Unusual Rugby Stories

 2021 celebrates 150 years of the Rugby Football Union or RFU’s formation, the official governing body of English rugby commenced on 26th January, 1871 in a London restaurant with 21 teams present. This important and historic event created an unusual story itself as the Wasps Rugby representatives got the date, time and place wrong and were thereby omitted from the Founding Members Honours list. Algernon Rutter became the first elected RFU President and he oversaw the official laws, rules and regulations of rugby union introduced in June of that same year. To celebrate this longstanding achievement of 1 and a half centuries of rugby football and spirit a few light-hearted, amusing and unusual stories.

Incredible as it may sound but one-armed rugby players have made the headlines more than once, as did Irishman Thomas Gordon who represented the Irish national team even though he had only one complete arm. Maybe he got his inspiration from attending Rugby School in Warwickshire where the legendary William Webb Ellis in 1823 caught and ran with the ball during a football match and initiating the first inroads to rugby as we know it today. Thomas Gordon, determined as he was, even though he lost his hand and lower arm in a shooting incident played rugby for his hometown team North of Ireland FC from Belfast and was capped 3 times for Ireland. He holds the record as the only international rugby player with one hand to play at this level, he played against England and Scotland in 1877 and against the English again in 1878. All credit to the tenacity of Thomas who lived a long life, he died in 1935 at the age of 83 years old.

The next tribute goes to Newton Abbott RFC player called Wakeham who had only one arm. He kicked 13 conversions in the derby game against Plymouth RFC in 1886, an astounding record at the time for the one-armed player.

An incident at the Watergate Hotel pre-Nixon scandal was with Willie Stewart who lost his arm during the construction of the hotel, however, he continued to play rugby for the top level Washington RUFC and even became the team’s captain.

In 1895 many northern teams in England broke away from the established RFU and formed the Rugby Football League or RFL which had a set of different rules to union such as no scrums. The players wanted to make rugby professional to earn a wage playing as it was difficult to keep a job and play. The rift caused all sorts of problems, however the two styles of rugby continued even though they were not on speaking terms. To celebrate the first 100 years of Rugby League there was an unusual episode where the Rugby League Champions, Wigan Warriors asked to play Bath, the Rugby Union Champions in a centenary celebration match. After 100 years of silence the RFL and RFU agreed to it and so they played 1 game with RFL rules and 1 game with RFU rules, the exhibition matches were promoted as the Clash of Codes and the date set for . The idea for the games was bolstered by the fact that the RFU finally turned pro or open as they called it which meant that both teams were equal in terms of paid contracts and somewhat dispersed the professional & amateur rulings which had contemptuously kept them apart for a century. The first match with RFL rules saw Wigan rout Bath winning 82-6, Bath found the RFL rules of play difficult to implement but in the second game with RFU rules Bath were victorious, 44-19. Crowds of over 20,000 spectators watched the game in Wigan and over 40,000 spectated the game at Twickenham, the home of English rugby and the long running rift between the RFL and RFU seemed to be over.

Every team coach holds the pre-match motivational talk to get the blood flowing in the veins but one such pre-match speech went over the top for one player. Wales head Coach Clive Rowlands worked his team up into a frenzy after his speech by repeating ‘What are we going to do’, and the lads repeatedly replied ‘Win, win. WIN!’. However, the big Welsh 2nd rower, Geoff Wheel was overwhelmed and began screaming ‘Kill, kill, KILL’, he then got up and charged to the door and headbutted it smashing a large hole in it, that is some raw motivation skill in full action.

Many players have written books describing their experiences playing rugby at the highest levels for club and country. So, a lot of cherished and curious moments get a mention but are they true, Lawrence Dallaglio says that yes, all true. His tale involves the difference between rugby and football, it was 1998 and England football team were playing Argentina when David Beckham got sent off for violent conduct when he lifted his foot and brushed Simeone’s leg who immediately fell to the ground yelling and squirming in supposed pain, the referee gave a straight red card to the non-incident. Dallaglio compared this with a rugby incident during an England match a few days later where 2 opposing forward players gave each other a hefty punch to the face. The rugby ref. intervened and glared at them and told them to shake hands and get on with the game. Dallaglio who saw all this and thought of the adage rugby is a gentleman's game played by hooligans, Beckham hardly touched Simeone whilst the 2 rugby players committed GBH offences, a stark contrast on attitudes and application.

When England were about to play the mighty Wales who were in the running for a 3rd Triple crown on the trot England’s Bill Beaumont addressed the team in the changing room. The mood was intense and Bill’s speech highlighted that the Welsh scrum was over the hill and naming the Welsh player’s defects when he was interrupted by an English player retorting that ok the forwards are beatable but what about Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett, Gerald Davies and JPR Williams, 4 greats of Welsh rugby. Everybody’s gaze turned to Bill Beaumont in expectation. Beaumont replied with ‘ For Christ’s sakes even we can beat a team with 4 players.’ The match ended in Wales favour 9-6 and Gareth Davies was in red hot form on the day to take home the Triple Crown.

At the Krakow Rugby Festival in 2017, the staunch and stalwart ex-player and supporter 86 year old Ryan from Selby RFC who was wheelchair bound insisted on doing the ‘Slider’ at the KRF. The Slider was a huge tarpaulin under the posts which encouraged players to score a try by sliding on the water filled slippery sheet and earn a pint in doing so. Ryan displayed his superb Rugby Spirit, he was determined to do a Slider but not in his wheelchair and with the help of team mates and a fantastic cheering roar of everyone present Ryan’s wish was granted and they slid him around the Slider much to the approval of all teams participating. He won the KRF Golden Moment Award for his special Slider and a pint of course, actually, several pints