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Historical Rugby Milestones 1940s

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy


WW2 see more about Rugby at war.


Although Rugby union players could not normally take part in a Rugby league game without being kicked out of the union and receiving a life ban and likewise any rugby league player could not play union, during the war the military were exempt and players could switch codes with impunity.

During WWII Twickenham was used as a Civil Defence Depot, the East Car Park was dug up for allotments, and the West Car Park was a coal dump.


The RFU appointed medical student Tommy Kemp as England's first war-time captain. Kemp, who played his first international in 1937, finished in 1948, one of a handful to have played either side of the war. He also captained England in his fifth and final official appearance.


January 23rd - A game took place at Headingly on January 23rd, 1943, under Union laws, between Northern Command Rugby League XV and Northern Command Rugby Union XV. A crowd of 8,000 saw the league team win 18-11.


April 24th. Rugby League Combined services played Rugby Union Combined services, under Union laws, at Odsal (Bradford) with the league side winning 15 - 10. Bob Weighill who later became secretary of the RFU played.


Cambridge beat Oxford beat 16-4 at Grange Road, Cambridge in the last war-time Varsity match.


Dr Kevin O'Flanagan, an all round sportsman, played rugby for Ireland against France (in an unofficial international) and then played soccer for the Ireland national football team against Scotland seven days later. He won his only official cap in a Test against Australia, a 16-3 defeat at Lansdowne Road. He died in a Dublin hospital in 2006 aged 86.


France plays its first Five Nations games since 1931 as the championship restarts after the war.

Mick O'Flanagan (brother of Kevin , see 1946) played international soccer on September 30, 1946 in a game against England. He began playing rugby union with Lansdowne R.F.C. and on February 28, 1948, he played for Ireland against Scotland in a 6-0 win at Lansdowne Road. The team features Karl Mullen and Jack Kyle,who went on to win the Triple Crown, Grand Slam and the 1948 Five Nations Championship.

Wales vs England - Article by World Rugby Museum

When England met Wales in 1947 it was the first official match between the teams since 1939 and the end of World War Two.


With the game approaching, England players made their own travel arrangements for Cardiff. "We had to travel third class," remembers Steele-Bodger, though players did at least receive expenses. The rules were strict though; ‘"you could only share a taxi if there were three or four of you. Otherwise it was bus."
There were no pre-tournament training camps, either. Back in 1947, when rugby union was still very much an amateur sport, Steele-Bodger recalls that preparation for the game took the form of some ‘passing the ball’ and ‘a good chat’ - all on the day before the match.
And so it was that a team who barely knew each other took the field at Cardiff Arms Park on a cold January day. Britain was in the grip of one of its worst recorded winters, but a pre-match covering of straw had done enough to keep the ground suitable for play. ‘He couldn't run, but he could tackle...’
While bomb damage to one of the stands meant the Arms Park couldn't quite pack in as many as usual, 43,000 had turned out in eager anticipation of a Welsh victory. For the raucous home crowd, though, things didn't go quite to plan.
"I think most people thought we were lousy," says Steele-Bodger. "And we were." The game wasn't a classic. England’s captain Keith Scott was injured early on, and with no replacements allowed in those days, he simply stayed on the field, virtually lame.
"He couldn't run, but he could tackle," recalls Steele-Bodger, who was moved away from his position in the back row to cover for his injured captain in the backs.
But despite this disadvantage, a try (then worth three points) from Northampton's Don White - who, in 1969, would become England's first ever coach - and a drop goal from Nim Hall (worth four) secured a surprise 9-6 victory for the visitors.

Sharing the honours 

With the game done, the players headed almost immediately to "high tea". In an era of rationing the food was, as Steele-Bodger describes, "pretty miserable."
The players at least managed to fit a few drinks in afterwards – though it came out of their own pockets: ‘The Union would give you a couple of drinks after the game but then that stopped. You’d travelled a bloody long way in pretty awful trains, and you wanted to have a good old session.’ 
England would eventually share the championship that year with Wales after a late try secured a win against France in their final game. Fast forward 70 years, and much about the sport has changed radically, not least, says Steele-Bodger, the fact that the players are "far, far fitter". After all, he says, if a player had tried to pay special attention to his diet among the privations of 1947, "what was he going to eat?".
At that time though, in the shadow of the war, players had a different mindset. As Steele-Bodger puts it, with striking simplicity, "we were alive". With the war still exerting a profound influence over the everyday lives of Britons, the return of such events provided some cheer and a sense of a return to normality.
And though the sport and the society of which it forms a part have changed a lot over the past 70 years, here we are again: thousands of fans will pack into a Cardiff stadium to watch two rugby teams resume a great rivalry. For those like Steele-Bodger who played all those years ago, it may all – just about – seem quite familiar

1948 - Dropped goal reduced from 4 points to 3 points.

Australia beat England 11 - 0 at Twickenham:


Credit: Britishpathe news


But Australia go down to the Barbarians in the last match of their tour 9 - 6:


Credit: Britishpathe news


The Australian rugby union is founded, taking control over from the New South Wales Rugby Union.

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa become members of the IRFB.

First France tour, to Argentina. The tourists win all nine games, including the two Test matches.



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