugby a fleeting moment of Melbourne’s football attention. Through the 20th century…

WHAT GLORIOUS CREATURES WE ARE!

By the early 20th century the primary tenets of sound Rugby were team work and combination. Every man had his place and his assigned role. Players were a cog in an industrial machine. Individuals who went for glory on their own were derided as a “gallery player” and accused of looking to earn the cheers…

FIRST LIONS

THE FIRST LIONS OF RUGBY The first British Lions & their barnstorming Rugby & Aussie rules playing tour of Australia of 1888. “…a rare sporting story that holds interest for fans of rugby and fans of Australian football.” — The Age, Melbourne “Superbly written and brilliantly researched, ‘The First Lions of Rugby’ is a must-read…

RUGBY REBELLION

THE RUGBY REBELLION “Its revelation is fascinating.” — The Sydney Morning Herald “It is superbly researched and a very interesting read – in years to come it will be considered a classic.” — Peter Sharpham, author ‘The First Wallabies’ ‘The Rugby Rebellion‘ (re-titled as ‘Pioneers of Rugby League‘) is now in its final print run…

THE MASTER

THE MASTER – THE LIFE & TIMES OF DALLY MESSENGER “A very worthwhile read.” — Inside Sport Dally Messenger was an Australian sporting superstar in the early years of the 20th century – a rugby league immortal, rugby union champion, and the most popular sporting personality of his era. He represented the Kangaroos in rugby…

SCHOOLBOY RUGGER MORE THAN A GAME

The design pattern for schools around the world in the mid-late 1800s were the English Public Schools, especially Rugby School. Under the ‘Muscular Christianity’ mantra, the aim was to turn out boys fully developed mentally, morally and physically – to send them out fitted in body and soul for everything the world of the 19th…

MARN GROOK & INDIGENOUS FOOTBALL GAMES

It would be a mistake to say ‘Marn Grook’ was the football  game of all Australia before the arrival of the British. As with language and customs, the ball games and other amusements of Aboriginal communities were greatly varied. Other ‘football’ like games across the continent included ‘Purru Purru’, ‘Mingorm’, ‘Buroinjin’ and ‘Woggabaliri’. Below is…

‘DALLY M’ & ‘THE GREEN MAN OF HYDE PARK’

When Messenger first arrived into Rugby fame with the NSW Waratahs in 1906 they called him ‘Dally’, but this wasn’t his real name – it was a nick-name, taken from a now long-forgotten figure in Sydney’s colonial past, who many today simply know as ‘the green man of Hyde Park’. Born in Balmain in 1883,…

SPRINGBOKS VISIT RE-BOOTED CANBERRA RUGBY

Super Rugby teams from South Africa are now visitors to Canberra every year. Long forgotten perhaps is that a visit by South Africa’s Springboks in 1937 was the catalyst for the re-birth of Rugby in Australia’s capital. The 1937 Springboks, captained by Philip Nel, revered in South African and international Rugby history, defeated the Wallabies…

REDISCOVERING AN ANCIENT RUGBY BOND

The Wallabies met Samoa for the first time at Pontypool (Wales) during the 1991 World Cup, but the Rugby connections between the two nations are far older, reaching back to 1925 when a now long-forgotten Sydney schoolboy of Samoan blood won Test selection… Australian players of Pacific Islands birth or ancestry is now commonplace. In…

THE MICKITY-MULGA FOOTBALL MATCH

“The Mickity-Mulga Football Match” is a poem about a fictitious rugby game played in central-western New South Wales c.1900. Written by reporter, journalist and sometime amateur poet, W.T. Goodge, it was included in a collection of his verses published in 1904. Now the township of Mickity-Mulga, Which lies on the bank of the Bland, Is…

SYDNEY UNIVERSITY FC – AUSTRALIA’S FIRST RUGBY CLUB?

It has been thought that the Sydney University Football Club (SUFC) was in 1863 the first rugby football club founded in Australia. The SUFC’s jersey badge and merchandise feature “1863″ in respect to its founding season, and the club is often referred to as “The Birthplace” of the code in Australia. Little hard evidence remains…

WALLABIES ANSWERED EMPIRE’S CALL

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens.com First published in The Sydney Morning Herald as ‘Rugby Answered the Empire’s Call in World War 1‘. “No omissions by the selectors on this trip,” wrote Lieutenant George Pugh in a letter home to Sydney from war-torn France in early 1916. “It puts you in mind…

“NO, WE SHALL HAVE A GAME OF OUR OWN”

So what are we to make of Tom Wills’ often quoted declaration that, at the founding of Australian rules football [AFL], he responded to the suggestion of adopting Rugby laws by saying, “No, we shall have a game of our own”? Would a young man who had played five football seasons at Rugby School shun…

WARATAHS OF THE ANZAC BREED

When the Waratahs met the All Blacks in Sydney on 11 July 1914, to open the season’s international games, no one could have known that within weeks Australia and the British Empire would be at war with Germany and Austria. By war’s end, a third of the NSW team would be dead. The New Zealanders,…

THE FIRST PRINCE OF RUGBY

Mention is often made of the key dates and stories behind the founding of the world’s first Rugby clubs in the late 1850s and early 1860s, but barely anything is ever mentioned of the star players of this pioneering era. Rather than an oversight, it is a reflection of there simply being a lack of…

MUDDIED OAFS OF RUGBY

© researched & written by Sean Fagan One of the most common epithets applied to a Rugby player is that of being a “muddied oaf”. Though usually given in a light-hearted manner, and even worn with pride, it nevertheless reinforces a stereotype portraying Rugby footballers as lacking intelligence or manners, and often both. So where…

THE GHOST IN THE RUGBY PAINTING

Art and sport rarely mix. Few painters have ventured into the world of Rugby to depict the triumphs and tragedies of the football field. The most famous Rugby painting belongs to the late 19th century: William Barnes Wollen’s The Roses Match – the painting that, it is said, was altered to expunge from existence amateur…

SOME CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD

Rupert Brooke’s five sonnet work 1914 – The Soldier is the most famous poem of World War One – That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England. Brooke’s all too brief life story begins at Rugby School, including playing football on The Close – an experience he put down in…

RUGGER, SOCCER & FOOTER

‘Rugger’ – along with the etymologically linked ‘soccer’ – came into popular use well over a century ago – from ‘footer’… Few would be unfamiliar with ‘rugger’ as an informal name for Rugby. For the most part ‘rugger’ is seen as a jaunty and good-humoured word, evoking Rugby’s historical ties to England’s upper social classes…

WERE THE SOUTH YARRAS OF 1858 A RUGBY CLUB?

Is Melbourne FC our nation’s first football club? Or should the honour reside instead with the South Yarra team of 1858? And what football code did they play? In traditional histories recounting the first Rugby games in Australia, the story begins with the formation of clubs in Sydney in the mid 1860s. However, in the…

WITH A FINE DISREGARD

The winners of the Rugby World Cup tournament are presented with the Webb Ellis Cup trophy. Many texts and articles say that Rugby football was invented in 1823 when Ellis, in a schoolboy’s soccer football match at Rugby School, picked up the ball and ran with it – thus giving birth to the Rugby code….

WELSH RUGBY WIZARDS IN NEW SOUTH WALES

The first “golden age of Welsh rugby” were the pre WW1 decades. No Wales team visited Australia during that time, but their star players were part of early Lions tours, leaving a legacy on Sydney rugby via their innovation and flair. Welsh teams in Australia have been a rarity. The first was in 1969, with…

THE FOOTBALL DEEDS OF VICTOR TRUMPER

Of all the 4s that cricketer Victor Trumper – “that matchless magician of the willow” – put on the scoreboard at the Sydney Cricket Ground, one stands alone from all others – for it wasn’t with his bat, but via his boot! Not a cricket boot either, but a football boot! Playing for the Newtown…

THERE’S RUGBY, AND THEN THERE’S RUGBY

Until relatively recent times in the history of Rugby football, it was not uncommon for a team visiting another nation to encounter different interpretations of certain laws of the game. In Rugby tradition if the jersey colours of the two teams clashed, the home side gave way and found another playing kit to use for…

AFL’S FIRST GAME WAS RUGBY

Australian rules football lore tells us the code began with the celebrated school match of 7th August 1858 between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar. What the ‘Australian rulers’ don’t choose to mention is that everything known about the contest suggests it was played under Rugby principles, and that the need to bounce the ball when…

RUGBY XV’S PIONEER INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS

The first Indigenous Australians to turn their natural gifts to the Rugby game were in the 1890s. Our story begins though a little earlier, with the visit of the English cricket teams to Sydney over 1887/88. That summer the cricketers vied for the attention of cash-paying patrons against a series of sprint races being held…

‘GREAT BRITAIN’ v. ‘THE COLONIES’ 1892-96

An annual Australia versus Great Britain series of Rugby matches in mid-1890s Western Australia? Well, maybe if we squint a little… Few realise it today, but Rugby was in 1882 the first football code to establish clubs in the major centres of the west coast colony. Ultimately though, with Perth and Fremantle forming economic and…

‘MAITLAND RULES’ & OTHER LOST FOOTY CODES

The great pretension of the Melbourne FC and Aussie rules is that their founders in 1859, unlike elsewhere, eschewed the existing football codes from England and boldly declared, “No, we shall have a game of our own.” The reality is right across colonial Australia’s cities and towns, indeed throughout the English-speaking world, the majority of…

FAMILIAR JERSEY COLOURS HAVE CHEQUERED PAST

Rugby football club and national team nicknames and colours are familiar traditions, but their origins are often a chequered history. The British Lions adopted their now signature red jersey for their 1950 tour of Australia and New Zealand – replacing the dark blue jersey that had been used since 1910 in South Africa (the Union…

LITTLEJOHN OF MELBOURNE’S SCOTCH COLLEGE

Nicknamed ‘The Boss’, William Still Littlejohn was not only Melbourne’s foremost educationalist in the early 20th century, but a staunch Rugby man who was once in contention to play for Scotland, and for a time became President of the NZRU. The son of a watch-maker, Littlejohn was born in Turriff in Scotland in 1859. With…

AUSSIE RULES ALMOST HAD SYDNEY

Just over a century ago, Sydney was on the brink of becoming an Australian rules city. Had it fallen, the rest of NSW and then Queensland would have followed. Rugby union officials, their hands tied by the game’s amateur-driven leaders in England, could do nothing to improve playing rules to counter the growing appeal of…

ENGLISH RUGGERS GONE OVERBOARD

England’s centre Manu Tuilagi farewelled the 2011 Rugby World Cup by jumping from a ferry into Auckland Harbour. Bizarrely, he isn’t the first English rugger to end a New Zealand visit with a pier-side dunking in the city’s icy cold waters. The earlier instance was an accident, nearly a sad tragedy… Directly adjacent to the…

THE ‘KANGAROO WARATAHS’ 1912 USA TOUR

The ‘First Wallabies’ Rugby tour of Britain in 1908/09 is a familiar yarn, but that of 1912’s ‘Kangaroo Waratahs’ to USA? A century ago the second Australian team to cross the Equator left Sydney, off to aid the cause of Rugby in the USA. Rugby had been enjoying a rapid rise in support on the…

AUSSIE RUGBY 7s KICKED-OFF IN 1891

Rugby played seven-a-side is recognised to have begun in 1883 in the Scottish town of Melrose. While in Australia interest in 7s began to rise in the 1980s, it is perhaps surprising to say that the game was first played under southern skies not long after the Melrose RFC hosted its inaugural tournament. Organised reduced…

THE SUPERIORITY OF THE MELBOURNE GAME

The AFL announces it intends establishing two more clubs in its “non-football states” – as they call NSW and Queensland in their lofty manner – and the other codes are portrayed as suddenly facing their ultimate hour of darkness and peril at the feet of the superior Australian game. Hold hard fellow rugbyites (of either…

AUSTRALIA’S WEBB ELLIS

Schoolboy William Webb Ellis first ran with the football, but it took a young Aussie from the The King’s School in Parramatta to show the Rugby world how to make spectacular use of it. More than 15 years before the first Wallabies team in 1899, NSW-born Charles Gregory Wade was not only wreaking havoc on…

RUGBY’S WILD COLONIAL BOYS

Rugby got off to such a violent start in Newcastle in 1869, it was nearly a decade before anyone dared attempt it again. Founded in the first years of the 19th century as a military and convict coal-mining settlement, Newcastle’s proximity to Sydney (10 hours by ocean-steamer in the mid 1850s) led to it becoming…

THE AFL FOOTBALL: A SON OF RUGBY

It is claimed that TW Sherrin in 1879 created the first ball designed specifically for Australian rules football, making the ball smaller and rounder, replacing the pointed ends of the larger Rugby ball. Others go so far as to wax lyrical of the AFL ball’s unique shape, convinced it came into existence in a momentary…

FROM FOOTBALLER TO A SOLDIER

Many Rugby players from Australia have served in war. A little known though significant story is that of Sydney University forward James McManamey – a man that was there at the beginning of both the NSW Waratahs in Rugby and Australia’s military history, and, at an age of life when warm slippers and a quiet…

FIRST GORDON, THEN ZEALANDIA

In 1889 both Sydney and Melbourne senior Rugby competitions saw the formation of new clubs, comprised entirely of New Zealanders – an initiative analogous to the earlier establishment of “London Scottish” and “London Welsh” clubs in the English capital. The catalyst towards the founding of these clubs was a severe economic downturn in New Zealand…

RUGBY’S FIRST INTERNATIONAL PYTHON

It is not unheard of for a sporting team to be accompanied by a live mascot – College Football in the USA has made it a tradition. The first Australian Wallabies rugby team to visit Great Britain had one of the more unusual zoological companions….a snake!  Fearing their slithery comrade would be nabbed by the English port…

VICTORIAN, BUT NOT VICTORIAN ENOUGH

The 1880s are remembered for NSW, Queensland and New Zealand first meeting on the rugby field. Long forgotten though is that Victoria too made its debut in that decade – a happening that caused a cross-code controversy to erupt in Melbourne newspapers. In 1888 the impending arrival of the first British Lions team led to…

REFEREES, PENALTIES & BUGBEARS

The great bugbears of Rugby are penalty goals and the whim of a referee. Is that fair criticism, or is it simply the nature of Rugby football? A reading of the match reports recounted in “The First Lions of Rugby” will reveal something astounding to the modern Rugby world – in 1888 there was no…

THE FIRST FAMOUS MAORI FOOTBALLER

When talk comes around to New Zealand Rugby’s first Maori stars, Tom Ellison and Joe Warbrick are usually and fairly the two names brought to the fore. However, to many of those who possessed a living memory of late 19th century Rugby, the standout performer was a man who contributed to the rise of both…

WHISTLING RUGBY’S TUNE

The debut meeting of NSW and Queensland in the northern state was the first Rugby game officiated by a referee armed with a whistle. Played in 1883 on the inner field at the Eagle Farm Racecourse in Brisbane, the game was refereed by long-time NSWRU official Monty Arnold. The first Queensland team had been organised…

Our Barbarian Ways

Story written & researched by Sean Fagan for SaintsAndHeathens; Nov 19, 2012 @ 08:03 In March 1890, Blackheath’s W.P. ‘Tottie’ Carpmael lamented that the rugby season was already over, even though there were still a few good weeks of football weather remaining. It also bothered Carpmael that the club system meant always playing with the…

ALLEGIANCE TO COUNTRY

It was a topsy-turvy world in the early days of international rugby – aside from form, residency was all that mattered. All Blacks turned into Wallabies, Wallabies became British Lions, Sydney schoolboys gained fame under England’s red rose, and Australian rules players from Melbourne turned out for Scotland. Playing rugby for a country other than…

RUGBY’S DODGERS & CHARGERS

Does an achieved feat have any value if it has been won too easily? William Webb Ellis first ran with the Rugby ball, but he had to traverse a perilous field full of lurking dangers to do it. While Ellis was free in 1823 to hold the game’s traditions in contempt and run with the…

GOULBURN’S GENTLEMEN SONS OF RUGBY

Founding a football club in a country town in colonial times was difficult enough, finding another team to play against was often near impossible. Former Sydney University FC captain Valentine Blomfield Riley moved to Goulburn in 1872, to start working with his father as land surveyors in the rapidly growing inland NSW town and surrounding…

“WHAT THE DEVIL WAS THAT FOR?”

While Scotland’s first match in Newcastle (Australia) was not until 2012, many Scots have played in the city with British Lions teams. None though rival the heated controversy and after-effect caused by Scotland Rugby Union Hall-of-Famer, David Bedell-Sivright. Despite over-stated stories about the scale of Australian rules’ ‘Black Diamond Cup’, rugby was the dominant football…

ZEPPELINS OVER LONDON, RUGBY IS DEAD

A Rugby-playing Aussie writes home from war-time England just before Christmas 1914. Richard Granville Waddy, who played Rugby for Sydney University in the early 1900s (his brothers were famous Australian cricketers), moved to England late in 1908 to study medicine at Oxford University. His early education in the classroom and on the Rugby field had…