All our yesterdays: 150 years of the RFU

Tuesday 02 February 2021 Written by: Adam

One of the many casualties of the current pandemic has been the major celebrations planned to mark the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Rugby Football Union. It was a very different story 50 years ago when the Union celebrated its Centenary.

On the local front, Gosforth were slowly establishing themselves as a major force in northern club rugby, with their progress depending heavily on the retention and acquisition of fixtures with other senior clubs.

On this weekend 50 years ago Fylde were the visitors to the New Ground on the Great North Road.

Gosforth had lost to a last-minute try at Fylde the previous year, and it was a mark of their continued progress that they ran out comfortable 16-6 winners this time around to maintain their fine start to the second half of the season, which had seen victories over Glasgow Academicals, Manchester and New Brighton.

The Gosforth side that day contained just a sprinkling of the players who were to play a major part in the club becoming the country’s top side in the latter part of the decade.

Having made his debut a year earlier aged 16, Brian Patrick returned at fullback following the England Schoolboys trial match whilst his brother Harry was at inside centre. On the left wing was Mike Mahoney, who was later to coach the 1977 national-cup-winning side, and who in 1990 would become the club’s first ever director of rugby.

Malcolm Young had finally established himself as first-choice scrum half, having spent much of the previous season as a non-travelling reserve for England. Young had finally displaced another former England triallist, Peter Scurfield, who sadly passed away in December. Scurfield left the left the club just days later to join Northern, although he was later to return as club coach in 1981.

Young, meanwhile, would have to wait another six years before winning that first elusive cap. In the forwards, future Scottish international Duncan Madsen was now the first-choice hooker, having had a spell with Fylde whilst at college.

His loosehead that day, Phil Levinson, would achieve his 15 minutes of fame when he made an early appearance off the bench in the 1977 cup final as a replacement for Colin White. Roger Uttley, selected at lock for the Fylde game, was still uncapped, but was later to become England captain and coach as well as touring with the triumphant 1974 British and Irish Lions in South Africa.

The Five Nations Championship was in full swing this time 50 years ago.

On February 6, 1971, Scotland hosted Wales at Murrayfield in what turned out to be one of the most entertaining home internationals in recent years.

Wales were in the early stages of their period of dominance which was to last the best part of the decade, and Scotland had been given little chance in the national press. Nevertheless, the underdogs led 18-14 with just two minutes remaining before Wales snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a converted try scored by Gerald Davies, for a final score of 19-18.

Ultimately the outcome had hinged on two conversions.

Unusually, the first choice goal-kicker for both sides was a forward. Scottish lock Peter Brown had struck a post with his last conversion attempt, whilst flanker John Taylor nervelessly converted Davies’ try from wide out on the right to secure the Welsh victory.

By this time the RFU Centenary celebrations were in full swing. These had started with an international conference in Cambridge in September, followed by a week of social events and a match between a combined England and Wales XV and a combined Ireland and Scotland team at Twickenham which ended in an honourable 14-14 draw. The match was followed by an almighty booze-up in Twickenham’s West Car Park.

The actual 100th anniversary was on January 26, 1971, and was marked by a grand gala dinner at the Guildhall in London. The climax of the year’s events was another invitational international on 17 April 17 when England played hosts to an Overseas XV selected by the President of the RFU.

Able to select from anywhere in the world outside the British Isles, the President amassed a formidable array of international talent who defeated their hosts 28-11. The sides that day were as follows:

**England:** Bob Hiller [Harlequins]; Jeremy Janion [Bedford]; John Spencer [Headingley](capt); David Duckham [Coventry]; Peter Glover [Bath and RAF]; Dick Cowman [Loughborough Colleges]; Nigel Starmer-Smith [Harlequins]; Brian Stevens [Harlequins]; John Pullin [Bristol]; Fran Cotton [Loughborough Colleges]; Peter Larter [Northampton and RAF]; Chris Ralston [Richmond]; Roger Creed [Coventry]; Tony Neary [Broughton Park]; Peter Dixon [Harlequins].

**President’s Overseas XV:** Pierre Villepreux [France]; Stephen Knight [Australia]; Jo Maso [France]; Joggie Jansen [South Africa]; Bryan Williams [New Zealand]; Wayne Cottrell [New Zealand]; Dawie de Villiers [South Africa]; Roy Prosser [Australia]; Peter Johnson [Australia]; Hannie Marais [South Africa]; Colin Meads [New Zealand]; Frik Du Preez [South Africa]; Greg Davis [Australia]; Ian Kirkpatrick [New Zealand]; Brian Lochore [New Zealand](capt).

The Rugby Football Union of 1971 was one of the principal bastions of amateur sport. Fast-forward 25 years to 1996 and it was struggling to contain the fallout from the first four months of the professional game.

Newcastle were of course in the vanguard of move to professionalism, and by the time that Harlequins came to Kingston Park on February 8 in the fifth round of the Pilkington Cup, Rob Andrew had announced a raft of high-profile signings.

Unfortunately, the archaic registration regulations meant that most of those signings were still ineligible for the cup tie, although Andrew was able to name himself in the side for his first competitive match since October, and Nick Popplewell was able to take his place in the front row.

The team’s primary focus was still to escape from the lower reaches of the second division whilst Quins sat third in Division One.

With a strong wind in their favour Newcastle came from behind to lead by a single point at half-time, but they ran out of steam in the final quarter as Darren O’Leary ran in a hat-trick for Quins, who were somewhat flattered by the 44-22 scoreline.

**The teams that day were as follows:**

**Newcastle:** P.Belgian; M.Wilson; J.Fletcher; R.Cramb; I.McLennan; R.Andrew; G.Robson; N.Popplewell; N.Frankland; P.Van Zandvliet; F.Mitchell; R.Metcalfe; P.Walton; S.Cassidy; R.Arnold.

**Harlequins:** J.Staples; D.O’Leary; W.Greenwood; P.Mensah; S.Bromley; P.Challinor; R.Kitchin; J.Leonard; S.Mitchell; A.Mullins; M.Russell; M.Watson; G.Allison; C.Sheasby.

The referee was Ed Morrison, and his touch judges were Steve Lander and John Pearson.

It was to be another five years before the sides were to meet each other again in the cup. On this occasion the Falcons got their revenge in their memorable 30-27 cup final win, secured through Dave Walder’s last -gasp try. On that occasion Ed Morrison was again the referee and he was again assisted by Steve Lander, who was at the centre of a late controversy when he awarded a crucial lineout to the Falcons when there was evidence to suggest that Ian Peel had been the player who had carried the ball over the line.