Saturday 27 March 2021

Match Report - The Great Game - 27 March 1871

Scotland XX 1 England XX 0

150 years ago this afternoon, Raeburn Place hosted the first international rugby match between England and Scotland.

The game took place after representatives from Edinburgh Academicals, West of Scotland, Glasgow Academicals, Merchistonian FC and University of St Andrews, sent a challenge from the Scottish clubs to play a picked XX of England, under Rugby School rules during the winter of 1870-71.

That challenge was picked up by John Luscombe, the energetic captain of Gipsies and Benjamin Burns, secretary of Blackheath (and ex-pupil of Edinburgh Academy), who responded to accept the challenge on behalf of the English clubs.

The matched kicked off at 3pm, took place over two 50-minute halves and was enjoyed by an estimated 4,000 spectators. The game was played under The Green Book rules – those Rules used by the Scottish clubs – but subject to some minor alterations.

  • First, if the ball goes into touch, it will be thrown into the ground from the spot where it crossed the line, and not where it pitched into touch.
  • Second, for a try at goal, the ball has to be brought out in a straight line from where it was touched down.
  • Third, the ball should not be taken up for a run unless absolutely bounding, rather than when it is rolling or bounding.

It was agreed that no hacking-over or tripping-up should be allowed in the game and the match would be decided on goals scored. A goal being a successful conversion after a try, a dropped goal or for a goal from a mark. If a game is drawn, any unconverted tries will be tallied to give a winner. If there is still no clear winner, the match was declared a draw.



The Scotland XX - brown tops with thistle, cricket trousers

Back Row: Robert Munro (St. Andrew's University), John Shaw Thomson (Glasgow Academicals), Thomas Chalmers (Glasgow Academicals)

Middle row: Angus Buchanan (Royal HSFP), Andrew Galbraith Colville (Merchistonians), William Forsyth (Edinburgh University), James Andrew Whitelock Mein (Edinburgh Academicals), Robert William (Bulldog) Irvine (Edinburgh Academicals), John Arthur (Glasgow Academicals), William Davie Brown (Glasgow Academicals), Daniel Drew (Glasgow Academicals), William Cross (Merchistonians), James Finlay (Edinburgh Academicals), Francis Moncreiff (Edinburgh Academicals, Captain), George Ritchie (Merchistonians)

Front row: Alfred Clunies-Ross (St. Andrew's University), William John Campbell Lyall

(Edinburgh Academicals), Thomas Marshall (Edinburgh Academicals), John Lisle Hall MacFarlane (Edinburgh University), Alexander Hamilton Robertson (West of Scotland)


England XX – white tops with red rose


Back row; John Edmund Bentley (Gipsies), Arthur Sumner Gibson (Manchester), Frank Tobin (Liverpool),

Dawson Palgrave Turner (Richmond), Frederick Stokes (Blackheath, Captain), John Henry Clayton (Liverpool)

Richard Osborne (Manchester), John Luscombe (Gipsies)

Middle row; Alfred St. George Hamersley (Marlborough Nomads), William MacLaren (Manchester), Charles Sherrard (Blackheath), Henry John Cecil Turner (Manchester), Reg Birkett (Clapham Rovers), Joseph Fletcher Green (West Kent), Charles Arthur Crompton (Blackheath)

Front row; Alfred Davenport (Ravenscourt Park), Arthur George Guillemard (West Kent), John Marshall Dugdale (Ravenscourt Park), Arthur Lyon (Liverpool), Benjamin Burns (Blackheath)

Pre match, the difference between the two team was marked in England’s favour as the much stronger and heavier build, though to get to Edinburgh they had a hard night's travel by train, the day before the match, on bare board seats in third-class carriages. Incidentally, they all paid their own expenses in full.

As The Edinburgh Academy officials had objected to the match being played on their cricket pitch, the ground to be used was some 120 yards by 55, somewhat narrower than the Rugby Rules provided. As the strength of the English team was in their backs, this could well handicap the excellent running of their half-backs.

The Scots however had had the benefits from a couple of trial matches in Edinburgh and Glasgow, in order to select players that were truly representative of Scotland, while the English XX were picked solely on their club form.The umpires for the match were Hely Hutchinson Almond (Scotland) and A Ward (England).

Scotland kick-off from the Inverleith Mains end, with the breeze slightly in their favour. The early play was fairly even, with neither side having any advantage as they sized each other up. Alfred Clunies-Ross, for Scotland, had an early attempt at a drop, but it fell short and England cleared. Then, Scotland’s William Cross went close and the Scottish carried the ball over the England line from a maul, but the umpires decided there should be a hack-off at five yards as both sides claimed the touch.

From the hack-off, England forced to touch-down and ball brought out to 25 yards. Angus Buchan made a good run for the Scots, though England regained possession and cleared towards the Scots 25-yard line, where Thomas Marshall came to Scotland’s rescue with a good clearance kick.

Joseph Green, the English half-back, made one of the best runs so far, but he was ruled to have picked up the ball when not bounding and brought back for a hack-off. From that, Scotland’s James Finlay received the ball, ran past most of the forwards and looked certain to get in until Richard Osbourne charged him and took him out. Osbourne’s method, folding his arms across his chest and running full tilt at Finlay, after the fashion of a charging bull, is very effective and left both men reeling some yards from the impact and on their backs. Aftre a while both players regained their feet and looked none the worse of wear, after what was a brutal smash.

At times, both sides had reverted to ‘hacks-overs’ and tempers began to boil up in this no hacking game. Play was stopped whilst the captains and umpires discussed the ‘hack-overs’ and the umpires reminded all the players this is a no hacking game and play resumed.

England’s William McLaren, failed to kick a field goal from 15 yards in front of the Scottish posts, and then Henry Turner narrowly missed a drop at goal from a free kick, that would have put England ahead.

Fine work from England’s John Bentley and Frank Tobin, get the ball near the Scotch goal, where Thomas

Chalmers missed the ball, which nearly lets England in, but the Scots cleverly 'touched down' and ball was taken out 25 yards.

Play ceased for half-time and, so far, the Scottish forwards have done better than expected having matched the bigger visitors, but neither side have gained an advantage in what is a steady war of attrition. Even though England appear to have had more of the play and the better chances however have fallen to them, the score at the half seems a fair one at 0-0.

England kicked off the second half and a fine run from William Cross, followed by some good dribbling from the Scots captain, Francis Moncreiff, led to a Scotland maul on the English line. Scotland’s John MacFarlane took the ball and was driven by his forwards towards the English line. The maul stopped and MacFarlane called for a down, which was not given so a hack-off was awarded.

The crowd are really into the game and cheer frantically as the maul was pushed over the line and George Ritchie, with half a dozen on top of him, looked to have a try for Scotland. England argued one of their players also had his hands on the ball when it was grounded. The umpires discussed and were in doubt so decided no try and awarded a 'hack-off ' at five yards.

The hack-off was formed, with Scotland’s Angus Buchanan holding the ball surrounded by Scottish and English forwards. A big effort from the Scottish forwards drove the entire scrummage into the English goal and Buchanan (who also plays cricket for Scotland) held on to the ball with John MacFarlane at his side, Buchanan looked to have touched down and claimed a try to loud cheers.

England loudly disputed the touch down, but the umpires found it impossible in the babel to make out the exact nature of the objection and ruled the score valid – a try for Scotland. William Cross took his try at goal from a difficult position and converted successfully. The first goal in international football under Rugby rules gives Scotland the lead over England, 1-0.

England restarted from the centre and with their dangerous backs becoming more involved, though most of the play remained around the halfway. England backs began to show their speed and made some splendid runs stopped by the hard Scottish tackling and the narrowness of the field.

Scotland then made ground into English land, though England back Joseph Green responded with a good run to gain ground well into Scots’ territory. Another run by Green is stopped by a heavy charge from Thomas Chalmers – Green remained down and, unfortunately, ended up leaving the field, which left England down to 19 players for the rest of the game.

England came close twice, only to be stopped by William Cross both times. Then the Scotland drop out was caught by Henry Turner, passed to England back, Reg Birkett, who broke away and ran in to score a try for England close to touch. The England captain, Frederick Stokes, missed the long and difficult kick at goal.

With Scotland holding the lead 1-0 and spectators worked up to a high pitch, cheering the home team, Scotland’s superior fitness and trial games start to give them the ascendancy over England, who were of course a man down.

England then had an attempted drop at goal, which was ruled out because of the player’s foot in touch. Play continued and Scotland’s forwards forced the ball into touch near the English line with James Mein, John Arthur, Angus Buchanan and John Thomson to the fore.

A long throw in goes beyond the forwards and John Arthur, in trying to catch the ball, knocked it over the heads of the defenders. William Cross who was following up quickly, picked up the bounding ball close to the line and touched down for a try.

The England players loudly protested about Arthur knocking the ball forward, something which is not allowed in England. The umpire Almond awarded the try, judging the knock forward not to have been deliberate, which is acceptable in Scotland and in the Green Book rules, that were being used for the match. With little time left Cross’s kick at goal was too low, falling short of the posts.

A minute later he umpires declare the time being up and the game ceased, Scotland becoming the first international winners, one goal to nil.

Overall, the match was very evenly contested until half-time, after which the combination of the Scotsmen, who seemed to know each other’s play thoroughly and their superior training began to tell a tale,

For the Scottish team William Cross, James Finlay and John MacFarlane, should be singled out for special commendation while Joseph Green and Frank Tobin of England played splendidly behind the scrummage.

After the game we spoke to the umpire Hely Hutchinson Almond, who said “it was an enjoyable game with a couple of issues he had to deal with.”

Almond went on to say; “during the dispute about awarding Scotland’s first try his decision-making process was – when an umpire is in doubt, I think he is justified in deciding against the side which makes the most noise, they are probably in the wrong – so I accepted Scotland’s claim for the try.”

He also said; “he had to have words with players about the number of hack’s-over taking place, in what was a no hacking game, and that everything was resolved after his discussion with the captains, where he made it very clear this was a no hacking game and if the captains didn’t resolve this with their players, the rest of the game would be without an umpire.”

Almond finished by saying; “It is not too much to say that in the year 1870 there were but few English players who were aware that Rugby football had taken any hold upon the affections of Scotsmen; a twelvemonth later they all knew it only too well.” 

Finally, for the England side the whole experience must have come as a shock as many of their players seemed to have no awareness of the sport’s strength and popularity in Scotland. This historic fixture would go from strength to strength over the following years and each team and many of the players involved would take the first key steps in making international rugby what it is today.


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