Jonah Lomu: The day he announced himself to the World

lomu-actionThe 1995 Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and New Zealand will always be remembered for Jonah Lomu’s outstanding man of the match performance. Lomu scored four ruthless tries in the semi-final, swatting away the English defence like flies.

England captain Will Carling perhaps best summed up how it felt to play against Lomu: “I am hoping not to come across him again. He is a freak and the sooner he goes away the better.”  Lomu’s performance was heralded around the world with England coach Jack Rowell commenting “Lomu is a phenomenon. He plays a different game.”

For many observers Lomu had shown the direction the game would take in the professional era with an emphasis on bigger and faster players. At the time there were fears that Lomu would depart Rugby Union to play the already professional code of Rugby League. However, a month after the final, on 26th August 1995, the IRB ushered in the professional era by repealing amateur regulations.


Jonah with Hal Sever and Tommy Kemp at the World Rugby Museum

Despite losing the final to South Africa the All Blacks remained one of the most dominant sides of the newly professional era and Lomu went on to make 63 Caps scoring 37 international tries. To this day he remains the Rugby World Cup’s joint top try Scorer, tied with Bryan Habana on 15 tries.  This is remarkable, given that Lomu suffered from a rare kidney disease, which meant he was unable to train regularly.

As for England, who were Grand Slam winners in 1995, several players such as Martin Johnson and Jason Leonard who would go on to play a leading role in helping England win the World Cup 8 years later in 2003.

Jonah Lomu introduced himself to the world against England in 1995 in a way that has not been and, with all likelihood, will never be repeated.

About the Author – Will Holmes, 19, is studying History at the University of Exeter and plays rugby for various local clubs. He undertook a placement week with the World Rugby Museum as part of a Public History module in 2016.

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The World Rugby Museum is on the move…

Mather Image 1The World Rugby Museum is now closed ahead of its relocation from the East Stand to the South Stand of Twickenham Stadium. The move will necessitate a complete overhaul and redevelopment of the galleries. Curator Phil McGowan is optimistic that this will be a significant opportunity for the museum to improve its content and modernise its interpretive methods.

The museum began life as the Museum of Rugby in 1996 before rebranding as the World Rugby Museum in 2008. Its collection, that includes the RFU collection and Harry Langton rugby collection, has increased significantly since 1996 and the move represents an opportunity to better tell the true story of rugby from around the world.

Early estimations are that the new gallery will feature more than three times as many objects as it does currently and cover iconic teams from around the world and from all eras, including the 1924 New Zealand side, the 1900s Wales teams, the 1971 and 1974 British and Irish Lions sides and 2003 England team to name just a few.

Work on the new museum will commence once the 2017 6-Nations is complete and is scheduled for completion in the winter of 2017-18. Twickenham Stadium Tours and ‘From the Vaults’ online blog will continue during the interim.

“The cutting edge new museum will be bigger, better, brighter, louder and more interactive than ever before.  It will house the world’s most prestigious collection of rugby memorabilia. It will include commentary, film and match-footage from the most iconic moments, memorable tours and greatest players in the history of what is the world’s most dramatic team sport.

It will include purpose built events, education and research facilities and invite visitors to engage in the game with exciting hands-on interactive exhibits” – Phil McGowan, Curator



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In 1877 the RFU were sent a letter…

In Calcutta on the 25th of December 1872, a game of rugby was played between a team of ex-pats from England and a mixed team of Scots, Irish and Welsh.  The match proved a success and provided the impetus for the Calcutta Football Club to be formed in January 1873.

Four years later the Calcutta Club sadly folded in 1877 and the decision was made to melt the remaining 270 silver rupee coins from the Club’s bank account to create the Calcutta Cup.  Captain, Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Calcutta Football Club, G. A. James Rothney highlights this in his letter to the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Rugby Football Union, H. I. Graham Esq. on the 20th of December 1877.calcutta-letter

 ‘I regret to say the Calcutta Football Club has ceased to exist, it being now found quite impossible to get sufficient men together to play even a scratch game…This being the case I proposed at a Meeting of the few remaining Members of the Club held on Tuesday last the 18th inst. as the best means of doing some lasting good for the cause of Rugby Football & as a slight memento of the Calcutta Club, that the Funds remaining to the credit of the Club should be devoted to the purchase of a Challenge Cup & presented to the Rugby Union.’

The letter from Rothney provides an insight into the development of rugby throughout the world.  Various reasons were given for the decline in popularity of rugby in Calcutta.  Rothney himself explains the constraints in his correspondence to Graham, including, ‘that many of the old members who started the club in 1872, and kept it going, have become dispersed over India or gone home…(and) the great & rapid development of Polo has proved a fatal blow to Football here; it being considered (as it requires no training or condition) so much more suitable for the climate.’  In addition to these reasons, it has been suggested that there was declining interest in the club after the cessation of the accompanying free bar, but no such mention was made by Rothney.

For the use of the cup, Rothney suggested that it could ‘be competed for annually in the same way as the Association Cup;’ however, citing the potential difficulty of organising all clubs to participate, the RFU accepted the trophy as a challenge cup for international use.  The Calcutta Club subsequently presented the trophy to the Rugby Football Union in 1878, making it the oldest trophy in international rugby.

These were very early days for international rugby, with only two other countries playing rugby against England at the time – Scotland and Ireland.  Due to Ireland’s sub-par performance up to 1877, with five defeats and no points scored in five games, the RFU decided to use the cup for their annual encounter with Scotland.  A silver plaque on the base reads: ‘The Calcutta Cup Presented to the Rugby Football Union by the Calcutta Football Club as an international challenge cup to be played for annually by England & Scotland 1878.’

ccThe final result from the Calcutta Club was a large silver loving cup with a lid.  It is heavily engraved in an artistic pattern, with three handles in the shape of king cobra snakes.  Standing proudly on top of the lid is a small elephant.  Rothney describes the cup in a letter dated 31st of October, 1878, ‘the Cobras are carefully copied from actual specimens and the elephant is…of the Vice Roy’s stock. The cup is of pure silver 270 rupees having been melted down for its manufacture…its exact weight being now 265 3/4 rupees.’   The Cup now sits on a two-piece wooden base, which has attached to it numerous silver plaques, each engraved with the dates and results of matches the Cup has been played for.

The first Calcutta Cup match was played at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh, on 10 March 1879, in front of a crowd of 10,000 spectators.  The trophy was not awarded however as the game ended a draw, with both sides scoring a goal.  The following year England became the first team to win the trophy when they defeated Scotland by two goals to one at Whalley Range, Manchester.  To this day, the Calcutta Cup is awarded to the victors of the England v Scotland match during the Six Nations tournament.

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Rugby’s Greatest Upsets Part 3 – Paris Olympics, 1924


15 fifteen-a-side rugby had been included as an event at the Olympics since 1900. The founder of the Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, had visited Rugby School in 1883. There he was introduced to rugby football and discussed the merits of physical education with the headmaster. De Coubertin became a life-long rugby enthusiast and it is therefore no surprise that the sport featured in early editions of the games.

The 1924 Olympics were held in Paris and the hosts were hot favourites to claim a gold medal that they had last won in 1900. France were competing regularly at this time in the 5 Nations Championship but none of their championship rivals were present for the Olympic tournament. Instead opposition came from two developing sides, Romania and the USA.

Romania were no match for the hosts and France notched thirteen tries, including four from their outstanding wing Adolphe Jaureguy. The final, against the USA, would be held at Stade Colombes and was expected to be a walkover.

The Americans, like the Romanians, were a developing rugby nation and many of their 22 man squad were more familiar with American Football than rugby. In preparation they had played and lost a series of games against English clubs, including Harlequins and Blackheath.

What the Americans lacked in technique, they more than made up for in muscle and they set their stall out for a physical confrontation with the French. An already hostile home crowd was incensed when, after just two minutes, star player Jaureguy was knocked unconscious and had to be stretchered from the field.

The USA scored three unanswered tries to race into an 11-0 lead before the French could land their first points. The second-half atmosphere at the Stade Colombes was one that would be unfamiliar to rugby fans of that generation or this. At the time Franco-American relations were considerably strained due to disagreements over German war reparations and the French crowd took to booing and hissing the American team.

USA extended their lead in the second half and ill-feeling in the crowd threatened to boil over completely as the French suffered two further injuries and had a player sent off for violent conduct. The game finished 17-3 in the Americans favour, several spectators were attacked and the team needed a police escort to exit the field.

All of this unpleasantness perhaps influenced the decision not to include rugby at subsequent Olympic Games and overshadowed the quite astonishing achievement of what was little more than a scratch team in winning the gold medal for the USA.

Since fifteen-a-side rugby has never returned to the Olympics the USA side remains the reigning Olympic champions.


USA Olympic Final team, 1924

Read Rugby’s Greatest Upsets Part 1Part 2 and Part 4.


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Remembering Seiji Hirao, 1963-2016

Seiji Hirao

Photo Credit: Getty Images

On Friday February 10th in the lavish setting of the Portopia Hotel in Kobe, the Japan Rugby Football Union together with the Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers Rugby Club staged a remarkable memorial event to celebrate the life of Seiji Hirao, arguably Japan’s finest and certainly most famous rugby player. Attended by over 1,300 friends, teammates and colleagues the event featured eulogies from former Prime Minister Mori, Honorary President of the JRFU and a particularly emotional address from Hirao’s former High School coach Ryoji Yamaguchi.

Called ‘Mr Rugby’ by the Japan Times, Hirao tragically passed away late last year at the age of 53 after a battle with cancer.  He won 35 caps for Japan, playing in 3 Rugby World Cups – 1987, 1991 (as captain) and 1995, and went on to coach them at the 1999 tournament.

hirao-5For once however, the bare statistics don’t even begin to do the man justice.  Hirao played one season (1985-86) with Richmond in London in between his university career and joining Kobe Steel.  It’s perhaps difficult today to image how, in an age before the internet, fax and mobile phone he can have been at the time of his arrival in London, aged 22, almost completely unknown here, and at the same time already a David Beckham like figure in Japan.

Rugby’s popularity in Japan was at that time quite immense – live TV coverage of all major games,  the Olympic stadium full for finals, and extensive national newspaper coverage. Hirao first burst onto the scene there as the captain and star of an obscure state school from Kyoto, Fushimi High School, which under the inspirational leadership of Yamaguchi, former Japan Number 8, sensationally beat all the leading private schools to win the high profile national schools tournament.  He then went on to lead Doshisha University to three university championship wins, and take his place in the Japanese national side from the age of 19 onwards.

Amidst massive media speculation about where he would continue his career (the Japanese club system was then, as today, dominated by corporate sides and there was a quasi-draft system as in US collegiate sport) he caused something of a stir by announcing he was taking a sabbatical year in London and would make up his mind after that. As someone who enjoyed movie star good looks – he was compared on arrival by some ladies here to a young Omar Sharif – he had legions of schoolgirl fans in Japan who were distraught at this decision.

%e7%a5%9e%e6%88%b8%e6%96%b0%e8%81%9e2-2And yet, at that time he was a totally unknown quantity outside of Japan.  Hirao soon showed that he had real class: pace, great lines of running and all the other attributes, but in addition a rare poise and ability to read the game.  Starting in the opening game on the left wing, he ended up playing every position in the back line except scrum half for the Richmond 1st XV that season, and won many friends in the club.  His English improved markedly and he enjoyed London life, and being out of the Japanese media spotlight (for the most part) enormously.  He always spoke fondly of his time in London – and in particular that he had learned the importance of the social side of the game!

Before he joined them, Kobe Steel were at that time a strong but continuously underperforming side on the big stage in Japan.  Under Hirao ‘The Steelers’ won 7 consecutive national club championship titles, to seal his reputation as both a great player and on-field leader.  Following his spell as national coach, he returned as General Manager of Kobe Steel, who won 3 further national championships under his guidance.  Such achievements both in the ‘amateur’ and then early professional era were a very big financial deal in corporate Japan.

Another sign of the level of fame Hirao achieved in Japan was that in recent years a blockbuster award-winning TV series ‘School Wars’ (think ‘Grange Hill’ with a massive rugby theme running through it) was a semi-biographical story of his life at Fushimi High School.  Hard to imagine, I know, but true: Japan remains in some senses another rugby world, even to this day.

Hirao was much in demand as speaker on the corporate circuit in Japan – in particular on the interface of business and sport – and  had spoken a lot in recent years about the continuous underperformance of the Japanese national side, despite the strength of the big corporate sides which to this day still dominate the Top League there. This was something which troubled him – in perhaps an echo of some of the issues facing top professional club leagues and national sides in Europe now, he felt that traditionally players had a strong tendency to feel more allegiance to their clubs than the national side and the clubs for their part were over possessive of their players.  No one was more pleased than Hirao when Eddie Jones, demanding and receiving powers which no other Japanese national coach had ever previously had in terms of player access and resources, was able to turn this situation around and deliver their sensational performance at Rugby World Cup 2015.

With that success – including a 25 million live TV audience for the Japan vs Samoa game at the World Cup, the largest one nation live rugby TV audience ever (and Rugby World Cup 2019 being in Japan) – likely to usher in another boom time for rugby there comparable to the ’80s and ’90s, and with many of the stars of the ‘Brave Blossoms’ deservedly being ranked globally as players, it’s not easy to put Hirao’s achievements  into context.  Many judges of the game have stated unequivocally however that Seiji Hirao could have rightly %e3%83%86%e3%82%99%e3%82%a4%e3%83%aa%e3%83%bc%e6%96%b0%e8%81%9e-2taken his place in a World XV at almost any time of his playing career.

Seiji was very prominent indeed on behalf of the JRFU in their bid for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which failed by one vote, and repeated the exercise again when they were awarded the 2019 tournament.  He maintained his role with Kobe Steel and position on the Advisory Committee for the 2019 Rugby World Cup up to the time of his sad demise.

It was a pleasure and for me personally to get to know Seiji particularly well during his year in London, when we played together at Richmond, and as a former Kobe Steel player in 1980-83 who subsequently re-joined the company in London I watched with pleasure the success of the company team under his leadership, ably assisted by a series of mostly fellow Oxford University players who also went on to join the club.  Following Hirao’s passing away, they were unanimous in paying tribute to the way he had made them welcome.  Having learned a great deal during his year in London he took the lead in establishing an open, internationalist culture at the Steelers,  and one which moreover emphasised the fun aspects of the game.

The turnout for Hirao’s memorial event was in itself a massive tribute to him, and within that no less than 6 of the Kobe Steel ‘gaijin’ (foreign) players traveled from London, Dublin, Brisbane and Sydney to pay their respects to the great man.  I certainly regarded it as an honour to be at what was a truly remarkable memorial event.

About the Author- Reg Clark won rugby Blues at Oxford in 1978 and 1979 before working and playing rugby for Kobe Steel 1980-83. He was Kobe’s European Finance Director until 1997. He is now CEO of Rhino Rugby, and last year received a Foreign Minister’s Commendation Award from the government of Japan for his contribution to UK-Japan relations.

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On the Blind Side

One of the most remarkable matches in the history of international rugby took place between France and Scotland in Paris on 1st January 1920.  This was the fifth time these two countries had met on the rugby field and the first match since their infamous encounter in Paris in 1913.  This had ended with the English referee (James Baxter) leaving the field with a police escort due to the crowd’s anger at his decisions.  So incensed was the Scottish Rugby Union at this attack on the referee’s integrity that the projected match in 1914 between the two countries was cancelled.  With the war intervening, there had been no further opportunity for the rivalry to be resumed until the opening of the 1920 rugby championship.

This was not only the first official international played after the 1st World War but was also a match in which a number of players on both sides were making their re-appearance for their countries after serving in the 1st World War.  On the French side, four of the 15 players had played for France before the war, and on the Scottish side there were seven pre-war internationals.

The match was played in mud and driving rain which undoubtedly prevented a free-flowing game and the play was fractured and unremarkable in scoring terms.  Scotland won 5-0 through a try in the second half by Gerard (GB) Crole, the Oxford University winger, converted by ‘Podger’ (Arthur D) Laing from the Royal High School Former Pupils club (although some sources credit Finlay Kennedy with converting this try).

So what was it that made this match so unique?  The clue lies in the title of this article.  The number of players with wartime experience was not unusual in the make-up of international sides of the early 1920s, but what was quite unique about the sides in this match was that five of the 30 players on the field have always been believed by French sources to have lost an eye in the war – the French forwards MarcelFrederic Lubin-Lebrere from Toulouse and Robert Thierry from Racing Club de France and the Scottish half back John (Jenny) Hume and forwards, ‘Podger’ (AD) Laing and Jock (Andrew) Wemyss.

Lubin-Lebrere (1891-1972) had already won 3 caps in 1914 and scored a try against Ireland.  In addition to losing an eye, he suffered numerous wounds and became a German prisoner of war.  He went on to win a remarkable 12 further caps in the French front and second row, including the Olympic Final against the United States in May 1924, before his final match against Ireland in January 1925.  Thierry (1893-1973), uncapped before the war but a veteran of 8 wartime internationals, played four full international matches during the 1919-20 season including the match played following the 1920 Olympic Games against the United States of America.  He also played for Racing Club in their losing Championship Final against Tarbes in April 1920.

The three Scottish players had won their initial caps before the war.  The scrum half Jenny Hume (1890-1969) had won his 1st cap against France in 1912 and went on to win 6 further caps, scoring a try against Ireland and captaining Scotland in three of their four matches in 1921.  Hume and Podger Laing (1892-1927), a rumbustious forward who played in four internationals after the war to give him a total of 7 caps, both played for the Royal High School FP club.  Jock Wemyss (1893-1974) had won two caps before the war as a highly promising Gala forward, but he was now playing for Edinburgh Wanderers.  Jock Wemyss earned a sort of notoriety as he had the temerity to ask a Scottish selector for a new jersey for the match against France.  He was immediately asked why he had not brought his Scotland jersey from the 1914 season.  His reply is not recorded but he went on to win four further caps after this match and then become a well-known journalist and commentator and a pillar of the Barbarians rugby club.

French sources have always called this “Le match des borgnes” but is it a myth that five of the thirty players were one-eyed and if so, which of the five did not lose an eye in the war?  The injuries to Jock Wemyss and the two French players are well documented but I have been unable to find any supporting evidence of the injuries to Hume and Laing?  Not even the Royal High School centenary brochure of 1968 deems these injuries worthy of a mention which is puzzling.  Surely at least one reader must know the answer…?

Sources consulted:

  • A Portrait of Scottish Rugby (Allan Massie – Polygon Books – 1985)
  • Dans la mêlée des tranchées (Francis Meignan – Le Pas d’oiseau – 2014)
  • Encyclopédie du Rugby Français (Pierre Lafond & Jean-Pierre Bodis – Editions Dehedin – 1989)
  • Les Capes du Matin (Georges Pastre – Midi Olympique – 1970)
  • Royal High School RFC Centenary 1868-1968 (Bob Ironside & Sandy Thorburn – Neill & Co Ltd – 1968)
  • The History of Scottish Rugby (Sandy Thorburn – Cassell Ltd – 1980)
  • World Rugby Museum Archive
  • Personal correspondence with Stephen Cooper, John Griffiths and Frederic Humbert

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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Match Highlights: England Colts v Wales Youth, 1989

A previous blog post entitled ‘England and Wales stars of the future line-up in 1989’ featured the likes of Martin Johnson and Scott Gibbs singing their respective anthems in the lead-up to a tough-tackling ‘England Colts’ v ‘Wales Youth’ match held in Torquay back in 1989.

The footage was supplied by Mr Barrie Gledhill, who was an assistant referee that day, and generated considerable interest, particularly amongst several of those who were in attendance that day, either as spectators or players.

The consensus amongst them was that Wales had the better of the game despite England running out winners. As promised we are now able to publish highlights of the game and it would seem that their memories are correct.

Wales have most of the ball and generate the most chances in the first-half before a more evenly contested second-half. England, however, finish the stronger and it is during the final quarter of the game that they score the points that deliver them the victory.

See for yourself…


If you have any home-recorded historic rugby footage, that you would be willing to share us, let us know!

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