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Historical Rugby Milestones 1900s

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

1900s A short Historical Back drop of Britain

  • Victoria dies and is succeeded by Edward VII 1901
  • The 'Taff Vale' case leads to the birth of the Labour party 1901
  • Treaty of Vereeniging ends the Second Boer War 1902
  • 'Lib-Lab' pact enables Labour to break into national politics 1903
  • Women's Social and Political Union is formed to campaign for women's suffrage 1903
  • Olympic Games open at White City in London 1908
  • Parliament approves old age pensions 1908


Rugby played in the Olympic Games in Paris - France win the title. Germany & Moseley Wanderers, GBR share the silver after a round robin.

Cross Keys (Wales) founded.


Abertillery (Wales) and Pontypool (Wales) founded.

The separate Lancashire and Yorkshire competitions of the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU) merged, and became the Northern Rugby League (the first time the name Rugby League was used officially (see also 1922).

Here is a report of the 1901 Scotland England International: "At the Rectory Field, Blackheath, on Saturday, the 9th inst., Scotland brought their international contests to a close with a brilliant victory over England by three goals and a try to a try. Within fifteen minutes of the start, some capital work between Fell, Turnbull, and Gillespie ended in the last-named scoring a try, which he easily converted, and ten minutes later the visitors had increased their advantage to 1.5 points. The second score came through Welsh, who, having an opening made for him by Flett, easily outpaced the English backs and ran well round. Again Gillespie converted, and he was also successful with a third place kick, Timm gaining the try after a fine run by Turnbull. Half-way through the second portion of the game Robinson obtained a try for England, Alexander failing to improve, but before the end the English line was crossed for the fourth time-on this occasion by Fell, after a splendid bout of passing; right across the three -quarter line. Gillespie did not improve this try, but at the call of "No side" Scotland won by 18 points to 3."

  england take the field  
England team leaves the pavilion.
Scotland Breaks away.
  line out  
Struggle for the ball at the line-out.


Canadian team tour England.


New Zealand play their first international with their revolutionary 2-3-2 scrum against Australia, winning 22-3 at the Sidney Cricket ground. On three previous occasions had New Zealand teams ventured to play in Australia (they had won 28 games with just two losses against New South Wales) but this was the first time against a combined Australian team. At this point in time they were not called the all blacks (this would occur two years later in Britain).

The Ranfurly Shield, the challenge trophy for New Zealand's provincial rugby championship, was presented by the Governor to G. H. Dixon, the Earl of Ranfurly for the first time to Auckland who had an unbeaten record at the time. It had to have it's center engraving replaced to show a scene from rugby rather than association football.


The first England Schoolboys international was played on March 12th, 1904 against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park. It was a 14-group school boys game. The English schools Rugby Union was formed that same year. Wales won the game 23 - 5.


In the USA newspapers showed a running count of injuries and fatalities in Football throughout 1905, and the final totals listed 18 deaths and 149 serious injuries across the country. Those figures wouldn't have amounted to much for some factories or many mines, but they were shocking for a sport. Football was branded as brutal and many perfectly nice people wanted it outlawed. The result was a review and changes to the rules governing the game to reduce the level of brutality. John Heisman, the successful and innovative coach of Georgia Tech, proposed legalizing the forward pass. Heisman correctly deduced that the pass could "open up" the game, but Walter Camp, college football's leading guru, opposed throwing the ball. Sir Walter usually got his way, but in this case the rule makers were willing to clutch just about any straw. Henceforth, the tossing forward of the pigskin was to be allowed.

Bouncing the ball in from touch and the field goal done away with.

First New Zealand Tour of British Isles (Primary Source NZ Rugby Museum)

A tour of the Home Countries by New Zealand had been under discussion at least from 1902. But negotiations took some time, partly at least because of concern about the expense of moving a large group of players around the world for several months. The cost for a team of around twenty five players touring for thirty odd matches over three or four months was estimated at 5,000 pounds. Another issue was the simplifying of the rules as to professionalism, presumably so that an allowance could be paid to the players.

In fact an allowance of three shillings per day was paid during the tour. The allowance was important to some of the players. Prior to the tour Billy Stead wrote to the New Zealand Union asking if any special provision was to be made for married men (there wasn't) and if the allowance was to be paid for Sundays (it was).

Money seems to have been an issue for some of the players. Though most books about the tour do not mention it others report that each Monday Bob Deans, Jimmy Hunter and Eric Harper (Jim O'Sullivan and Billy Glenn may also have been involved), all from wealthy backgrounds, each contributed two pounds into a fund for tour members who needed it.

To protect itself the New Zealand Rugby Union sought guaranteed minimum gate receipts which eventually were agreed to by three of the Home Unions, both for test matches plus club and county games under their jurisdiction. Scotland did not agree to guarantees and that decision of their administrators, as we will see later, gave the NZRU a substantial windfall. The New Zealand Union also tried, with only partial success, to raise funds through debentures to be subscribed for by its member unions.

The Tour Build-Up

After the 1904 season the New Zealand selectors named 53 players from whom the team to tour Britain would be chosen. Inevitably there was criticism of the selection with a number of players considered unlucky not to be among those named. Over the summer it was also announced that George Dixon, Chairman of the NZRU Management Committee, had been appointed as manager of the team. The English born Dixon, outside of rugby was an accountant, then became manager of the newspapers NZ Observer and NZ Times and later was the founder of the NZ Free Lance.

Following the inter-island match on 3 June 25 players were named to tour Britain, with 18 to make a three game preliminary tour of New South Wales. The trip to Australia was an attempt to generate additional cash after the debenture issue fell short of expectations.

In Australia the team, captained by Taranaki five eight Jimmy Hunter, won two and drew its other match whilst four matches in New Zealand resulted in two wins, a draw and a 0-3 loss to Wellington Province the day before sailing when the players would have been conscious of incurring injury. So the results in Australia and New South Wales had been satisfactory but not outstanding.

When the team returned to New Zealand the experienced Aucklander Bill Cunningham was added to fill a weakness that had shown up in the specialist lock position. Finally before the match against Wellington it was announced that “Bunny” Abbott of Taranaki would join the side and that Dave Gallaher would captain the team with Billy Stead as vice captain.

The Final Selection

Backs: George Gillett (Canterbury), Ernest “General” Booth (Otago), Billy Wallace (Wellington)), Duncan McGregor (Wellington), H D “Mona” Thomson (Wanganui), George Smith (Auckland), Eric Harper (Canterbury), H L “Bunny” Abbott (Taranaki), H J “Simon” Mynott (Taranaki), Bob Deans (Canterbury), Jimmy Hunter (Taranaki), Billy Stead (Southland), Fred Roberts (Wellington).

Forwards: Steve Casey (Otago), George Tyler (Auckland), Dave Gallaher (Auckland), Bill Mackrel (Auckland), Frank Glasgow (Taranaki), John Corbett (West Coast), W “Massa” Johnston (Otago), Alex McDonald (Otago), Fred Newton (Canterbury), Charlie Seeling (Auckland), George Nicholson (Auckland), Jim O”sullivan (Taranaki), Billy Glenn (Taranaki), Bill Cunningham (Auckland).

Manager: George Dixon ( Wellington ). Coach: Jimmy Duncan (Otago).

The side sailed on Sunday 30th July on the Rimutaka after a smoke concert in the Wellington Town Hall to farewell the team. The Premier Richard Seddon and Leader of the Opposition Joseph Ward were among the dignitaries who attended, but some observers noted that only ten tickets to the function were purchased by the public. However the team members would have been comforted by Seddon's assurance that their fares home would be guaranteed by the government if the tour was not a financial success.

On board ship the team was given a week off before training started, but at a meeting on August 5 Gallaher, advising he understood there was a feeling that the team rather than the NZRFU should appoint the captain, tendered his resignation. Billy Stead followed suit. An awkward situation was resolved when Frank Glasgow moved that the meeting “heartily endorse the appointments made by the (NZRU) Management Committee”. The resolution was carried, but by seventeen votes to twelve, the dissenting votes indicating there had indeed been unhappiness with the appointments.

Earlier, before the team left on the preliminary tour in Australia , there had been another selection issue. A number of the senior players opposed the appointment of 1903 New Zealand captain Jimmy Duncan of Otago as coach, arguing that it would be preferable to take another player rather than a coach. The Auckland RFU was prominent in lobbying against Duncan's appointment, and the matter became serious enough for the NZRU to hold a Special Meeting on July 18 when Duncan's appointment was confirmed by a majority of a little over two to one.

It is often contended that there was something of a North/South split in the team and that selections favoured the northerners. It would take a very detailed analysis of selections, taking into account injuries, illness (some of it self inflicted) and form, to confirm or refute the suggestion. For what it is worth, eleven players played in less than half the tour matches, six were from the the South Islanders, five from the North.

Selection issues were not the only storm encountered. On the eighth day out the Rimutaka ran into a storm with one freak wave, around nine o'clock in the evening, smashing portholes in the player's cabins, damaging skylights in a lounge ten metres above the waterline and ripping up a fifteen metre section of decking. Fortunately for all the monster wave turned out to be a one-off and by morning the sea had moderated.

After the week's break on board ship daily training took place, “physical drill” at 7.45am, a morning session with backs and forwards in their own groups, and in the afternoon a variety of drills , including boxing, wrestling and using the “Sandow developer” to build strength. The training that the team did, mostly with enthusiasm, may well have been a welcome relief from the monotony of shipboard life. At 5pm the players met to discuss rules, tactics and styles of play, something that was also done in informal brainstorming sessions throughout the tour. Gallaher (forwards, with Cunningham helping with scrum practice) and Stead (backs) took the training, with coach Jimmy Duncan sidelined. Usually other passengers watched the training and some, including two women, joined in.

Well as the team performed, not using Duncan 's coaching skills may have been a mistake. He was by the standards of the day vastly experienced, an acknowledged deep thinker about the game, an astute tactician and as a non player would have been able to bring a more detached view than could the player/coaches.

Montevideo was the first port of call (Tenerife was the other) and the team, few of whom had been further afield than Australia, spent the day sightseeing. Remarkably they found two New Zealanders, one an old school friend of Stead's, the other Jimmy Hunter's brother, a Salvation Army officer, who fixed them up with reliable guides to take them around the city. They were impressed by some of the architecture, put off by the smell of garlic and frustrated by the two hours taken over dinner “a la Spanish”.

The team took a full part in on board social activities, with Glasgow (piano), Newton and Nicholson (both described by Manager Dixon as singing “really well”) prominent. Nicholson (a tramp) took out the prize at a fancy dress ball, and on sports and competition day Harper won the men's potato race, Thomson the obstacle and egg and spoon events.

England was sighted early in the morning of 8 September and the team was ashore in Plymouth by 6 o'clock. They had time for breakfast before catching a train for the 32 mile trip to Newton Abbott. There was some initial disappointment among the team at being located in the the small inland town but it turned out to be an ideal choice. The team struck up a rapport with the locals, they had large crowds to watch them train and when they returned to Newton Abbott at 11.45pm after their first match, played in Exeter, they were met by a large crowd, with brass band, that accompanied them to their hotel.

The tour itself proved a triumph for New Zealand, with big and stylish wins in many games, defeats of Scotland (in a desperately close match), Ireland and England. Only a controversial 3-0 loss to Wales (after what appeared to be an equalising try to New Zealand was ruled out by the referee) spoilt a perfect record.

The 1905 All Blacks Tour of Britain - Paper by: Gareth Williams University of Glamorgan

Welsh Team which defeated New Zealand in 1905

This was the first team to be known as the All Blacks and there has long been debate about how they came by the name. The common belief was that a printing error turned a journalist's headline referring to the team playing as if they were “all backs” into “all blacks”. But it is not so. The team started their tour against Devon in Exeter with a shattering 55-4 win. The next day the local paper The Express and Echo reported: “the All Blacks, as they are styled by reason of their sable and unrelieved costume , were under the guidance of the captain (Mr Gallaher) and their fine physiques favourably impressed the spectators”.

It took a few matches for the “All Blacks” term to catch on but by the end of the tour everyone was using it. Few if any sporting nicknames have been as appropriate and widely used.

After the British Isles tour they arrived back in London on the 4th January to discover the New Zealand government, with Premier Richard Seddon the prime mover, had offered to pay for their return via North America. The NZRU was in favour and the team agreed though not unanimously. George Dixon recorded

“This trip (to America) is a confounded nuisance. Would much rather have gone aboard the steamer to enjoy a six-week rest and immunity from letters, callers, newspapers and worries generally. Billy Stead wrote Also heard with disgust that we have to play three matches in America and we think it rather hard of our union to call us into the field.

A side effect of the American diversion was that the team had two weeks holiday in London before leaving for New York. In that time a British publisher asked that Gallaher and Stead write a rugby coaching book for him. The payment was to be 100 pounds, a considerable sum in 1906, to be shared between the authors. Each was given a room and a stenographer, and made absolutely no progress. After discussion it was decided that Stead, with a secondary education and some writing experience, would produce the text himself. Starting at lunchtime on Monday, he had by the following Saturday evening completed, longhand, 80,000 words, a huge achievement. Meantime Gallaher had organised diagrams and photographs and in time a fully indexed hardback work of 322 pages The Complete Rugby Footballer was published. It covers nearly every aspect of the playing and organisation of the game, was well reviewed at the time and still contains material relevant today. That Stead, a boot maker, was able to dash off such a comprehensive work in a week seems incredible. The achievement though becomes more understandable after the recent publication (Billy's Trip Home, published 2005 by the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame) of the tour diary that Stead wrote for the Southland Times. This shows the Southlander to be not only a competent writer but a remarkably well informed young man with a keen interest in the world and its workings.

Played 35, won 34, lost 1, points for 976, against 59.

In the British Isles alone the team's record was: 32 matches, won 31, lost 1. Points for 830, against 39.

The tour also featured the first England New Zealand encounter which the All Blacks won 15-0. The match was played at the old Crystal Palace and while the venue only held 50,000 newspaper reports from the time claim that between 70,000 to 100,000, including the future King George V, fans watched the match.

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In the USA the forward pass was introduced to the 'American game''. The laws of rugby died and the game of American football evolved further.

Despite this, rugby union enjoyed a growth in popularity in the US, particularly in California, where major universities, including the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford, had withdrawn from football - the "American game" - with concerns about brutality and professionalism.

The break away Northern Union reduce the number of players to 13.

March 22 1906 - England first play France.

England crossed the channel and won 35-8 win at the Parc des Princes in Paris.

The match was only Les Bleus second and they were optimistic heading into the match. Despite losing to the All Blacks on January 1, 1906 they had scored against the New Zealand side an accomplishment England could not boast.

In these early days it was not unheard of for a national team to have players of other nationalities and the France lineup included an American, Allen Muhr, and Englishman, William Crichton, and a Welshman, Ernest Lewis.

South Africa tour the British Isles and France for the first time. They play 28 games, winning 25, drawing one and losing two.

October 31st - In their first-ever appearance at Cardiff Arms Park the South African touring side were made to work hard for a narrow 6-3 victory against Glamorgan.


Rugby ground at Twickenham purchased by RFU committee member William Williams. 10 1/4 acres of market garden purchased for £5,572 12S 6d. To become known as "Billy's cabbage patch" since the site, was previously used to grow cabbages and other vegetables, along with fruit trees and mushrooms.

Two men were responsible for the purchase of the ground, firstly Billy Williams who was a bachelor with a private income who lived in a fine house in Walpole Road, Twickenham, entertained handsomely, and was every bodies friend. Williams used to play fullback for Harlequins, Middlesex, and London and was an international referee. He was also part of the RFU committee and went to see the Mann family about purchasing their Orchard which had been put on the market. He recommended the land to the RFU as an excellent place to build a rugby ground.

Secondly there was William Cail who was a hard headed business man, an alderman of Newcastle, head of an engineering and export business, a dour man of few words who, when he spoke, used his deep bass voice in majestic authority. He has been president of the RFU from 1892 to 1894, and it was he who had persuaded the RFU to stand firm against the 22 Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs who wanted to pay players for broken time. By 1906 he had been treasurer of the RFU for 12 years and was to remain in office till 1924.

When Billy suggested the land at Twickenham many were against it thinking it too far from London, liable to flooding and too costly since it would pretty much take all available funds and not leave anything to pay for the development needed. William Cail told the RFU to buy it and arranged a £6,000 overdraft at the bank to go with the money they had (£4,919 by selling their Consuls) and 5% debentures of £50 each).

Although they spent more than 10,000 pounds in the year after they purchased the land they were in profit. Cail reported in 1924, the year Billy became vice-president of the union, that before Twickenham the largest profit they had made from an international was £1,940. At Twickenham they made £5,509 against Scotland, £4,465 against Wales, £3,679 against France and £2,957 against Ireland.

After Cail had been treasurer for 30 years he retired and the year after died at his home in Newcastle at the age of 76.

Billy Williams died in his sleep at Hampton Wick on April 14, 1951 age 91.

Twickenham 1915

First rugby league 'league' was formed, the new Union's rules had diverged from those of Rugby Union, most noticeably in the reduction of players from 15 to 13 and slightly different scoring.


Hartlepool Rovers, Cup Winners, 1907
H. Calvert, I. Vale, J. J. Broadhead, J. Jones.
F. Boylen, S. Brittain, J. Ainslie, D. E. Ellwood.
W. H. Dobing, E. C. Carter, P. H. Watson, G. E. Carter (capt.), W. E. Heal, T. Hogarth.
J. P. Sivewright, J. Thompson, J. Knaggs, E. R. Cocks.


First Australian tour of England and Wales.

aus arrive
Australia arrive on the SS Omrah at Plymouth Sept 18th 1908

When the Australians arrived in England the press were nick-naming them the Rabbits. Now Rabbits had been introduced to Australia by the British and were reaching plague proportions so rather than be named after a pest they spent a day discussing the matter, by which time the English newspapers were beginning to get hundreds of letters suggesting suitable names such as Wallabies, Kangaroos, Kookaburras and Wallaroos. A vote was held on Sept 22nd and it went in favor of "the Wallabies" by just a few votes.

aus 1908

Australia v Gloucester 16-6 Carmichael Kicks for Goal Oct 1st, 1908. Notice he is still wearing his cloth cap during the game.

The team spent 9 months touring the United Kingdom, Ireland and North America. The players ages ranged from 20 to 27 years old, height from 5'5" to 6'1" (only 1 player was over 6") and weight from 10 stone to 14 stone (a stone being 16 pounds).

aus wales 1908
Australia lose to Wales 6 - 9, Dec. 12th, 1908

During the tour Syd Middleton was sent off by referee A. O. Jones, in a game against Oxford, after punching an opposing forward in a line out and and became the first Australian national player to leave the field.

The Australians won the Rugby competition in the London Olympics vs. the only other team to compete was Great Britain.

They play 31 matches, winning 25, drawing one and losing five. The Australian team receives three shillings a day for out-of-pocket expenses and Scotland refuse to play the team, claiming that paying them makes them professionals. Scotland’s fears are justified because upon arriving home eleven players were enticed, by the money offered by James Joynton Smith, to join the newly formed Rugby League. The captain for the game against England, Chris McKivat, was paid 200 pounds at a time when weekly wages were about 2 pounds.

G V Portus played for England in 1908

Bedford Athletic founded.


Two covered stands for 3000 spectators each, built on East and West sides of the pitch as well as a terrace at the South end for 7000 spectators and an open mound at the North end. A vehicle park for 200 cars / carriages behind the South stand was built. The total cost of these was £8,812 15s. 0d, raised by debentures. The pitch was raised above ground level to avoid the flooding of the River Crane, drainage constructed and fences erected at a further cost of £1,606 9s. 4d.

March 2nd - Wales and France met for the first time at Test level in front of 15,000 on a Monday afternoon at Cardiff and Wales cruised to a 36-4 victory.

Wales France
Tries Gibbs 4, Jones, Morgan 2, Trew 2 Tries none
Cons Gibbs, Winfield 2 Cons none
Pens Winfield Pens none
Drops none Drops Vareilles
HB Winfield
E Morgan (c)
RT Gape
WJ Trew
RA Gibbs
RH Jones
RM Owens
J Watts
G Travers
WH Dowell
JA Brown
EJ Thomas
A Webb
W O'Neil
G Hayward
H Martin
E Lesieur
G Lane
M Leuvielle
C Vareilles
A Hubert
A Mayssonnie
A Branlat
P Mauriat
P Guillemin
A Masse
RR von Malmann
R Duval
J Dufourcq
M Communeau (c)


On the same day, the RFU issued its report into professionalism, deciding that while it no longer existed in the game, there were instances where expenses paid had been "too lavish". But the detailed findings were kept under wraps as "nothing would be served by making them public".


Australia beat England 9 - 3 at Blackheath, London on January 9th.

The first German Club Championships were organized.

£20,000 spent on roads and entrances etc for the inaugural match at Twickenham on 2 October - Harlequins v Richmond. Ronald Poulton (Palmer) and Adrian Stoop played. Quins won by 14 points to 10.

The first Dominion of Canada “amateur rugby championship”was held at Rosedale Field.

The Grey Cup was donated by the then Governor General of Canada, the Earl Grey, to recognize the top amateur rugby football team in Canada. By this time, Canadian football had become markedly different from the rugby football from which it developed. Over time, the Grey Cup became the property of the Canadian Football League as it evolved into a professional football league. Amateur teams ceased competing for the Cup by 1954.



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