The game had been moved twice before, but eventually England and Wales got it on at Mr Richardson’s Field in Blackheath. Lucky for some, maybe!
The fledgling Welsh team, assembled by the amazing Mr Mullock of Newport, were completely and utterly annihilated. The final scoreline in modern terms would have been 82-0 courtesy of 13 tries, seven conversions and a drop goal. At the time it was merely a hollow victory for the home side.
But the scoreline was immaterial and the game was crucial in the development of game in Wales, a watershed moment from which everything changed. A month later the Welsh Football Union was formed at the Castle Hotel, in Neath, and the next time Wales stepped onto the international arena it was with a fully representative, properly selected side. They headed to Dublin and beat the Irish in 1882!
While this month is the 140th anniversary of what is now recognised as Wales’ first international outing, the Rugby Football Union is celebrating its 150th birthday. They began playing internationally in 1871 and have remained a force in the Home Nations, Five Nations and now Six Nations tournaments.
Not that they have had it all their own way – far from it! England led Wales in the series of international matches until 1907, when Wales’ first ‘Golden Era’ was just getting into full swing. After that, there were never more than two wins separating the sides until 1925. England then stayed in front until 1970 when Wales raced ahead in their second ‘Golden Era’.
Wales led the series from 1971 and held an 11 strong lead in the series by 1989. That has been whittled away ever since and the two nations were level pegging in 2002, 2009 and 2013. England currently lead by six after 136 contests.
That is still pretty close after 140 years of playing each other and Wales are a lot closer to their nearest and dearest than Scotland (-32), Ireland (-31), Italy (-28 from 28 games) and France (-18).
But back to that first meeting in Blackheath, for what was the 18th international match played by England. The home side had only two new caps, while the team assembled by Richard Mullock suffered all sorts of problems.
Contact with English clubs had only just begun with teams in Wales, although the South Wales Football Union, created in Brecon and the forerunner of the WFU, had been playing sporadic fixtures against teams in England since its formation in September, 1875.
The first inkling of an international match against the English arose in a meeting that took place at the Tenby Hotel, in Swansea, in March 1880. There is no record of who attended the meeting, or what was proposed, but in ‘Fields of Praise’, the superb official history of the WRU publish in 1980 to mark its centenary, Prof Dai Smith and Gareth Williams wrote: “he (Mullock) left the meeting under the impression that he had been given a cautious mandate to open direct negotiations with the English RFU to arrange a full international between England and Wales, and to raise a Welsh XV for that purpose.”
On 30 November, 1880, the RFU discussed at a meeting a letter from Mullock proposing a match between England and Wales. After considerable discussion the fixture was agreed and a date of 8 January, 1881, was arranged. Mullock set about trying to select a team to represent Wales and arranged a trial match for late December.
He chose the Australian-born James Bevan, a Cambridge University Blue, as captain of one side, and the Oxford University cricket and rugby Blue, Robert Knight, from Bridgend, to lead the other. Bevan would go on to lead Wales in their first game and is immortalised these days by the prize on offer every time Wales meet Australia, for the James Bevan Trophy.
Optimistically, The Western Mail suggested: “Judging from the number of quality of the names sent in to play in this trial match, visitors to the ground will see one of the best games ever played in Swansea, or even in Wales. The proceeds will go towards the expenses of the London match.”
In the end, the trial never took place. The day before, South Wales met Somerset at Rodney Parade, but Mullock never got the chance to bring together 30 players to give himself the chance to pick a proper team. Meanwhile, the RFU altered the date of the date from 8 January to 27 January. It was then shifted to 19 February, which gave the English team the chance to face Ireland at Whalley Range, Manchester on 5 February. They won by two goals and two tries to nil and eight of the side went on to face Wales two weeks later.
The chaotic build-up by Wales to the game probably had a part to play in their downfall. It didn’t help, either, that the date for the second re-arrangement clashed with the semi-final South Wales Challenge Cup tie between Swansea and Llanelli in Neath. In truth, Mullock could probably have selected a stronger team from those two clubs sides on the day than he took to Blackheath.
In total, the name of 23 players were published in the newspapers as either being in the team, or in contention to play, between 15 January and 19 February. Even the side named on the day of the game showed changes to the one that finally took the field.
Knight (Oxford & Bridgend), D Evanson (Llansoy) and J.W Lewis (Narberth) were all named in the papers as playing, but none of them took the field. In their place came Edward Peake (Chepstow & Newport), who had been named in the initial side, Gordon Darbishire (Bangor) and Edward Treharne (Pontypridd). They had at least all been named among the reserves, along with T. King, W. F. Evans and R. Roderick.
The two teams changed at the Princess of Wales pub and then walked to Mr Richardson’s Field. Leonard Stokes kicked-off at 3.10pm and Mullock had a birds-eye view of proceedings as the Welsh umpire. He wouldn’t have liked what he saw as George Burton ran in four tries, Harry Vassall three and Stokes kicked six conversions in what was the biggest hiding ever handed out on the international stage up to that point.
But sometimes you have to see the bigger picture. Had Mullock not stuck out his neck and pushed for the fixture, Wales might still have been in the international wilderness. The carping in the press that followed also played its part in galvanising the clubs and it was no coincidence that within three weeks of the game being played the Welsh Football Union was formed in Neath. Credit where credit is due, Mullock was a magician!
Things are a bit different 140 years on. What hasn’t changed is the desire to play against England. Ever since Wayne Pivac’s team made it two out of two in Scotland last weekend all thoughts have switched to facing England in Cardiff next week. It will be game No 137 and the Triple Crown will be on the line for Alun Wyn Jones and his men.
If they could make it three in a row then it would be a very special way to say a ‘Happy 140th Birthday’ to Richard Mullock, James Bevan and the WFU.
HOW THE WELSH TEAM CHANGED IN THE BUILD UP
15 January – Aberystwyth Observer
ENGLAND v WALES
This match will be played on the Blackheath Ground on Saturday, the 22nd of January, and the following men have been chosen to represent Wales: E Peake (Chepstow) and G. F. Harding (Newport) three-quarter backs, E. J. Lewis (Llandovery) and R. H. B. Summers (Haverfordwest); half-backs, A. J. Bevan (Grosmont), L. Watkins (Llandaff), and C. H. Newman (Newport); W. F. Evans (Rhymney), reserve; forwards, F. J. Purdon (Machen), W. D Phillips (Cardiff), R. D. G. Williams (Brecon), J Jex Woods (Newport), T. A Rees (Llandovery), B. B. Mann (Cardiff), J. L. Lewis (Narberth) and B. Girling (Cardiff), T. L. Morris (Swansea) and G. Darbyshire (Denbighshire), reserves.
The uniform of the Wales team will be a scarlet jersey with a Prince of Wales plume in white, scarlet stockings or socks, and white knickerbockers.
10 February – South Wales Daily News
ENGLAND v WALES
It has now been definitely arranged that this international match shall take place on the ground of the Blackheath, Club, London, on Saturday, the 19th inst. The Welsh team will be selected from the following: Backs, E. Peake and E. Evanson (Monmouthshire) threequarter-backs, R. H. B. Summers (Pembrokeshire), E. J. Lewis (Carmarthenshire), and J. A. Bevan (Monmouthshire) half-backs, R. L. Knight and L. Watkins (Glamorganshire), C. H. Newman (Monmouthshire); forwards, B. E. Girling, B. B. Mann, and W. D. Phillips (Glamorganshire), T. A. Rees and H. J. Lewis (Carmarthenshire), G. F. Harding, J. J. Woods and F. Purdon (Monmouthshire), and R. D. G. Williams (Breconshire).
12 February – South Wales Daily News
WALES V ENGLAND
TO THIS EDITOR
Dear Sir, I observe in your valuable paper of today the list of players who have been selected to represent Wales v England at Blackheath on the 19th inst. By the heading it would appear that Wales, North and South, were represented, instead of this South Wales alone is poorly represented, as out of the 15 clubs who competed the South Wales Challenge Cup only about four of them are represented in the team selected. Are there no good men at Bridgend, Llanelly, Llandeillo, Neath, Pontypridd, Swansea, &c., &c. The last named team are the holders of the Challenge Cup. Again, in the team selected I observe there are men who have formerly played “back” who are playing “forward,” and vice versa, and one if not two to my knowledge, have not played for some two or three seasons. From what I can hear, and my knowledge of the team selected, there is only one man who can “drop kick” effectually, and that only occasionally. Surely the Welsh team do not mean to dispense with “drop kicking,” and trust to their running powers alone, especially in such an important match as this, as, if they are under the impression that they can compete with the English team in the latter they will find they are greatly mistaken, and they have no one to return the drop, as made by Stokes and other Blackheath men. In conclusion, I have just seen a gentleman, who informed me that several of the English team named in your paper of today knew nothing whatever about playing in the match a day or so ago. Could any of your readers inform through the medium of your valuable paper, as to presents the Welsh International Match Committee, as I fear they are not acquainted with many of the Welsh players. Apologizing for the trouble I have given you, I am, &c.,
19 February – South Wales Daily News
ENGLAND v WALES
Postponed from last month owing to the prevalence of frost, the Rugby Union contest between the chosen representatives of England and Wales takes place today on the ground of the Blackheath Club, at Blackheath. More than usual interest is centred in the match, as it is generally known that the play of the Welsh exponents of the game during the present season has been far superior to that ever shown before, and we shall expect the present fifteen to make a capital fight. The Welsh backs are both good drops and sure tacklers, nor are they deficient in pace; as half- backs Watkins and Knight will be found very useful, both of them having played prominently for their respective clubs during the present season. Of the forwards, Purdon, Phillips, Girling, and Harding will show a good front to the strongest rushes of England, whilst Mann and Williams will be to the fore when the ball is loose. The capabilities of the English team are well known. With few exceptions, they are the same fifteen that opposed the champions of Ireland at Manchester on Saturday last. We shall anticipate a well-contested game, a full report of which will appear in next Monday’s paper
The players selected are the following:
England A. N. Hornby (Manchester), back; L. Stokes, captain (Blackheath), and R. Hunt (Manchester), three-quarter backs; H. H. Taylor (Blackheath), and H. Twyman (Richmond), half backs; A. P. James, G. W. Burton (Blackheath), E. T. and C. Gurdon (Richmond), C. W. Fernandes (Leeds), H. Fowler (Walthamstow), W. Hewett (Queen’s House), H. C. Rowley (Manchester), C. P. Wilson (Cambridge University), and Jackson (Blackheath), forwards
Reserves: T. Fry, W. Richardson, M. Shearman, and Knight
Wales—C. H. Newman (Newport), R. H. B. Summers (Haverfordwest), backs; D. Evanson (Llansoy), J. A. Bevan (Grosmont), three-quarter backs; R. L. Knight (Bridgend), E. J. Lewis (Llandovery), and L. Watkins (Llandaff), half backs; F. J. Purdon (Newport), G. F. Harding (Newport), T. A. Rees (Llandovery), J. W. Lewis (Narberth), B. E. Girling (Cardiff), B. B. Mann (Cardiff), W. D. Phillips (Cardiff), and R. D. G. Williams (Newport), forwards
Reserves: E. Peake, T. King, W. F. Evans, E. Treharne, G. Darbishire, and R. Roderick.
25 February, The Pembrokeshire Herald
ENGLAND V WALES
Saturday, February 19, witnessed the decision of the first international match between the leading exponents of the Rugby game in England and Wales, on the ground of the Blackheath Club, at Blackheath. Both sides were powerfully represented, the English team being, with one or two exceptions, the same that opposed Ireland at Manchester on the 5th inst., whilst the players from the Principality had come well to the front this season, in inter-county and other matches, and in the contest under notice they proved themselves worthy of their formidable rivals, who ultimately won a well- contested but withal one-sided game by eight goals and five tries to nil.
The arrangements were in every respect satisfactory, and the game, which proved of an interesting character, was witnessed by a large number of enthusiastic spectators. The choice of position fell to the Principality, who elected to defend the southern goal, and at 3.10 Stokes kicked off for England from the Shooter’s Hill side of the ground. Both teams immediately set to work in earnest, the early scrimmages being formed in the centre of the ground and the home forwards, working well together, soon drove the ball in the Welsh 25. Newman and Summers tried hard to relieve the at- tack, but the home team would not be denied, and after several abortive attempts to go behind, Taylor at length accomplished the feat, the try being succesfully placed by Stokes for England. After the subsequent drop out the leather was taken to the centre, where some severe scrimmages occurred. Taylor and James then made themselves conspicuous by brilliant runs, which carried the fight well in the Welsh territory. Bevan, making good use of his feet, enabled Wales to advance to the half distance, but a skilful bit of play by Burton and Vassal again gave ascendancy, and scrimmage was formed close to the Welsh posts, which gave Burton the opportunity to secure the second try. The kick at goal, however, proved a failure. Following up well, after the take out, the visitors carried the fray to neutral ground. Stokes, Burton, and the brothers Gurdon made some smart runs, which seriously endangered the Welsh citadel, and forced the visitors to touch-down to relieve the attack. This tactic had but little effect, as the leather was immediately re- turned to the Welsh ‘twenty five’, and Vassal obtained a try, from which Stokes kicked a goal. The I take-out sent the ball into the hands of Taylor, who, with Fowler and James,’ returned it to the visitors’ half, and Hunt, getting possession, dropped a capital goal. Incited by three disasters, the Welshmen played up with greater determination, and for the first time forced the fighting in the English ‘twenty- five.’ Short runs by Hewitt and Taylor, supplemented by a long drop by Stokes, took the play to less dangerous quarters, and Fernandez, disengaging the ball, made a capital run in. The place kick was a failure. The play now became characterised by its fastness and the visitors made great efforts to score a point, but the superiority of their adversaries still asserted itself, and, despite the vigorous play of Watkins, Bevan, Girling, and Phillips for Wales, the Principality was again reduced to touching-down, and half-time was shortly called.
On resuming, Wales laboured under the disadvantage of having two of their men injured but, nothing daunted, they played a plucky up-hill game. The fast forward play of their opponents kept them still in the ascendancy and Burton secured another try, which was duly converted into a goal by Stokes. After the subsequent drop-out, the visitors appeared somewhat disheartened, and did not, for a few minutes, offer such vigorous opposition as previously and Twyman secured another try. The place kick, however, failed. For the next five minutes the visitors were sorely pressed, and Vassal was instrumental in adding two more tries to the home score. After the kick out Bevan and Peake put in some hard work for Wales, and being well backed up by Purdon and Rees, the leather was taken over the half distance line. A good punt by Hunt returned it in close proximity to the Welsh posts, and Stokes placed another goal from a try by Hunt. Bevan then made a good run, but was well collared, and in quick succession Wales were forced to touch down twice to relieve the attack. Another try was got for England, but upon the plea of off-side was disallowed. Burton then followed up well and secured a try, and once more the celebrated captain of the Blackheath Club was successful in the place kick. Treharne and Bevan now showed up well for the visitors but, despite their exertions, the Welshmen had again to succumb, Stokes kicking a goal from a try by Burton. The visitors now seemed determined to make a final effort, and were seen to much greater advantage, but a splendid run by Taylor, who, when tackled, passed to Vassal, resulted in another try, and Stokes kicked the last goal in the game, which left victory with England as stated above. The home team were far superior to their opponents in the tactics of passing, and were generally much stronger.
England T. Fry (Queen’s Household), back R. Hunt (Manchester) and L. Stokes (Blackheath), three-quarter backs H. H. Taylor (Blackheath), H. T. Twyman (Richmond), half-backs C. W. L. Fernandez (Leeds), G. W. Burton (Blackheath), H. Fowler (Walthamstow),E. C. and E. T Gurdon (Richmond), W. Hewitt (Queen’s Household), A. B. James (Blackheath,) H. C. Rowley (Manchester), H. Vassal (Oxford University) and C. T. Wilson (Cambridge University), forwards
Wales C. H. Newman (Newport) and R. H. B. Summers (Haverfordwest), backs E. Peake and J. A. Bevan (Grosmont), three-quarter backs L. Watkins (LIandaff) and E. Treharne, half-backs E. J. Lewis (Llandovery), Darbishire, F. T. Purdon (Newport), G. T. Harding (Newport), T. A. Rees (Llandovery), B. E. Girling (Cardiff), B. B. Mann (Cardiff), W. D. Phillips (Cardiff), and R. D. G. Williams (Newport), forwards
Umpires: F. T. Currey (Marlborough Nomads) and R. Mullock (Newport).
Referee: A. G. Guillemard (West Kent)