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Rugby in India

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The earliest trace of Rugby Football in India dates back to a scratch match or two played in Calcutta and Madras during the visit of H.M.S. Galatea in 1871. The teak goal posts used on the occasion of the Calcutta Match were afterwards used by the C.F.C. up to at least 1886.

The first recorded match was played on Christmas day 1872, at CFC in Calcutta, it was played between England and a combined team of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The game caught on and had to be repeated within the week.

The game was now established. In January 1873, officers were appointed and the Club Rolls gave a total of 137 members. The Club colours were chosen as red and white, broad stripes.
 

In 1877 saw the downslide of the game and it almost died out, leaving behind a full coffer. The wise G.A.J. Rothney, who had been acting as Captain, Hon. Secretary and Treasurer of the Club at that time, proposed that the funds should be devoted to the purchase of a cup of Indian workmanship to be offered to the Rugby Football Union- the parent body of the game worldwide. The withdrawal of these monies was done in the form of silver coins which were then melted to craft the exquisite Calcutta Cup.

On 20th December, 1877, this offer communicated to Mr. H.J.Graham, Secretary of the R.F.U. as well as to Mr.A.G.Guillemard – the president and this was duly accepted in letters from those officers dated January 25th and February 12th, 1878.

In the final one dated 21st March 1878 addressed to GAJ Rothney,  A.G.Guillemard writes: -

‘The Committee accepted with great pleasure your generous offer of the Cup as an International Challenge Cup to be played for annually by England and Scotland – the Cup remaining the property of the Rugby Football Union.”

The All India & South Asia Cup

This cup is being keenly contested annually between England and Scotland for the last 122 years.

After a few years the game saw resurgence and regular matches were conducted with several new clubs having been formed. Hearing of the popularity of the sport in India, the R.F.U. decided to reciprocate the earlier Indian gesture. In 1924 they presented to the C.F.C. an exact replica of the Calcutta Cup. This cup was then titled ‘The All India & South Asia Rugby Cup.’ and has since been played.

 

The history of the Bombay Gymkhana commenced in 1872 when the population of Bombay was 6 lacs of which 7,000 were foreigners. The plans of the promoters of 1872 were realised on 19th June 1875. Before then, rugby was being played on the grounds now called the Oval. The field where rugby is now played were originally the tennis courts which are now situated in the triangular piece of land behind the Clubhouse. The Club colours of black and gold were first introduced and worn by the members in 1877 when the membership was 283.

While the old records of the club referred to Rugby, though not in any great detail, we know that it commenced in 1890 and that the following year the Gym travelled to Calcutta to participate in the Rugby Union Challenge Cup. The engraved date of 1892 on the base of Bombay Cup records the winners of that first year – The Second South Wales Borderers – and the commencement of this tournament, whose Centenary we celebrated in 1992.

Immediately thereafter in 1893, the Bombay Gymkhana asserted its short – lived supremacy in Rugby in Bombay, for it was not until 1923 their name appeared where it remained for the next four years. Ten years after the commencement of the tournament in 1903, the Calcutta Football Club had wrenched the Cup away from the Welsh Regiment, who then held the cup until the 1st West Riding Regiment won the Tournament in 1907.

Madras Gymkhana club first won in 1912, their single recorded win in the history of the Cup. Sadly Madras Gymkhana ceased to play rugby in the 1970’s.

Apart from the suspension of the competition during the World Wars I and II, there are inexplicable gaps in the records– 1923 and 1925 and the fifteen years between 1948 and 1963 when Karachi won the Trophy. Hammers and Cookies, the two teams sponsored and named after two enthusiastic Gym protagonists, Hamilton and Cochrane, appear respectively in 1964 and 1966, separated by an undecided tournament in 1965. Hammers have won the cup on several occasions but there is no record of the cookies ever having won it, apart from on this occasion.

The fruits of Police Commissioner Jimmy Jameson’s interest and encouragement were realised in 1967 when Maharashtra State Police won the Cup for the first time. They have since won the cup six times in the years up to 1983.

The all too brief appearance on the scenes of Bombay Rugby by Wilson College Gymkhana is permanently recorded by their successes in the tournament in the four years from 1976-78. They contributed greatly to the quality of Rugger both in Bombay and India.

Up to independence in 1947 the Services won the Tournament 26 times. However, among the surviving Rugger Clubs in India the records (incomplete), show the Gym won the Cup 12 times in 100 years, Calcutta 4 times and the Maharashtra State Police 7 times.

There are mysterious blanks in the records of the past 100 years but this is no way dims nor alters the glory and competitiveness of the Tournament which is a part of the history of India over the past century. The Bombay Cup Tournament has unhappily become localised in Maharashtra, there is no reason whatever why the Bombay cup should not be contested by a wider segment of Rugby in India and it is the hope and belief that this centenary may well herald an All India participation in this, the second century of its existence.

The recent history of rugby in India is an exciting one. Rapid growth over the past several years since the formation of The Indian Rugby Football Union in 1968 and it subsequent membership to the sport’s international governing body the International Rugby Board (IRB) in April 1999 has seen numbers of clubs and players increase dramatically in all versions of the game - 15s, 7,s and Touch (or Tag) rugby.

The adoption of the sport within the Armed Forces and Police means that the game has strong growth potential.

To this end in 2008 the IRB committed the resources of a full time overseas Development Manager to assist the IRFU develop the game throughout India.