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Challenge laid down in The Scotsman was catalyst for the birth of international rugby

THE game between Scotland and England – the oldest in international rugby – owes its origins to a letter (right) printed in The Scotsman and the weekly newspaper Bell's Life In London on 8 December, 1870. In it, the captains of five leading Scottish clubs challenged "any team selected from the whole of England to play us a match, 20-a-side, rugby rules either in Edinburgh or Glasgow".

The challenge was taken up, and the game went ahead at Raeburn Place, the home of Edinburgh Accies, on 27 March the following year. Scotland won by a goal and a try to a try, and the annual meeting of the two nations was under way.

Rugby was spreading rapidly at that stage, and the first known games in India, played by members of the British armed forces, took place in the year of that inaugural international, 1871. The Calcutta Football Club, the body which would give its name to the trophy contested by Scotland and England, came into being towards the end of the following year, as its official history records.

"The first match was played on Christmas Day, 1872, England versus Scotland and Ireland with the Welsh thrown in. The game caught on and had to be repeated within the week.

"The game was now established. (In] January 1873 officers were appointed and the club rolls were gave a total of 137 members. The club colours were chosen as red and white, broad stripes.

"In 1876 the Buffs left Calcutta and there was a terrible gap in the game. In 1877 things became more difficult – the rise in lawn tennis and the tremendous boom in polo and ski racing coupled with the gradual dispersal of the original stalwarts made it very difficult to keep the game going, there being no sufficient influx of new material . . .

"By the end of the year the game had practically died out, but the club possessed a good bank balance and GAJ Rothney, who had been acting as captain, honorary secretary and treasurer, proposed that the funds should be devoted to the purchase of a cup of Indian workmanship to be offered to the Rugby Football Union."

Those surplus funds, in the form of silver rupees, were melted down and then transmuted into the Calcutta Cup, that now-familiar old urn-like trophy with snakes as handles and an elephant standing atop the lid. An exchange of letters followed between the club and the RFU, culminating in one from AG Guillemard, the president of the English governing body, to Rothney.

Dated 21 March, 1878, it read: "The committee accept with very great pleasure your generous offer of the cup as an International Challenge Cup to be played for annually by England and Scotland – the cup remaining the property of the Rugby Football Union."

The first match for the new trophy was played just under a year later. Raeburn Place was again the venue, and this time the teams drew, with a drop goal for Scotland cancelling out an English goal. The equalising score came from Ninian Finlay of Edinburgh Accies, a man of remarkable strength if the following account in RJ Phillips's The Story of Scottish Rugby is anything to go by.

"JHS Graham, at the end of a Scottish forward rush, picked up the ball and passed it to Gordon Petrie. The Royal High School man in turn handed it to Ninian Finlay, who made a direct course for the line.

"The way was blocked, but, with a couple of Englishmen hanging onto him, Finlay got in his drop and sent the ball over the bar. Cheering and enthusiasm did not subside, one report says, for fully five minutes."

The Calcutta club actually revived in the spring of 1884 following the arrival in the city of what the club records called "a large quantity of excellent football material", by which was meant soldiers who enjoyed playing rugby. By then, of course, its place in the sport's history was assured.

 
 
 

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