THE HISTORY OF SCOTTISH RUGBY
The first recognised game of rugby between two club sides in Scotland took place on the 26th December 1857 between the Edinburgh Academical FC and Edinburgh University.
By the mid-1860s several former pupils’ clubs had been established in and around Edinburgh and Glasgow, and regular fixtures were organised between club sides and the universities.
At this time, St Andrews was regarded as the ‘nursery of Rugby Football in Scotland’ and ‘the first batch of famous players just before the days of internationals, were St Andrews men’. In fact, ‘passing’, the great feature of the back game was initiated in St Andrews by two students, H. L. Dick and A. Thom.
Following several meetings convened by the Edinburgh Academical FC in 1868, the rules for the rugby game in Scotland were finally set out and printed in a booklet entitled ‘Laws of Football as played by the Principal Clubs in Scotland’, commonly referred to thereafter as ‘the Green Book’.
In the early days teams would gather on local parkland, cricket fields and even golf courses, with huge crowds of local spectators forming the boundary of the pitch and games often lasting well over two hours. Initially, points were not awarded for a try (sometimes referred to as a ‘touch’), but instead this feat gave the scoring side an opportunity for an attempt at a goal. Unsurprisingly, this led to many games ending in a draw; despite one side scoring several more tries than their opponents.
AN ANCIENT RIVALRY
Formed in 1857 and 1858, respectively, Edinburgh University RFC and the University of St Andrews RFC are two of the oldest rugby clubs in the world, with only the Edinburgh Academical FC claiming a longer existence in Scotland.
The inter-varsity match between Edinburgh and St Andrews dates back to the 1860s, but has by no means been an annual occurrence.
During the early years of rugby in Scotland ‘a match was a special and rare event’ and ‘a game with sides picked on the spot was the normal form of the sport’. This helps explain the sporadic nature of the inter-varsity fixture at this time, but by the 1870s an annual fixture is seen to have existed between the two universities’. Nevertheless many games had to be cancelled due to the weather, with the fixture consistently scheduled for late December every year.
By the 1904-1905 Season the inter-varsity match had been moved to mid February and annual fixtures are seen to have taken place over the next eight years, with each side securing four victories during this period.
Of particular note is the gap in the fixtures between 1912 and 1919 as a consequence of the 1st World War, during which the club in St Andrews appears to have been disbanded. It wasn’t until the 1923-1924 Season, however, that the fixture was reinstated, with Edinburgh taking the honours by 23-3.
By the end of the 1920s St Andrews had regained its pre-war standing thanks to a much improved fixture list, and went on to take the upper hand in the inter-varsity fixture gaining victories over four consecutive seasons from 1931.
In 1939 at the outbreak of the 2nd World War many members of the club went on active service and the form of the side began to dramatically decline once again. Edinburgh by contrast grew from strength to strength and dominated the fixture during the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, winning 22 games during this period, with St Andrews gaining victory on only 10 occasions.
Other noteworthy events during this time were the absence of the fixture during the 1944-1945 Season when the University of St Andrews was placed under quarantine due to an outbreak of infantile paralysis (polio) and the formation of Dundee University apart from St Andrews in 1966.
The 1980s saw a revitalised St Andrews side, which was now able to compete with Edinburgh and a strong Aberdeen side who had dominated the Scottish University Championship during the 1970s. Between 1987 and 1993 Edinburgh and St Andrews battled against each other to be the top university side in Scotland with three championship victories each during this time.
With increased competition in the Scottish Universities Championship, inter-varsity rugby matches became much tighter, and the cup changed hands numerous times in the mid to late 1990s.
In 2003 Edinburgh won the championship for the first time in 10 years and over the next three seasons went on to retain the title, but only after a hard fought contest each year with St Andrews who consistently took second place.
Following two poor seasons, Edinburgh regained the title for the 2010-2011 Season and were subsequently promoted from the Scottish Conference to the BUCS Premier North B league.