Remembering South Africa’s International Debut

The match was played in front of a 6,000 strong crowd at Crusader’s Ground in Port Elizabeth.

“…the pavilion was crowded with ladies, all intent on the game…” – The Cape Times

Great Britain won by four points (two tries and a conversion) to nil in a contest refereed by Dr John Griffin, a former Wales international. One of the scorers was Randolph Aston, a centre for England and Blackheath. He racked up an impressive 30 tries throughout the tour!

South Africa v British Isles, 1891

Having been invited by the Western Province Union, the tour was sanctioned by the RFU. However, RFU Secretary Rowland Hill only agreed to the tour after Sir Cecil Rhodes, the Cape Colony Prime Minister, guaranteed to cover any financial losses the tour may incur.

“Let them come.  I shall stand firm for any shortfall.” – Sir Cecil Rhodes

21 players set sail to South Africa, captained by Scotland’s Bill Maclagan. Although now recognised as a British Lions tour, the party was predominantly made up of English players. This fact, combined with the RFU’s patronage, meant that they were originally recognised as an English team.

British Isles to South Africa, 1891

Only nine of those 21 had been capped for their country prior to the tour, and of those, only five had participated in that year’s Four Nations Championship. Additionally, 16 of the touring party had attended either Oxford or Cambridge Universities; A huge difference to the predominantly working-class, northern-based 1888 touring party to New Zealand and Australia.

Managed by Edwin Ash, past Secretary of the RFU, it was only the second overseas tour the British Lions had undertaken. The touring side played 20 matches over two months, including three Test matches against South Africa. They won all of them, conceding just a single try throughout the whole tour.


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This entry was posted in Countries, International Players, Lions, South Africa. Bookmark the permalink.

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