New documentary tells of the impact rugby’s first international had on world sport

Work has begun on a documentary on the first ever international rugby match which will examine the impact the game between Scotland and England had on the development of world sport.

Saturday marks the 150th anniversary of the inaugural clash of the Auld Enemies which took place at Raeburn Place in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh.

The match was 20-a-side, played over two 50-minute halves and watched by 4,000 spectators who saw Scotland beat England in what was effectively a 1-0 victory.

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The game, which kick-started rugby in Scotland, can lay claim to being the first proper international sports match and many who played in it went on to play pioneering roles in the development of sport.

This film, entitled The Great Game, will be the centrepiece of a new Museum of International Rugby at Raeburn Place which is planned as part of the redevelopment of the ground which is home to Edinburgh Academical, the oldest rugby club in Scotland and second oldest in the world.

Director Magnus Wake and rugby journalist and author Richard Bath are interviewing some of the sport’s biggest names for the documentary which explores the social, political and sporting background to what they describe as “one of the most seismic days in sporting history”.

They are hoping the film will be screened on Amazon Prime.

Alastair Graham from the charity the Raeburn Place Foundation said: “The 150th anniversary of the first ever rugby international underlines just how important Raeburn Place is in the history not just of international rugby, but of sport.

The Scotland team from 1871 which beat England in the first ever rugby international.

“Raeburn Place is one of sport’s hidden cultural and sporting shrines, and many people don’t yet appreciate its significance. The redevelopment of the ground will not only put it back at the centre of the community, promoting sport and heritage, but will also consolidate its unique status as the birthplace of international rugby.”

The documentary will mix expert opinion with dramatic reconstructions and the filmmakers say they have unearthed archive material which will tell “the very human story behind the game”.

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Bath, the former sports editor of Scotland on Sunday, said the match marked the start of the classic Saturday afternoon sporting encounter.

The England team from 1871.

“If you discount cricket, this was really the first proper game of international sport. Football was developing around the same time but the first football international didn’t come until the next year, so this really did set the precedent.

“By going through the diaries we discover that everyone was staggered by just how well everything fell into place and how enthused the crowd were. A lot of the fans were from the Edinburgh leisured classes and quite well behaved but there definitely an undercurrent of national pride in there, with that sense of war without the bullets.”

The game came about when, on December 8, 1870, officials from five of Scotland’s most prominent rugby clubs issued a letter to The Scotsman and Bell’s Life, an English weekly sporting paper, inviting any team “selected from the whole of England” to participate in a game played under rugby rules.

Angus Buchanan and William Cross scored tries for Scotland, with Clapham Rovers’ Reg Birkett claiming England's touchdown. Crucially, though, only kicks dictated the scoring, and the victory was secured by Cross converting Buchanan’s try.

The letter from The Scotsman on December 8, 1870 inviting footballers from England to participate in a match played by the "Rugby Rules". Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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