150 years of international rugby: “Let’s remember the pioneers"

The Scotland team that took on England 150 years ago
©The Raeburn Place Foundation

Today - March 27 2021 - is the 150th anniversary of the first ever game of international rugby which saw Scotland beat England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh in 1871.

And it is fitting that the 150th anniversary will be marked by a photoshoot with Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend and assistant coach Mike Blair as they bring the Calcutta Cup to Raeburn Place on their return from Paris after the current day Scotland team put in such a heroic effort to defeat France 27-23 in the Six Nations on Friday evening.

The match in 1871 occurred after five Scottish club captains - Alexander Robertson (West of Scotland), Francis Moncreiff (Edinburgh Accies), Benjamin Hall Blyth (Merchistonians), John Arthur (Glasgow Accies) and John Oatts (St Andrews University) - had issued a challenge via the press to English players.

There was some dispute around the Scotland tries, the first scored by Angus Buchanan, the second by Willie Cross. It was Cross’ conversion of Buchanan’s try that proved the match winner for the Scots in the scoring system of the time.

England’s try came from Reg Birkett.

The Raeburn Place Foundation (RPF) charity is pleased to announce that filming has begun on The Great Game, an hour-long documentary that relives the events of 1871 and explains how that game between Scotland and England changed the face of sport forever. 

This film will be a centrepiece of the Museum of International Rugby, which is the second phase in the ambitious redevelopment of Raeburn Place which has already seen over £10 million raised and spent.

The Great Game - The Documentary from BrightWolf Films on Vimeo.

During the making of The Great Game, film director Magnus Wake and rugby journalist Richard Bath are interviewing some of the biggest names in rugby for a documentary which explores the social, political and sporting background to one of the most seismic days in sporting history. 

The documentary has been financed by individual donors, donations from the GPS Macpherson Charitable Trust and the Gordon Brown Memorial Fund, and corporate sponsors Famous Grouse and Brewin Dolphin. 

However, as a charity the RPF have also been keen to allow all rugby fans to support this project so have launched a crowdfunding campaign where fans can have their name added to the credits for as little as £50. For more information see www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-great-game-documentary

The RPF is also launching an appeal for anyone with rugby memorabilia such as photos, diaries, jerseys and caps to come forward. Several important items have already come to light which will appear in the Museum of International Rugby and feature in The Great Game documentary.

Alastair Graham of the RPF 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.

“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 commissioning of The Great Game documentary is a tangible sign of Raeburn Place’s renaissance and marks the start of the next stage of our project at the ground where it all began.”

1871 Scotland team inducted into Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame

Scottish Rugby is to induct the entire 1871 Scotland team into its Hall of Fame. 

The decision was confirmed this week by Scottish Rugby chairman John Jeffrey.

The group of 20 join 27 others - who have played starring roles in forging Scottish Rugby’s rich and enduring history both on and off the field - in the Hall of Fame.

Jeffrey said: “The 20 men who took to the field at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh wearing the thistle of Scotland that Monday afternoon in 1871 against their counterparts wearing the rose of England were the perfect pioneers.

“Their determination to ensure Scotland gave a good account of its prowess under rugby rules cradled a game that is now played by over eight million men and women in more than 120 countries. 

What a debt of gratitude we owe them!

“To mark the 150th anniversary, Scottish Rugby is delighted, for the first time, to induct an entire team into our Hall of Fame.”

The news was welcomed by Scottish Rugby’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal, who said:  “As international rugby celebrates its 150th anniversary, let us remember the pioneers who masterminded that first game. Theirs is a wonderfully compelling legacy.”

The Scotland team from 1871…

Backs: Tom Chalmers (Glasgow Accies), William Brown (Glasgow Accies), Alfred Clunies-Ross (St Andrews University)

Half-backs: Thomas Marshall (Edinburgh Accies), John Arthur (Glasgow Accies), Willie Cross (Merchistonians)

Forwards: Francis Moncreiff (C), Jim Finlay, Bulldog Irvine, James Mein (all Edinburgh Accies), Daniel Drew (Glasgow Accies), William Lyall (Edinburgh Accies), Andrew Colville (Merchistonians), John Thomson (Glasgow Accies), George Ritchie (Merchistonians), William Forsyth (Edinburgh University), Alexander Robertson (West of Scotland), Robert Munro (St Andrews University), Angus Buchanan (Royal High School FP), John McFarlane (Edinburgh University).

For more information about getting involved with The Great Game documentary, visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-great-game-documentary