Celebrating 200 years of rugby

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1823: Rugby School pupil William Webb Ellis breaks with tradition and runs with the ball during a football match thus inventing rugby. The source of the story of Webb Ellis picking up the ball originates with one Matthew Bloxam, a local antiquarian and former pupil of Rugby. On 10 October 1876, he wrote to The Meteor, the Rugby School magazine, that he had learned from an unnamed source that the change from a kicking game to a handling game had "originated with a town boy or foundationer of the name of Ellis, Webb Ellis."

The youngest of three sons, Webb-Ellis was born on 24 November 1806 in Salford, Lancashire. After leaving Rugby in 1826, he played first-class cricket and entered the Church and became chaplain of St George's Chapel, Albemarle Street, London. He became well-known as a low church evangelical clergyman. In 1855, he became rector of Magdalen Laver in Essex. A picture of him (the only known portrait) appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1854, after he gave a particularly stirring sermon on the subject of the Crimean War.

1843: Guy Hospital RFC is reportedly formed and although doubts persist to this day it lays claim to be the oldest rugby club in the world. Nelson Rugby Football Club is regarded as New Zealand's oldest rugby club, founded in 1868.

1845: The rules of rugby football are written down for the first time at Rugby School and a rule book printed

1848: The Cambridge Rules are drawn and in 1863 they became the basis for Association Football

1851: The distinctive oval Rugby School football, made by William Gilbert, goes on display at the Great Exhibition in London

1858: The first match between Edinburgh Academy and Merchiston Castle School takes place. The annual match remains the oldest continuous rugby fixture.

1870: The first rugby game in New Zealand between Nelson College and Nelson Football Club was played on 14 May 1870 at the Botanical Gardens. The club won 2-0. Credit for the introduction of rugby to New Zealand goes to Charles John Monro, son of Sir David Monro, Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1860 to 1870. Charles Monro, who was born at Waimea East, was sent to Christ's College, Finchley in England to complete his education at age 16 and while there he learned the rugby game. On his return to Nelson, age 19, he suggested that the local football club (Nelson) try out the rugby rules.

1871: The Rugby Football Union was founded on 26th January in the Pall Mall Restaurant in Regent Street, London to standardise the rules that also removed some of the more violent aspects of the Rugby School game.

1875: Auckland mounts first provincial tour and contests first interprovincial match against Dunedin clubs on September 22.

1876: The first interschool match is played between Wellington College and Nelson College on June 20. Wellington won the match.

1879: First provincial unions Wellington and Canterbury are formed.

1882: Otago Boys’ High School and Christ’s College play each other for the first time. The interschool fixture is the longest-annual running match in New Zealand.

1883: Rugby Sevens was initially conceived by Ned Haig, a Jedburgh butcher who moved to Melrose, and David Sanderson as a fund-raising event for a local club in 1883. The first-ever sevens match was played at the Greenyards, the Melrose RFC ground, where it was well received.

The Home Nations Championship (now the Six Nations) was played for the first time with the then four Home Nations of the United Kingdom – England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. However, England was excluded from the 1888 and 1889 tournaments due to their refusal to join the International Rugby Football Board. The tournament then became the Five Nations Championship in 1910 with the addition of France. The tournament was expanded in 2000 to become the Six Nations Championship with the addition of Italy.

1884: A New Zealand team was selected to tour New South Wales and was later recognised as a New Zealand team and its players are recognised as All Blacks. They won all eight matches. The player recognised as the 'first All Black (by virtue of alphabetical order) is the ‘Taieri Giant’ James Allen. 

1886: Until 1885 the laws of rugby football were made by England as the founder nation. However, following a disputed try in an international between Scotland and England in 1884, letters were exchanged in which England claimed that they made the laws, and the try should stand. Scotland refused to play England in the 1885 Home Nations Championship. Following the dispute, the home unions of Scotland, Ireland and Wales decided to form an international union whose membership would agree on the standard rules of rugby football. The three nations met in Dublin in 1886, though no formal regulations were agreed upon.

1887: Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Ireland formed the school’s first rugby team which included a young woman called Emily Valentine, making her the first official woman to play rugby. According to her memoirs, in the winter of 1887, she removed her hat and overcoat to play alongside her two brothers (William, aged 16, and John, aged 10 or 11) as their team was a player short. Valentine first kicked place but then scored a try in her first game after moving to the wing alongside her brothers in the backline. She was later a nurse in South Africa and India.

1888: The first British Lions (later to be known as the British and Irish Lions) tour of New Zealand and Australia occurs. The British team played 35 games and won 27.

1888/89: The New Zealand Native Football team was the first New Zealand representative rugby team to tour beyond Australia. Originally named New Zealand Māori, the team was later renamed due to its predominantly New Zealand-born members, despite the inclusion of two overseas-born players. By the time the Natives Team dispersed in August 1889, they had played a staggering 107 matches in New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain, winning 78 of them.

1891: There is a record of an attempt at a women's touring team in New Zealand, however, this was stopped due to social unacceptance, and the team was forced to disband. Primarily, women had to play the sport in secret to avoid public pressure and societal issues. The first official women’s charity match is believed to have taken place in 1917 at Cardiff Arms Park between Cardiff Ladies and Newport Ladies.

1892: On Saturday 16 April at a meeting held in Wellington, the NZRFU was formed. Inaugural members were the Provincial Unions of Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, Marlborough, Nelson, South Canterbury, Taranaki, Wairarapa, Wanganui and Wellington. At the time, three major South Island Provincial Unions – Canterbury, Otago and Southland – resisted the creation of a central authority.

1893: At the first AGM the black jersey was adopted as the national playing strip and the first officially sanctioned national team toured Australia. Tom Ellison was the captain.

1895: On 29 August, at a meeting at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, 20 clubs from Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire decided to resign from the RFU and form the Northern Rugby Football Union, which from 1922 was known as the Rugby Football League.

1902: The Ranfurly Shield is inaugurated and awarded to Auckland. The first match was played in 1904 and won by Wellington 6-3 over Auckland.

1903: The All Blacks beat Australia 22-3 in the first Test between the two countries at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Opai Asher scored the All Blacks first Test try.  Five of his brothers played first-class rugby.

1905/06: The All Blacks Originals tour is a resounding success. Under the captaincy of Dave Gallaher, the tourists won 34 of 35 matches with their only defeat a controversial loss to Wales when Bob Deans was disallowed a try.

1908: In 1908, eight clubs in Sydney, Australia, broke away from union and formed the New South Wales Rugby League. The dispute about payment was one that at the time was also affecting soccer and cricket.

1910: The first official New Zealand Māori team is selected and tours Australia. 

1913: The All Blacks tour California and British Columbia and play a Test against All-America. In 16 matches the All Blacks outscored opponents 610-6. The development of rugby is a setback in the USA.

1920: Competition for the Moascar Cup (the Ranfurly Shield of Secondary Schools) rugby starts. Christchurch Boys’ High School are the first winner.

1921: South Africa tour New Zealand for the first time. The Test series was drawn 1-1.

1924: Rugby is held at the Olympics for the last time after appearances in 1900, 1908 and 1920. The final won by the USA 17-3 over France in Paris is particularly violent with two French players leaving the field due to injuries. French fans booed and hissed the American team. and threw bottles and rocks onto the field. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, played, refereed and promoted football rugby as it was called in his day.

1924/25: Between September 1924 and February 1925, the All Blacks went unbeaten (32-0) on a tour of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Canada. The team which later became known as ‘The Invincibles’ scored 838 points and only conceded 116 points against them on the historic tour.

1926: First radio commentary of a New Zealand match by Allan Allardyce in Christchurch between Christchurch and High School Old Boys clubs.

1926/27: The New Zealand Māori tour France, Britain, Canada and Sri Lanka. The Māori won 31 out of 40 matches.

1928: The All Blacks tour South Africa for the first time and share the Test series 2-2.

1929: The All Blacks are beaten 3-0 in a Test Series by Australia, the first time New Zealand goes winless in a Test series.

1930: The All Blacks wear white jersey for the first time in a 3-1 Test series victory against Great Britain.

1931: Lord Bledisloe, the Governor-General of New Zealand, donated a trophy for competition between Australia and New Zealand. The Bledisloe Cup became one of the great rivalries in international rugby union. The All Blacks won the first Test at Eden Park in Auckland 20-13.

1937: The Springboks win 16 of 17 matches on their New Zealand tour and beat the All Blacks in a Test series for the first time. Both previous series - in 1921 in New Zealand and 1928 in South Africa - had been drawn.

1939: Fiji tours New Zealand for the first time.

1945/46: The second NZEF (New Zealand Expeditionary Force rugby team) coached by Charlie Saxton tours Britain and France. They won 29 out of 33 games and were key in the resurgence of New Zealand rugby after World War II.

1948: New Zealand gains a seat on the International Rugby Board.

1949: The All Blacks lost six consecutive Test matches, their worst ever run. On September 3 of that year, the All Blacks lost two Tests on the same day, one against Australia at home and the other against the Springboks in South Africa.

The Tom French Cup for Māori Player of the Year is first awarded to Johnny Smith. During the 1949 tour of Australia, Johnny Morris was so impressed by coach and manager Tom French he donated a trophy for French who decided the best use of it would be to acknowledge the Māori player of the year.  French was a longtime stalwart of the game. Sarah Hirini became the first woman to win the award in 2019.

1953: France’s Jean Prat becomes the first player to reach 50 caps. In 1954 France beat the All Blacks for the first time 3-0.

The All Blacks beat the Springboks in a Test series for the first time. In front of a New Zealand record crowd of 61,240 at Eden Park, the All Blacks won the fourth Test 11-5 with Peter Jones scoring a famous runaway try.  Jones' post-match comments that he was 'absolutely buggered' have entered into New Zealand sport folklore.

1961: France tours New Zealand for the first time losing a Test series 3-0 to the All Blacks.

1962: Rod Heeps scored a record eight tries in the All Blacks' 103-0 win over Northern New South Wales in Quirindi. It remains the All Blacks record for most tries in a match.

1963: England tours New Zealand for the first time. The All Blacks beat England in a one-off Test 14-0.

1963/64: The All Blacks tour of the UK, France, Ireland and North America is legendary. The All Blacks won 34 out of 36 matches. Four forwards are later knighted, John Graham, Colin Meads, Wilson Whineray and Brian Lochore

1965: Argentina tours South Africa for the first time and are nicknamed 'The Pumas' by a local journalist.

The IRFB standardises numbering for players’ jerseys, from one (loose-head prop) to 15 (full-back)

1967: The 75th Anniversary of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union is marked at Athletic Park in Wellington. The All Blacks beat Australia 29-9.

1968: The first-ever replacement used in international rugby was by the British and Irish Lions in 1968. Irish legend Mike Gibson came on the field in a 25-20 loss to the Springboks in Pretoria in 1968. Ian Kirkpatrick was the All Blacks first injury replacement in 1968. He scored three tries in a 27-11 victory against Australia in Sydney. 

1969: Fergie McCormick scored a then world record 24 points in a 33-12 victory against Wales. The All Blacks extended their record run of Test victories to 17. The New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North was founded.

1971: The British & Irish Lions defeat New Zealand in a Test series 2-1 and win 22 out of 24 games on a groundbreaking tour.

1972: Twenty-six clubs take part in the first French Women’s Championship, while four USA universities begin playing women’s rugby

1973: The Barbarians beat the All Blacks 23-11 at the Cardiff Arms Park. Welsh halfback Gareth Edwards scored what is regarded as the greatest try of all time.

The New Zealand Sevens team plays for the first time. Since 1973 they have won 101 tournaments, almost a third of every tournament they've played.

1975: Romania and Scotland tour New Zealand for the first time. The All Blacks beat Scotland 24-0 in the “water polo” Test at Eden Park.

1976: Ireland, Western Samoa and Cook Islands tour New Zealand for the first time. The All Blacks tour Argentina.

The Hong Kong Sevens is played for the first time. New Zealand’s Cantabrians won the first tournament.

The All Blacks tour South Africa and lose the Test series 3-1. More than 20 African nations boycotted the Montreal Olympics in protest of New Zealand touring the apartheid-governed country. This causes a massive reorganisation of scheduled events.

The National Provincial Championship is formed and won by Bay of Plenty in the inaugural season. 

The All Blacks achieved a Grand Slam for the first time defeating Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland on the same tour. The All Blacks won 17 out of 18 games on the whole tour. Jack Gleeson was the coach, Graham Mourie was the captain.

1981: New Zealand is divided by a contentious Springboks tour. The All Blacks won the last Test at Eden Park 25-22 with Alan Hewson kicking a penalty

1982: The first women’s international match takes place in Utrecht with France beating the Netherlands 4-0.

The National Top Four First XV tournament starts in New Zealand. Mount Albert Grammar School beats Waitaki Boys High School in the first final. In 1986 a National Condor Sevens started.

1987: The All Blacks won the first Rugby World Cup defeating France 29-9 in the final. In the opening game, they defeated Italy 70-6. The Tournament was hosted in New Zealand and Australia.

1989: A New Zealand Women’s XV (later to become the Black Ferns in 1998) plays their first match in Christchurch defeating the touring California Grizzlies 13-7.

1991: Australia defeats England 12-6 in the Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham. The first women’s Rugby World Cup is won by the USA, defeating England 19-6 in the final. New Zealand was beaten in the semifinals by the USA 7-0.

1992: To mark the centenary of the New Zealand Rugby Union the All Blacks beat the World XV 2-1 in a three-Test series.

The value of the try is increased from four points to five. Australia’s David Campese becomes the first player to score 50 Test tries.

1993: The first World Rugby Sevens Cup is held at Murrayfield in Scotland. Nigerian-born Andrew Harriman leads England to success in the 24-country tournament.

Auckland loses the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in eight years after 61 defenses. The All Blacks play Samoa for the first time in a Test match winning 35-13 at Eden Park.

1994: England wins the second women’s Rugby World Cup defeating the USA 38-23 in the final.

French centre Philippe Sella becomes the first man to play 100 Test matches in a 22-8 win over the All Blacks in Christchurch. Jonah Lomu became the youngest Test All Black in the same game At 19 years and 45 days.

1995: South Africa won the Rugby World Cup defeating the All Blacks 15-12 in the final at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. Joel Stransky kicked a drop goal in extra time to win the Springboks the game and President Nelson Mandela presented captain Francois Pienaar with the William Webb Ellis Trophy. The 1995 tournament is best remembered for the try-scoring exploits of Jonah Lomu who dotted down four times in the semifinal against England.

On 26 August 1995, the International Rugby Board declared rugby union an "open" game and thus removed all restrictions on payments or benefits to those connected with the game.

1996: The Tri Nations (won by New Zealand) and Super Rugby (won by the Blues) are played for the first time. The All Blacks beat South Africa for the first time in a Test Series on South African soil.

Vanessa Coutts scored a world record nine tries in a single Test match when the Black Ferns beat France 109-0.

The Black Ferns win the women’s rugby World Cup for the first time defeating the USA 44-12 in the final. Vanessa Coutts scored five tries in the decider.

The Springboks are beaten 13-7 by England at Twickenham ending a world record run of 17 consecutive victories.

1999: Australia win the Rugby World Cup with a 35-12 victory over France in the final in Cardiff. Fullback Matthew Burke scored 25 points. Despite two tries from Jonah Lomu, the All Blacks were upset 43-31 by France in the semifinal.

The National Provincial Championship for Women starts in New Zealand. Auckland are the first winners.

1999/2000: The World Rugby Sevens series commences with ten tournaments around the world. New Zealand are crowned the first winners.

2000: The All Blacks beat the Wallabies 39-35 in front of a world-record crowd of 109, 874 at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. Jonah Lomu scored the winning try.

2000: The first official New Zealand women's sevens team wins the Hong Kong Sevens.

2001: Carl Hayman becomes All Black 1000 in a 50-6 win over Manu Samoa in North Harbour.

2002: The Black Ferns successfully defend the Rugby World Cup defeating England 19-9 in the final in Barcelona.

2003: England won the Rugby World Cup defeating Australia 20-17 in extra time in the final at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. Johnny Wilkinson kicked a drop goal with his right (wrong) foot to win England the game.

2006: The Black Ferns won the Rugby World Cup for a third consecutive time defeating England 25-17 in the final in Edmonton, Canada. 20

William Webb Ellis and Rugby School are the first inductees to the IRB Hall of Fame.

2007: South Africa won the Rugby World Cup final defeating England 15-6 in the final. The All Blacks were upset by France in the quarterfinal 20-18 in Cardiff.

On March 18, Scotland's Donna Kennedy becomes the first woman to play 100 Tests when the lock tussles with France.

2009: The first women’s Sevens Rugby World Cup is held in Dubai. Australia beat New Zealand in the final. Rugby Sevens for men and women is included in the Olympic Games

2010: The Black Ferns won the women’s Rugby World Cup for a fourth consecutive time defeating England 13-10 in the final. Carla Hophea scored the winning try.

The Māori All Blacks celebrate their centenary and defeat Ireland (31-28), England (35-28) and New Zealand Barbarians (37-31). The English victory in Napier is especially memorable with Hosea Gear scoring three tries.

2011: The All Blacks beat France 8-7 in the Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park to win the title for the first time in 24 years. Sir Graham Henry retired with an All Blacks coaching record of 88 wins in 103 Tests. Richie McCaw becomes the first All Black to play 100 Tests.

2012/13: The first women’s World Sevens series is held. The Black Ferns Sevens won the four-tournament competition. A girls' National Top Four Rugby tournament is held for the first time and won by Feilding High School.

2013: The All Blacks and Black Ferns Sevens win the Rugby World Cup in Russia. The All Blacks became the first team in the professional era to win every Test (14) in a calendar year.

The first women’s professionals are Black Ferns Sevens players who are awarded contracts worth $20,000.

2015: The All Blacks beat Australia 34-17 at Twickenham to become the first country to successfully defend the Rugby World Cup. Richie McCaw retired after 148 Tests and 131 wins, 97 wins in 110 Tests as captain.

Australia (women) and Fiji (men) win the first Olympic Sevens gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.

Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time in 111 years 40-29 in Chicago to end the All Blacks record 18 consecutive Test victories.

2017: The All Blacks and British and Irish Lions draw a three-Test series 1-1 in New Zealand. The All Blacks won the first Test 30-15, the Lions won the second 24-21 with a 15-15 draw at Eden Park.

Ireland beat England 13-7 in Dublin to end England’s world record run of 18 consecutive Test victories. Below Tier 1 internationals Lithuania won 18 consecutive Test matches between 2008 and 2010 and Cyprus 24 Tests between 2008 and 2014.

2018: On May 22, the first-ever group of 28 players awarded professional contracts for the Black Ferns was announced. The landmark arrangement included a guaranteed retainer, assembly fees and a range of other benefits.

Kendra Cocksedge became the first woman to win the Kel Tremain Award as New Zealand Rugby Player of the Year.

2019: South Africa wins the Rugby World Cup defeating England 32-12 in the final.

2021: Fiji (men) and New Zealand (women) win the Olympic Sevens gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (staged in 2021 due to Covid disruptions).

2022: The Black Ferns upset England 34-31 in the final of the Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park. A crowd of 42,579 saw England's world record 30-game winning streak snapped.

2023: A world record crowd of 58,498 for a women’s international watch the English women defeat France 38-33 in the Six Nations.

The Black Ferns win their 100th Test defeating Canada 52-21.

The Springboks successfully defends the Rugby World Cup. Despite losing to Ireland in pool play South Africa won their three finals matches by a point foiling hosts France (29-28) in the quarterfinal, England (16-15) in the semifinal, and the All Blacks (12-11) in the final. Beauden Barrett becomes the first individual to score a try in two Rugby World Cup finals. Springboks openside Pieter-Steph du Toit was named man of the match. He made 28 tackles (14 in each half) in a herculean display. The Springboks captain for a second World Cup is Siya Kolisi.

All Blacks flanker Ardie Savea won the World Rugby Player of the Year award.