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The First Inclines of Rugby

The Development of Rugby in Nineteenth Century Wales and The Effects of Public Schools on Welsh Rugby


From Club to International Rugby

Rugby Union Divided

Success of the WRU

The First Inclines of Rugby in Wales.

William Web Ellis Commemorative PlaqueIt is believed that rugby was a sport first played by the Romans. It is known that they played a game in their camps, named Harpastum, said to be an early form of rugby inside their fort at Caerleon. However, it is possible to date our present game of rugby to the nineteenth-century, where William Webb Ellis was said to have picked up a ball during his recreational sporting activities at Rugby school, and ran with it in 1823, hence creating the basis of the modern game of rugby.
The ball, originally an inflated pig's bladder, became an oval shaped ball in 1851 and eventually a plum shaped ball in 1875.

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The Developments of Rugby in Nineteenth Century Wales and The Effects of Public Schools on Welsh Rugby.

It seems that rugby developed during the 1850s in Wales, owing a great deal to Rev. Rowland Williams, a figure of importance during this period. He participated greatly in Cambridge University's early years of rugby, and later became vice-principle of St. David's College, Lampeter in 1850. Pioneers of this game also included Llandovery, Christ's College, Brecon and Monmouth School, who played a twelve-a-side version of football in the 1860s, having means to travel due to industrialisation.
Cheltnam College in Gloucestershire played an important role in founding the now Cardiff Rugby Football Club, uniting in 1876. Old veterans of Rugby School were also involved in the formation of Llanelli Rugby Football Club in 1872. Monmouth were involved in the creation of Newport RFC in 1874, which along with Swansea, began as soccer clubs, soon switching to rugby.

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From Club to International Rugby.

Neath has been recognised as one of the first major clubs formed in Wales in 1871. More unofficial clubs such as Blaenau Gwent existed in 1869, however, not on the same scale as Neath. Some therefore consider Neath to be responsible for the widespread growth of rugby in Wales. They did however produce their first international player Dr. T. P. Whittington, who played for Scotland in 1873. The popularity of the sport soon spread to clubs such as Pontypridd, Newport, Swansea, Cardiff, Llanelli and Aberavon. It was the speed of this growth across the South Wales valleys that made the game of rugby recognisable as the Welsh people's sport. During the 1870s, most of the leading Welsh clubs were formed; Neath (1871), Llanelli and Swansea (1872), Newport (1874) and Pontypridd (1875). It is recorded that in 1875, the South Wales Football Club would play matches against English teams. Their first was played against Hereford in December 1875, in which the South Wales Football Club won by a goal to nil. It was to be reformed in 1877, and was then known as the South Wales Football Union. It was this year also, when the South Wales Football Club launched the Challenge Cup competition, being one of the more practical developments of the game. There were also technical developments, as the first floodlit match in the game's history was held at Rodney Parade on December 16th, 1888.

During March of the year 1880, Richard Mullock of Newport gathered representatives of nine clubs to try and establish a Welsh National Union and a national team. Their first International match was played on the 19th of February, 1881, at Blackheath and lost by a great amount. A letter was written to the Western Mail, signed simply, by 'A Welsh Football Player', regarding the poor defeat of the Welsh team, by seven goals, one drop gaol and six tries against them:

"Could you or any of your readers inform me whether the members of the Welsh XV who played against England were selected by responsible persons appointed by the committee of the South Wales Football Union? Or was it a private team, got up by Mr. Mullock, of Newport, to do battle for Wales?"

It was in fact, Mullock and his committee who selected the Welsh team, and the fact that C. P. Lewis declined the captaincy for the international at Blackheath, suggests that the team was probably made from Richard Mullock's Newport club, and not truly reflecting the talent that was in actual fact evident in Welsh rugby. What Wales needed was an organised, structured body. Mullock was criticised for his gathering and establishment. He therefore called a second meeting, involving eleven clubs (Bangor, Brecon, Cardiff, Lampeter, Llandilo, Llandovery, Llanelli, Merthyr, Newport, Pontypool and Swansea) at the Castle Hotel in Neath on the 12th of March 1881, where the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) was set up.Welsh Team, 1892 Richard Mullock was appointed first honarary secretary, and Mr. C. C. Chambers, president of Swansea Football Club, became the first president of the WRU from 1881-1882. Even though the WRU was officially set up in 1881, many believe the WRU was set up in 1880, which is why its centenary was celebrated in 1980.
Wales' first victory came against Ireland in Dublin in 1882, however, they lost against Scotland in 1883. These three matches were very important for the development of Welsh rugby. However, the breakthrough for Welsh rugby came in Cardiff, in January 1893 with the so-called 'Brazier Game' against England. There was frost on the pitch that was threatening to postpone the match but, in order to save the game, night-watchmen's braziers were placed over the ground the night before and were fed with coal to defrost the pitch. Wales proceeded to win the match 12-11.

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Rugby Union Divided.

Throughout the first few decades of rugby, there were great debates concerning pay for matches being played. All forms of professionalism were banned. In 1877, the Challenge Cup was introduced in Wales, which sparked a great deal of popular enthusiasm for the local teams. In England, respectively, was the County Championships, set up in 1888. Yorkshire won the cup for the first 7 out of 8 years, Lancashire being the champions for the other year. This type of consistency demonstarted strength of the game of rugby in the north of England. By 1890, half of the teams competing in the County Championships were teams from Yorkshire.

Wales played an international against England in 1892, but lost. Eleven of the Welsh fifteen played their rugby in northern England, as its popularity was great, attracting great numbers of crowds. There was a difference in the rugby played in the north and south of England, as the industrial north were encouraged to play their rugby well by their employers and were allowed time off to play. The more professional men played in the south, teams consisting of lawyers and doctors and university graduates. Traders became pressurised to recompensate players for taking time off for playing and training. During 1892/3, players were being suspended for taking money for playing rugby. In 1893, there was great tension between the classes and great industrial conflict leading to a number of strikes. The same year, Yorkshire RFU sent representatives to London ot make legal the paying of recompensation. The RFU refused, as they wished to combat professionalism, not encourage it.

In August 1895, at the George Hotel, 22 clubs from Yorkshire and Lancashire gathered and decided to secide from the RFU, becoming the Northern Union, known today as Rugby League.

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Success of the WRU.

Wales first won the Triple Crown in 1893, as they beat Ireland at Stradey Park by a try to nil. During this match, two great names were established - Arthur Gould of Newport and W. J.Welsh Team, 1905 Bancroft of Swansea. Arthur Gould had been branded "the father of modern threequarter play." Wales were on the top of their game in the 1900s, leading to a Golden Era in the name of Welsh rugby. Wales had won the Triple Crown six out of twelve of the following seasons, a success that no other home nation had ever experienced.

The greatest success for Wales came on December 16th 1905, with Wales' historic victory over New Zealand. The team represented a new nation, as the list of players involved suggests.

  • H.B. Winfield played for Cardiff and was born in Nottingham. He was a partner in a laundry business.
  • W.M. Llewellyn played for Penygraig and was born in Tonypandy. He was a pharmasist.
  • E. Gwyn Nicholls played for Cardiff and was born in Westbury-on-Severn. He was also a partner in a laundry business.
  • R.T. Gable played for Cardiff and was born in Llanelli. He was a schoolteacher.
  • E.T. Morgan played for the London Welsh and was born in Aberdare. His profession was a doctor of medicine.
  • Percy Bush played for and was born in Cardiff. He was a schoolteacher.
  • R.M. Owen played for and was born in Swansea. He was a steelworker and later became a publican.
  • George Travers played for and was born in Newport. He was a coal trimmer.
  • Dai Jones played for Treherbert. He was a collier and later became a policeman.
  • Will Joseph played for Swansea and was born in Morriston. He was a steelworker, but also a Welsh quoits international.
  • Cliff Pritchard played for and was born in Pontypool. He was an undertaker.
  • J.F. Williams played for the London Welsh and was born in Breconshire. He was part of the Colonial Service.
  • C.M. Pritchard played for and was born in Newport.
  • J.J. Hodges played for Newport and was born in Risca. He was a collier and later became a publican.
  • A.F Harding played for the London Welsh and was born in Market Rasen. He later emigrated to New Zealand.

The team drew a 40,000 strong crowd, and beat the New Zealand team by a try to nil at Cardiff Arms Park. This was a success that no other British team could live up to.

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