On this day

Rose and thistle

On December 8, 1870, readers noticed quite an unusual announcement in the pages of ‘The Scotsman’ and London newspaper ‘Bell’s Life’: (…) hereby challenge any team selected from the whole of England, to play us a match, twenty-a-side, Rugby rules (…) on any day during the present season that might be found suitable to the English players”, captains of Scottish rugby teams called out their English fellow sportsmen for a game.

A few months later the two national teams were pitted against each other to play the first international rugby match in history in Edinburgh on March 27, 1871. The English played in a white strip featuring a red rose side emblem, while the Scots had chosen a brown kit decorated with Scotland’s national symbol, the thistle. The sports event which attracted 4,000 spectators was won by the underdog Scottish team. Scots were so proud of their triumph that the match ball was on display in the shop window of a local store for weeks.

England Rugby Union Team

It is believed that the origin of rugby can be traced back to a quite violent ancient Greek ball game called Phaininda which became known in Rome as Harpastum. During the centuries of the Middle Ages, several rugby-like ball games were pursued. On the British Isles people played Hurling, which had a Celtic origin, while in Italy the modern form of Harpastum called Calcio Fiorentino, which was even played by several would-be popes, was the favorite.

Legend has it that the inventor of modern rugby was William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School in England in 1823. In the middle of a football game, the young Ellis, being fed up with the rules of the game, simply picked up the ball and broke into a sprint with it to the goal line. The story of the revolutionary novelty first appeared in a letter of antiquarian Matthew Bloxam addressed to the school newspaper of Rugby School in October 1876. Bloxam referred to an unnamed source, thus his story was probably not based on real facts; but it is so deeply ingrained in the public consciousness that the winners of the Rugby World Cups are awarded the so-called Web Ellis Cup to this day.

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