Rugby’s Greatest Upsets Part 5 – Rugby World Cup, 2015

English merchants and soldiers had brought rugby to Japan even before it had arrived in New Zealand.  Yokohama Football Club, founded in 1866, is the oldest known rugby club in Asia.  But it wasn’t until 1899 when Ginosuke Tanaka returned from Cambridge University that the game began to take root with Japanese people, primarily at Keio University in Tokyo.


“A Football Match at Yokohama, Japan”

Japanese rugby then evolved in isolation until a fast, technically accurate game frightened the life out of the baby All Blacks in 1968.  For a while Japanese rugby became a thing of curious wonder in the west and a touring side did manage to defeat a strong Scotland side in 1989.

Then, perhaps chastened by the powerful scrummaging they encountered overseas, Japan partially abandoned its roots and sought, unsuccessfully, to emulate the more established rugby playing nations.

That all changed in 2012 when Australian Eddie Jones became coach and instructed the Brave Blossoms to return to the type of rugby with which they were most comfortable.  A win against a depleted Welsh side was secured in 2013 but few took Jones seriously when he stated his intention to qualify for the quarter-finals at the outset of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

In seven previous appearances at World Cup finals Japan had won once in twenty-four attempts.  This time they were drawn in a group with South Africa, Scotland, Samoa and USA and their campaign would begin against two time World Champions the Springboks.

South Africa v Japan - Group B: Rugby World Cup 2015

South Africa v Japan, 19/09/2015, Brighton. Photo Credit: Getty

Featuring World Cup winners such as Shalk Burger, Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana the ‘Boks were expected to mount a credible challenge for honours coming into the tournament.  Although they had never faced Japan before pundits agreed that the contest should be little more than a routine victory for South Africa.

With thirty minutes played Japan had already caused an upset and despite conceding the first try, led 10-7.  Without panic the Springboks upped their game and scored three additional tries but every time they established a lead the Cherry Blossoms reeled them back in.

With ten minutes to go the scores were tied at 29-29.  Again South Africa came forward and a penalty gave them a 32-29 lead.  But with minutes left if was Japan who looked the fresher.  Precise tackling, quickly recycling the ball and accurate passing had the ‘Boks on the rack.  In the final minute in a sign of great confidence Japan passed up the chance to kick a penalty for a draw.  Moments later they had crossed the South African try-line to win.

Wins against Samoa and the USA followed and although the Brave Blossoms ultimately fell short of Jones’ ambition a marker was set down.  England 2015 had its first, but not its last, iconic moment.

South Africa v Japan - Group B: Rugby World Cup 2015

Photo Credit: Getty

Read Rugby’s Greatest Upsets Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

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‘The Captain Who Never Came Back’ -Bob Seddon

Name: Robert Lionel Seddonbob-seddon

Birthplace: Salford

Position: Forward
Total Caps: 3

Calcutta Cups: 1 retained

Triple Crowns: 0

Outright Championship Victories: 0
Grand Slams: n/a
World Cups: n/a

Bob Seddon was the only player to have been described as being ‘good at every point of the game’ in Lillywhite’s 1886 Football Annual.  Elsewhere the versatile broad shouldered forward was described as ‘one of the best forwards in the north’ and a ‘typical Lancashire Lad’.

Seddon lost both his parents at an early age and had grown up an operative in the manufacturing districts of Manchester.  Off the field, as well as on it, he was respected as a sportsman and a gentleman.

He had earned 3 England caps in 1887, retaining the Calcutta Cup in the process, and it seems likely that he would have gone on to win more due to his hard-working, determined but fair approach on the field.

In 1888, he was elected by his team-mates to be the first ever captain of a side that would go on to become the British and Irish Lions.  He scored three tries on the tour but was tragically killed in a sculling incident on the Hunter River in New South Wales.

one-of-us-coverAbout the Author: This article is an extract from the book One of Us: England’s Greatest Rugby Players, available here.  Phil McGowan has been a member of the World Rugby Museum team since 2007.

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Rugby Memorabilia – Not just for rugby enthusiasts…

By Richard Lowther.

As a collector of rugby memorabilia I am always keen to show off my collection.  I write a monthly newsletter, ‘Burglar Bill’, to share my Wakefield related memorabilia with a like minded audience and I run two Facebook groups which share my interests of pre 1950 rugby memorabilia and Baines cards with a wider audience.

However, both these approaches lack the personal touch and I always look for a chance to share in person – with my family, friends and work colleagues being in the firing line.  They are now used to me talking about and sharing my latest finds.  Although none of them will claim to be rugby enthusiasts I believe each can find something of interest in viewing rugby memorabilia.

Take for example a local rugby programme.  The rugby side will hold no interest but the adverts for long gone shops and products always spark a conversation.  Social historians can use programmes to see how shopping patterns have changed over the years or how businesses have adapted to a changing world.  For example, one business that used to advertise in Wakefield RFC’s programme changed from being a coal merchant into an undertaker!

Player interviews in programmes can reveal a rapid changing taste in entertainment, fashion and cars – how we now laugh at the selection of a Ford Granada as a players dream car!

Changes in technology are demonstrated in programmes.  Thorn-EMI sponsored the County Championship in the early 1980s and the match programmes are full of, what we now view as, bulky home videos and tapes or other pre digital obsolete products.

Graphic designers will be amused by some of the basic artwork which accompanied the adverts – forerunners of the clipart that proliferated in the early days of desktop publishing, but on the other hand, some of the hand drawn art which is usually found on Victorian and Edwardian era dinner menus are worthy of exhibition in a gallery.

Dinner menus of this era provide an opportunity to see what rugby players would have eaten and drunk at social affairs.  Banquets fit for a King – and sometimes the Royals were in attendance – allowed the middle and upper classes to eat in the style they may have been accustomed to, but also provided a rare opportunity for the working class player to indulge and escape, well at least for one day, from a ‘bread and dripping’ diet.

Tour itineraries contain glorious detail about times, meals, train changes and social breaks, all in a document usually small enough to fit into a blazer pocket.

Talking of blazers, photographs allow an insight into the fashions of the day – not just amongst the players but also crowds and the almost compulsory wearing of flat caps pre-World War 2.


So when you offer to share your collection with a non-rugby enthusiast in the future, don’t be surprised if they do find something which interests them in some non-sporting way.

About the Author- Richard Lowther is an amateur rugby historian and collector. He writes a monthly newsletter ‘Burglar Bill’ about the defunct Wakefield RFC of which he was a member. Copies can be obtained free by emailing He is a member of the Rugby Memorabilia Society and webmaster of and two facebook groups, Rugby Memorabilia pre-1950 and Baines Rugby Card Collectors.

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Want to be part of Twickenham history?

The World Rugby Museum and Twickenham Stadium Tours have been operating since 1996 and we are looking for more volunteers to join our elite team of Tour Guides.

Our Tour Guides come from all walks of life and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience along with them.

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Here’s what some of them have to say…

Phil describes guiding as “a great opportunity to share the wonderful culture of rugby…and the moving history of the stadium and the game”. He enjoys meeting visitors from around the world and being part of a team of rugby enthusiasts.

Victoria loves working at the stadium because “you never know who is going to turn up on your tours.” Whilst taking a group of young players from New Zealand on a stadium tour recently she met a lad whose parents had included ‘Leicester’, ‘Wales’ and ‘Twickenham’ in his full name. ”It’s fair to say his father was a proper rugby fan. And to think that this boy could play for the All Blacks one day.”

Chris’s favourite tour guiding memory is of taking a French school around the stadium. “A young boy was carrying a small leather case with him and kept telling me it was a surprise. At pitchside at the end of the tour, he took a bugle out of the case and played the Marseillaise, the school joining in with the words. A very special moment! Even though I have given hundreds of tours, I still get a special buzz taking people around this wonderful stadium and seeing the pleasure they experience”.

For more information on becoming a volunteer Twickenham Stadium Tour Guide, please visit our website.

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Lest We Forget – Bryn Lewis (Wales) 2 April 1917

Bryn Lewis 001 (4)

Brinley Richard Lewis was a speedy wing three-quarter of great skill who, for a variety of reasons, was never able to demonstrate his talents to the full at international level.  He was highly regarded by English critics, some of whom were bewildered that Wales didn’t make more use of him.

“He had splendid hands, true football pace, pluck, neat kicking ability … and he knew the game.  He was the best wing of his day [yet] could boast only a couple of international caps”, wrote one.

Injuries and the coming of war restricted his international appearances and, because he played much of his best rugby for Cambridge University and occasionally London Welsh, many of his outstanding performances took place out of the sight of Welsh selectors.

Born in the Swansea Valley at Pontardawe in 1891, “Bryn” was not unknown, however, in Wales.  Even at fourteen, he was already making headlines.  He “played brilliantly” with the ball in hand when Wales defeated the English Schools at Leicester in 1905.

After captaining Swansea Grammar School, Bryn played for Pontardawe before going up to Trinity Hall Cambridge in 1909.  There he won the first of his three Blues on the wing in December 1909.  Unfortunately, Oxford were much stronger during this period and Bryn was on the losing side on each occasion.  Although in 1910, his inspirational play almost gave Cambridge an unexpected victory.  Just after half time, Bryn scored his second try to put his side into an 18-13 lead.  However, he was then controversially tackled and badly injured while in touch.  He took no further part in the game.  Most observers agreed that the loss of Bryn, who was playing splendidly, was the turning point of the match.  Reduced to fourteen, Cambridge struggled to defend against the Oxford attack and the peerless Ronnie Poulton struck twice, his second try sealing a 23-18 last minute victory.

Even though Oxford comfortably won the 1911 Varsity match by 19 points, Bryn was singled out for praise by the press for his “brilliant form”.  He “alone grasped what was wanted in attack”.  He made some good runs, cross kicked cleverly but “was handicapped by the poor play of his fellow backs”.  In fact, Bryn had been demonstrating his blistering pace for Cambridge all season and he was now seriously being talked about as a future international.  Had he been playing regularly for Swansea, one Welsh journalist believed, he would certainly have been capped earlier; but he was forced to wait until the final international of 1911-12 before being given his chance against Ireland in Belfast.

However, Wales selected a very inexperienced side which played poorly, particularly in the backs, who squandered many scoring opportunities.  Bryn had a disappointing game.  He seemed to be over anxious and he failed to produce anything like his Cambridge form.  The 12-5 defeat was the first time in thirteen years that Wales lost two Championship matches in a season: selectors, press and Welsh public were not too pleased.

Bryn returned to Cambridge for a fourth year, but a late injury cost him a fourth Blue in 1912, when ironically Cambridge won for the first time in seven years.  Previously, Bryn had turned out for Swansea during his vacations, but for the rest of 1912-13, he was now able to play regularly in Wales for the All Whites.  This was a good time to be a member of the Swansea team, which went on to win the Welsh Club Championship that season.  Such was the quality of his performances for the club that the selectors could not continue to overlook him and he was again picked for the final game of the season against Ireland.  This time there was to be a complete turnaround in his fortunes.  Playing with much greater self-assurance, he had a magnificent game.  In a tense match, Wales just managed to hang on to win by 16-13.  Bryn had a big hand in the victory, running with great confidence, defending courageously and contributing two of the three Welsh tries, one from half-way. He was the best three-quarter on the field.

Further honours followed over Easter 1913 when Bryn became the first Swansea player to represent the Barbarians.  However, persistent injuries affected his play for much of the crucial part of 1913-14 and these ruled him out of consideration for further caps that season.  He did eventually recover his old form but events unfolding in Europe would deny Bryn any chance of playing for Wales again.

He enlisted early in the war and, while still in training, he was selected for the Welsh XV which faced the Barbarians at Cardiff in April 1915.  Wales fielded a strong side, but one lacking in match fitness.  The Barbarians, captained by Edgar Mobbs, won comfortably by 26-10, but Bryn was one of the few Welsh players to come out of the game with his reputation intact.  A few weeks later, he was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery.

He served on the Western Front with the 38th (Welsh) Division throughout 1916 and survived the Battle of Mametz Wood, which took the lives of fellow Welsh internationals Johnny Williams and Dick Thomas.  By August 1916, Bryn had been promoted to major and was commanding a six-gun battery.  In April 1917, the Welsh Division were holding part of the line in the Ypres Salient.  On the morning of the 2thApril, Bryn was taking his breakfast behind the gun lines when he was killed by a high velocity shell.

His brigade commander later wrote: “he was such a splendid fellow … he was beloved by officers and men alike … he had great strength of character and was bound always to do well.”

Brinley Richard Lewis is buried in Ferme-Olivier Cemetery, near Boesinghe,

About the Author: Gwyn Prescott is a Cardiff based rugby historian and writer. His latest book ‘Call Them to Remembrance’: The Welsh Rugby Internationals who Died in the Great War is available through publishers St. David’s Press and from Amazon.

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Rugby’s Greatest Upsets Part 4 – France v New Zealand, 1999

With the advent of the Rugby World Cup in 1987 rugby union had found its greatest stage and greatest potential for upsets.  The shift away from test-rugby allowed the relative minnows of the global game their shot at the big fish.  But one of the greatest upsets in the tournament’s history featured two international heavyweights.

Danny Grewcock of England

Photo Credit: Getty

New Zealand go into most Rugby World Cups as favourites.  They have occupied first place in the world rankings for longer than any other side and are the only nation in the world to hold a positive win record against every rival. 1999 was no different.

Featuring the likes of Reuben Thorne, Taine Randall, Chris Cullen, Tana Umaga and the irrepressible Jonah Lomu on the wing, the All Blacks had crushed England and Scotland on their way to the semi-finals.

Christophe Dominici and Rolando Martin

Photo Credit: Getty

France, for their part, had seen off Argentina on their way to the semis and had a strong side that included Abdelatif Benazzi, Christophe Laimaison and was led by Raphael Ibanez.

Although hosted by Wales, both the tournament semi-finals would take place at Twickenham in front of a largely English crowd.  New Zealand were strong favourites but France were well respected and a win for them would not have presented an upset great enough to make this list were it not for the manner in which it unfolded.

A tightly contested first half was lit up by a super-human drive for the try line by Jonah Lomu that, coupled with a later penalty, gave New Zealand a 17-10 half-time lead.  In a performance reminiscent of his semi-final demolition job on England four years earlier Lomu scored another thundering try early in the second half to push his side into a 2
4-10 lead.


Photo Credit: Getty

At this stage the neutral observer, of which there were many in the largely English crowd, could have been forgiven for assuming that the game was as good as over.  That, however, would be to seriously underestimate the spirit and resolve of the French side and so one of game’s great upsets began to take shape.

Two drop-goals, two penalties and a converted try from an energised fly-half Lamaison saw the French surge into the lead.  Realising that the game was afoot, the watching Twickenham faithful threw their support behind the French.

Stunned by the sudden turnaround the All Blacks appeared as casual observers at the scene of an unfolding catastrophe.  A glut of New Zealand substitutions followed but it was les Bleus that scored again and then again!  With 78 minutes gone France had scored 33 unanswered points and led by 43-24.

The All Blacks finally rallied with a try but it was too late.  The final score was 43-31 to France.

French team celebrate

Photo Credit: Getty

Read Rugby’s Greatest Upsets Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

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Santa Clara v Stanford, 1916

The University of California had taken up rugby in 1906, along with Stanford University, California’s top athletic and academic rival.  It was to be the start of a great rugby rivalry.  Both teams were strong.  In twelve seasons of rugby Stanford went undefeated three times and posted a record of 94 wins, 20 losses, and three draws.  California won games too but hadn’t won many games against Stanford since 1906.

The ‘Big Game’ rivalry between California and Stanford would stop for three seasons during the war years of 1915, 1916 and 1917 but Stanford at least continued to play, with Santa Clara College taking California’s place for three successive seasons.

Santa Clara College was a Jesuit school having the name of the town in which it was located, and also the site of an old Spanish-colonial mission, a dozen miles south of Palo Alto and Stanford.  Stanford, sometimes known as the ‘Harvard of the West’, was co-ed and had a few thousand students.

The match was played at Ewing Field in San Francisco, home to the San Francisco Seals Baseball team, in front of a capacity crowd of 18,000.  At the time it was the largest venue for such an important intercollegiate rugby match in the Bay Area.  Despite losing the previous year Santa Clara rose to the occasion and won the match by 28 points to 5, inflicting on Stanford their first loss since 1913.  They went on to finish the season undefeated and could legitimately claim to have the best rugby team in America.


In the photo one can actually make out the baseball infield in the background.  On the far right of the photo in the white shirt is Santa Clara’s captain, Rudy Scholz, class of 1918, the team’s scrum half.  He and five other members of this team would eventually be selected for the American team that won gold at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp.

After graduation in the spring of 1918, Scholz would be commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army after military training that summer, but the Great War ended as he waited to be posted to France.  He returned to Santa Clara to study law, playing in 1919 on the school’s reconstituted American football team at quarterback.  He would continue to play rugby and American football with the Olympic Club of San Francisco following his law school studies, and became an attorney.  He finally saw active service in Okinawa during World War Two, by then a major in the Army reserves.  In later in life he became a player for the California Bald Eagles Rugby Club, a veterans side, and was in his early 80s when he played in his last game, in 1978, before dying of cancer in 1981 at the age of 85.

Stanford, wearing the dark shirts, actually cardinal red, had its share of players on the Olympic team of 1920 and Danny Carroll, a member of the Australia team that won gold at the 1908 Olympics in London.

About the author: Larry Freitas is a former rugby player and a referee in the Northern California Rugby Union Referee Society.  He started his rugby career as a freshman student (class of 1976) at Santa Clara University in 1973. After his university studies he played for the Santa Cruz Rebels and then after “retirement” from club rugby, for the California Bald Eagles Club, a veterans over 40 side.  He is a retired History and English teacher living in the Monterey Bay Area in Aptos, California. 

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