Ireland 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup

The Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 is around the corner, taking place in Belfast and Dublin from 9-26 August 2017.  The Irish Rugby Football Union was chosen to host the eighth Women’s tournament in May 2015 and looks set to deliver a phenomenal event.


The Women’s Rugby World Cup. Photo: Joe Bailey @FiveSix Photography / World Rugby.

With its beginnings as an invitational event in 1991 to one with a hefty qualification process, the Women’s Rugby World Cup has ingrained itself as a major international competition in the sporting calendar.  The importance of the tournament extends further than the event itself, with World Rugby explaining that the tournament ‘’is extending the reach of women’s rugby to new audiences, inspiring participation, interest and engagement.’’

Originally scheduled for 2016, the World Rugby Council made the decision for the Women’s Rugby World Cup to be moved to 2017.  This ensured no clashes with the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018.

Ireland 2017 has big boots to fill – France hosted an exhilarating Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2014 with the utmost success.  A record broadcast audience saw the action from the pitch being shown in 167 countries, and the France v Canada semi-final attracted over 2.5 million viewers in France alone.

Crowds were treated to first-class performances from all teams.  Highlights included England’s victory over Canada after a 20-year wait to become world champions, Ireland’s foiling of New Zealand’s consecutive run of 20 in a row tournament victories and home-team France’s defeat of Ireland 25-18 to place third in the event.

Twelve teams have been chosen to participate in the 2017 World Cup.  England, Canada, France, Ireland, New Zealand, USA, and Australia all automatically qualified, whilst Italy, Wales, Spain, Fiji and Japan have all subsequently joined the tournament through various competitions.

WRWC exhibition 2To honour the game that is now played by two million women and girls throughout the world, the Nevin Spence Centre in Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium have created a sensational exhibition celebrating the history and growth of the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

The World Rugby Museum has proudly contributed a number of objects to this exhibition, including the 1994 Scotland v England programme, a signed ball from a 1991 event and the England team jersey from the 1994 Women’s Rugby World Cup, pictured right.

Kick off for the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup is 2pm on Wednesday 9th August at Dublin’s UCD Bowl, where world champions England take on Spain.  If you can’t wait until then for your fill of women’s rugby, head over to Kingspan Stadium to see their special exhibition on the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

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The Plight of the Northern Amateur

This work is based on cuttings in a scrapbook given to me in my capacity as archivist of Ashbrooke Sports Club in Sunderland, home of Sunderland RFC (founded 1873).  The origins of the scrapbook are uncertain but it seems to have been put together during the 1907/8 rugby season and covers most of the rugby related output in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Newcastle Journal and Sunderland Echo with occasional cuttings from the Northern Daily Mail, the Sunderland Football Echo and Athletics News.  The content, as with most media sport reporting, exhibits a mixture of fact and comment with two of the main commentators working under the pseudonyms of ‘Touch Judge’ in the Chronicle and ‘Argus’ in the Journal.  The subject matter of articles ranges from international rugby union to local junior games with an emphasis upon weekly local rugby in the old counties of Northumberland and Durham.

Historical Context

The scrapbook was put together at an interesting time in the development of rugby football in England and Wales.  Already the stronger Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs had broken away to form their own Northern Union (better known today as the Rugby League).  This professional game had been going since 1895 although it is clear from all the writing in the scrapbook that the breakaway union was still regarded as a close if errant member of the Rugby Union family.

As for what continued to operate as Rugby Union, there was a clear hierarchy of importance – a pyramid with a base of club games leading up through county and regional trials to internationals.  Within this structure, the county level carried much more weight than it was to do in the late twentieth century and early years of the current century.  In the counties’ pecking order, Northumberland and Durham County stood high – Durham in particular.  The Edwardian period encompassed the golden age of Durham County rugby although much of the county’s success may be attributable to the move of many stalwart players in Yorkshire and Lancashire into the professional league game.  In the union system, those considered most talented would represent the North in trial matches and, if chosen, would then appear for England in the annual internationals against Wales, Ireland and Scotland.  Durham County was far from an international backwater in this period.  The two major clubs in Hartlepool provided players for England during the 1907/8 season while many other sides, including Sunderland, produced England and Barbarian players around the same time.

In the wake of the breakaway of the Northern Union, the officials of the Rugby Football Union were keen to keep their game simple and amateur.  The regular format desired consisted of weekly friendly club matches and barely tolerated county knockout cup competitions.  The latter usually took place towards the end of the season.  For the keen amateur rugby player, the weekly bragging rights of the victor were considered reward enough and were added to by a locally recognised pecking order of strength reflected in the club’s annual fixture list. Despite general recognition of this structure, Northumberland and Durham rugby clubs were prepared to buck the trend and dabble with a league system at a variety of levels.

Union and Association

Before examining the evidence for Union league activity in the north east contained in the cuttings book, it is worth considering some why such a structure may have been attractive.  A major reason lies couched in the rise of association football or ‘the dribbling code’ as it was disparagingly referred to by one of the north east’s Edwardian rugby pundits.  In the Sunderland area, rugby football had proved dominant in the 1880s and the association club, formed in 1879 on the same south side of the River Wear as the rugby club, struggled prior to a move north of the river which helped it to gather impetus.  By the 1890s Sunderland AFC had won the league title three times and stood alongside Aston Villa as a dominant force in English football.  The effect on local rugby union in the late Victorian period seems to have been twofold.  The first was that it drew the rugby club into considering a change in codes on more than one occasion.  The second is its effect on public interest shown in the rugby games.  There was a considerable decline in gates towards the end of the Victorian period and on more than one occasion this was put down to an increased interest in and attendance at association matches.

The perceived advantage of a league system for rugby was that it would encourage larger crowds – human nature being to prefer visible competition and success.  At the same time it would focus players and give them a goal at which to aim.  From individual club’s point of view it could also bring in most welcome income.  What frightened the RFU was that such regular competition might encourage clubs to ‘buy their way’ to league success through lucrative signing on fees and  underhand payment of players; also that  clubs prepared to act in this manner would eventually follow many from Yorkshire and Lancashire by taking up the professional game.

Early Edwardian North East Union Leagues

‘In some parts of the country, leagues are not a new venture’, the writer noted.  ‘One such area is Durham County and its neighbour Northumberland where League football was in operation from the first years of the century and at junior club level lasted until the depression years of the thirties’. (Sunderland RFC Archive c.1980s)

Interest in a north east league structure can be traced back to the immediate aftermath of the divide of 1895.  In 1896, a junior club from South Shields, Westoe Wednesday, suggested a league structure.  The Sunderland club committee rejected this. In the following year, Northumberland club Wallsend proposed a joint Northumberland and Durham counties’ league.  A meeting was held and the clubs, including Sunderland, voted for rejection.  This was ‘on the ground that’ it was ‘a step in the direction of professionalism’.  In 1898, however, the Sunderland club committee accepted a third league proposal by six votes to one.  This league, for Durham County alone, would exist at both 1st XV and 2nd XV level.  In the words of the club secretary, the move to leagues was ‘quashed’ by the RFU.  Organisation of the leagues had clearly been at an advanced stage because the club was told by an RFU official to throw out its proposed fixtures and to ‘make the usual fixtures during the following season’.  At the end of the 1902/3 season, however, the secretary of Sunderland RFC noted triumphantly that the club had ended ‘second in the league table’ and that ‘since last season the Durham and Northumberland Union have installed an inter club Championship’.  This championship had ‘greatly increased the interest in the matches of the various clubs’.  He also reported that the 1st XV had played 19 games in the inter club league, had won 11 and drawn one, scoring 132 points for and 131 against.  He also noted that club finances had improved and would have been even better had it not been for the bad weather.  In an interesting final analysis he added three other favourable outcomes of the league games –

  1. Matches started more punctually.
  2. Matches were more keenly contested
  3. There was no difficulty in getting players to play on a regular basis

The club minutes for the 1903/4 season back up the continued existence of a league structure.  There are references to claiming points for cancelled matches and not playing league games on county days.  In 1904, Northumbrian side Old Novos claimed two points because Sunderland had cancelled a game.  A pristine copy of the league rules and regulations for the following season has also survived in the archives of Sunderland RFC. The league is disguised as ‘Durham and Northumberland Inter-County Club Championships’ and the regulations for the 1904/5 season stated that at least eight ‘home and home’ matches (presumably home and away) had to be played with two points for a win and one for a draw.  Positions in the championship table were awarded on a percentage win basis.

Having withdrawn its 2nd XV from its league in 1904, Sunderland RFC placed it back for the 1905/6 season.  In the 1906/7 season there are occasional references in the club’s minutes to the 1st XV, at least, remaining in some form of league system.

*to be continued in a second article later in the year.

About the Author: Keith Gregson is a Sunderland-based semi-retired freelance writer, historian and musician. He has written numerous books about the history of sport including ‘One Among Many’, ‘Sporting Ancestors’ and ‘Australia in Sunderland’. Details of his work can be found at and his books can be purchased from Amazon.

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Goals From A Mark, 1871 – 1914


AE Stoddart

On January 2nd 1886 towards the end of the first half of their match against Wales when they were leading by two tries to nil, the English forward CH (Charles) Elliot caught a miscued kick for touch by the Welsh full back DH (Harry) Bowen on the full and claimed a mark.  Instead of taking the kick himself, he handed the ball to the renowned dual cricket and rugby international AE (Andrew) Stoddart who proceeded to kick the first goal from a mark in international rugby.

From 1871 to 1977, a goal from a mark (GMk) could be scored when a player on the attacking side caught a ball kicked by the opposing side before it touched the ground.  At the same time as catching the ball, the player needed to be stationary and had to plant the heel of one of his feet in the ground.  This was deemed to be a fair catch and permitted the attacking side to consider a free kick at goal which could be taken by any of the players on the attacking side.  If the ball travelled between the posts from this free kick, a goal from a mark was scored.  When points scoring was introduced in the 1890s, a GMk was worth 3 points in the 1890/91 season; 4 points from the 1891/92 to 1904/05 seasons; and 3 points from the 1905/06 season to its abolition in 1977 when GMks were replaced by free kicks where a direct attempt to kick a goal was not permitted.

In total only 27 goals from a mark were scored in 26 international rugby matches between 1886 and 1977.  14 of these GMks were scored before the 1st World War and some of these goals had a significant impact on the results of individual games as well as ensuring legendary status for some of the matches and the kickers of these goals.

In February 1887 when Scotland beat Ireland convincingly in Belfast, the Scottish forward CW (Charles) Berry opened the scoring in the first half with a GMk.  Four years later, on the first British Isles tour of South Africa, the English full back WG (Willie) Mitchell played in all 20 tour matches and kicked a GMK, the only points of the match to defeat South Africa 3-0 at Kimberley in the 2nd test of the three-match series.  Once again it was a miskick that let to Mitchell making his mark just outside the 25 line and under a yard from touch.  In the words of a South African newspaper, “Mitchell made a shot for goal.  The ball flew direct for its mark and, landing on the cross bar, bounced between the uprights.  Great applause greeted this splendid feat.”


RE Lockwood

In January 1894 England surprisingly thrashed Wales 24-3 at Birkenhead Park during which RE (Dicky) Lockwood and HH (Henry) Taylor each set a new English record by scoring 9 points in an international match.  Taylor’s tally included a goal from a mark made by the English centre, CA (Charles) Hooper.  A year later in an extraordinary match at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh for which the length of the pitch was reduced by 15-20 yards because the North end of the pitch was frozen, the legendary Welsh full back WJ (Billy) Bancroft kicked a drop goal from his own mark but in a losing cause as Wales were defeated by Scotland 4-5.

In February 1897, Ireland defeated England 13-9 in a frenetic match at Lansdowne Road. The powerful Lansdowne right wing LQ (Larry) Bulger set a new Irish record by scoring 7 points in the match including an important GMk that took Ireland into a 10-3 lead at half time.

WJ Bancroft

The final GMk of the 19th century was scored by the West of Scotland forward WJ (William) Thomson in Scotland’s 21-10 victory over Wales on March 4th 1899, a match that had been postponed four times due to the grounds being frozen.

The early 20th century saw the arrival of the All Blacks on the international scene.  In their first ever international against Australia in Sydney in August 1903, their full back WJ (Billy) Wallace – another of the all-time great full backs – set a new world record by scoring 13 points in their 22-3 victory.  His 13 points uniquely included 2 goals from marks, the only time that feat was accomplished in the history of international rugby.  In January 1904 the Welsh full back HB (Bert) Winfield saved the day by kicking a GMk from just inside the English half right at the end of the match to secure a 14-14 draw against England in Leicester.


PF Bush

Later in 1904 a British Isles team toured Australia and New Zealand, playing three tests in Australia and one in New Zealand.  One of their stars was the elusive Welsh fly half PF (Percy) Bush who scored a record 11 points including a GMk in their 17-3 victory over Australia in the 2nd test in Brisbane.  In February 1906, the young Cambridge University winger KG (Kenneth) MacLeod kicked an important GMk to help secure a 13-6 victory for Scotland in Dublin and, a year later, the Irish centre and future champion tennis player JC (Cecil) Parke kicked a GMk to open the scoring in Ireland’s 17-9 victory over England.  The 14th and final pre-war GMk was scored by the Queensland full back, PP (Phil) Carmichael, in Australia’s very heavy 6-26 defeat to the All Blacks in Sydney in the 1st test of their 1907 tour to New Zealand.


  • History of Welsh International Rugby – John Billot (Roman Way Books 1999)
  • Men in Black (Commemorative 20th Century Edition) – Chester, Palenski & McMillan (Hodder Moa Beckett 2000)
  • The Book of English International Rugby – John Griffiths (Willow Books 1982)
  • The History of Scottish Rugby – Sandy Thorburn (Johnston & Bacon 1980)
  • John Hammond Scrapbook 1891-1907 – private – held in the World Rugby Museum

About the Author- A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has had a life-long love of sport.  He has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005.

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Remembering Drewy Stoddart- ‘the most famous sportsman in Queen Victoria’s empire’

Name: Andrew Ernest Stoddart andrew-stoddart

Birthplace: Westoe

Position: Threequarter
Total Caps: 10

Calcutta Cups: 1 retained

Triple Crowns:  0

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

The man dubbed ‘the most famous sportsman in Queen Victoria’s empire’ was born in County Durham in 1860.  His sporting proficiency was quickly recognised and he became only the second man in history to captain England at both cricket and rugby.

Brilliant as a wing but equally adept amongst the centres, Stoddart was described as a dashing individualist who, once in his stride, was practically unstoppable.  A fierce competitor, he won many matches with the accuracy of his drop-kicking and is known to have regularly hurdled opponents in search of the try-line.

He was first selected for England in 1885.  Between 1885 and 1889 he played in six tests without defeat. He then captained his side four times over the following four seasons.

Away from the national side he became the first captain of the Barbarians invitation side and also captained the side that would become the British and Irish Lions during their first tour in 1888.  He is also on record as being the first player to have scored an underwater try for Harlequins on a waterlogged Chislehurst Common.

He reportedly played his last games for England with elastic knee caps on both knees, anklets on both ankles and a rubber bandage on his elbow.

The following is an extract from a poem printed in Punch magazine after Stoddart had captained the English cricket team to their ashes victory in 1894/5:

Then wrote the Queen of England,

Whose hand is blessed by God,

I must do something handsome,

For my dear victorious Stod’

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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Remembering George Nepia

Extracted from ‘Babbled of Green Fields’ by Denzil Batchelor


The New Zealand full-back was nineteen years old, and he was the only man in the side who played every match of the tour [NZ to UK, 1925]. He was only five feet nine inches high, but he was that phenomenon among athletes, a massively built man trained as sharp set as a greyhound. He seemed to be made of mahogany. His legs were new-stripped glistering tree-trunks. His head, set on his short neck which would have buckled a guillotine, was crowned with blue-black hair, brushed back over his scalp. He had the poise of a panther: always on his toes, bent forward to spring to the kill. His eyes were no adjunct to a smile. They were for ever staring unwinkingly to the horizon, in the search for prey: the eyes of a falcon. He tackled with the sound of a thunderclap, and punted low and deep, gaining fifty yards with a wet, heavy ball with contemptuous ease in the teeth of a forward foot-rush. His unique feat was to gather a ball off the toes of a phalanx of forwards and – disdaining to fall on the ball – smash his way with it, generally backwards, through the whole ravening pack. He had played five-eighths for Hawkes Bay, learning to open up the game for his three-quarters. New Zealand only bothered to choose one full-back for their touring side. If they had chosen one half as good as Nepia he would have done the job for them.

About the Author- Denzel Stanley Batchelor was a renowned journalist, writer, playwright and broadcaster who often wrote about sport. Born in Mumbai in 1906, he witnessed first-hand the 1924 touring New Zealand side, for which Nepia played. A contemporary of CB Fry he penned at least 30 books. This extract was taken from ‘Babbled of Green Fields. An Autobiography’.  

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Lest We Forget – George Eric Burroughs Dobbs (England), 17/06/1917


Photo from Author’s collection

George Eric Burroughs Dobbs was born in Co Kilkenny, near Castlecomer where his father Joseph owned a coal mine.  Joseph had married Mary Augusta Harte in Dublin in 1878 and they had seven children, George being the 2nd of four boys.

After early education at St Stephen’s Green School in Dublin, he won a mathematics scholarship to Shrewsbury School, where the sport was association football.  Dobbs was house captain and goalkeeper, but never in the school XI.

From school he went to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, being gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Engineers on 23 March 1904.  Before WW1 he served in Singapore and in Limerick, where he rode with the local hunt.

He developed his rugby skills at Woolwich, playing for them and for the Royal Engineers and the Army.  At club level he had associations with Plymouth Albion and Devonport Albion and, quite surprisingly, with Llanelli, being part of the team that lost 16-3 in front of over 15,000 supporters, to the touring Springboks in 1906.  His forward play earned him two England caps that year, versus Ireland and Wales, but both games were well lost in an era of moderate England performances.

As a full-time soldier he was immediately part of the war effort with the British Expeditionary Force, and fought at the Battle of Mons in August 1914, which was the first engagement of the war for British troops.  His determination in maintaining communications during the retreat earned him the French award of the Legion d’Honneur.  His speciality was with signals, which underwent a rapid change during the war, with physical messages, via foot and via motor cycle despatch, being superseded by radio and telephone, a transition that eventually brought about the formation of the Royal Corps of Signals.


Photo courtesy of Shrewsbury School

For his capabilities and service he was three times Mentioned in Despatches.  He rapidly rose from Lieutenant eventually by 1917 being Lt Colonel and assistant director of signals.

His death came near Poperinge in Belgium on 17 June 1917, which was after the battle of Messines Ridge, but before Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres).  He was prospecting for a new cable trench in the front line when he was hit by a shell.  He died shortly afterwards.

Lt Colonel GEORGE ERIC BURROUGHS DOBBS is buried Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery (Grave Reference: XIII. A. 25).

He is also remembered on the war memorial at Shrewsbury School, and on the Dobbs Family grave in St. Mary’s Castlecomer.

He did not marry.


For more information on the Rugby Football Union’s First World War commemorations visit

For details of the other 26 fallen England players click here.

The World Rugby Museum would like to thank Mike Hagger for researching and writing this article.

Follow the World Rugby Museum on Facebook and Twitter to receive further tributes to the international rugby players who fell in the Great War.

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Lest We Forget – John Edward Raphael (England), 11/06/1917

JOHN EDWARD RAPHAEL cigarette card

John Edward Raphael was born in Belgium and died in Belgium, though this did not prevent him becoming one of England’s most accomplished sportsmen of his day, exemplified by the fact that at Oxford he won 14 Blues across four sports.  This was two more than the legendary C B Fry, who has been described as England’s greatest all-round sportsman.

His father Albert was a stockbroker, whilst his mother Harriette hailed from Pembrokeshire.  John was their only child, and was initially educated at Streatham School near the family home.  He then went on to Merchant Taylors’ and to St John’s, Oxford where he read modern history.  By 1908 he had been called to the bar at Lincolns Inn, and a year later he stood for parliament as the Liberal candidate in Croydon. Though unsuccessful, he did increase his party’s vote to a record level.

Cricket and rugby were his main sports; swimming and water polo his other Blues.  He captained the school XI and, in 1904, Surrey CCC.  For Oxford he remains the only batsman ever to score a double century against Yorkshire.  At rugby from 1905 to 1910 he captained the XV for Old Merchant Taylors (OMT), for whom he played his club rugby, and he went on tour to Argentina in 1910 as captain of what eventually became the British Lions.  He won nine caps for England as a three-quarter, spanning the years 1902-06, including playing against New Zealand during their inaugural tour of 1905-06.

When the war came he was, like so many rugby players, one of the earliest volunteers, first joining the Officer Training Corps, and then being gazetted to the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment, and finally to the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, where the 18th Battalion had been raised by his uncle Sir Herbert Raphael, MP for West Derby.  He was wounded on 7 June 1917 at the Battle of Messines, which was a prelude to the much large 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele).  He died four days later.


Photo courtesy of St Jude on the Hill

Lieutenant JOHN EDWARD RAPHAEL is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery Poperinghe, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium [Grave XIII. A. 30.].

 He is widely remembered elsewhere, including at Merchant Taylors’ School and by the OMT Society in its War Memorial Clubhouse.  The Society lost 13 of its 1st XV from 1913-14, and two were disabled.

His mother instigated the erection of a memorial plaque (right) at St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb.  Other memorials at Lord’s (MCC), Surrey CCC at The Oval, St John’s College, Oxford University RFC and Lincoln’s Inn also bear his name.

In the year after his death, his mother published his book “Modern Rugby Football”.

He did not marry.


For more information on the Rugby Football Union’s First World War commemorations visit

For details of the other 26 fallen England players click here.

The World Rugby Museum would like to thank Mike Hagger for researching and writing this article.

Follow the World Rugby Museum on Facebook and Twitter to receive further tributes to the international rugby players who fell in the Great War.

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