150 years young: Rugby marks major milestone

The Rugby Football Union is gearing up to mark the 150th year of English rugby throughout 2021.

By Andy Bloomfield
Monday, 18th January 2021, 3:16 pm
Updated Monday, 18th January 2021, 3:22 pm
RFU celebrate their 150th birthday.
RFU celebrate their 150th birthday.

On January 26, 1871 at the Pall Mall Restaurant on London’s Regent Street, a meeting took place between representatives from 21 clubs, many of which are still in existence today. The representatives were young men, the average age being 23, many were club captains and together they created the world’s first governing body for rugby football.

At the meeting 20 players were also selected to represent England in the first ever international contest on March 27, 1871 following a challenge of an international fixture issued by Scotland.

Activity to mark the anniversary includes:

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* The creation of a heritage rose with artwork by renowned artist Chris Wormell taking inspiration from the very first rose featured on the caps of the 1871 team and which still features on players’ caps today.

* A social media campaign on January 26 inspired by the World Rugby Museum’s RFU at 150 exhibition, charting the evolution of the game in England over a century and a half. A physical version of the exhibition will be available in the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham Stadium at a later date.

* A commemorative 150th anniversary book celebrating a century and a half of England Rugby. This coffee table hardback will be available to purchase from January 21 at www.englandrugbystore.com priced £30.

* In partnership with Harkness roses, England Rugby will launch a commemorative rose on February 1.

* A limited-edition heritage kit, created by official technical kit partner Umbro and England Rugby, that will launch tomorrow.

* Official timing partner, Bremont, are also planning something extremely limited, exciting and fitting to tie into the 150th anniversary celebrations, available 150 years on from that illustrious day when it all started. ​

There will be lots of other exciting anniversary products launching throughout the year. The RFU will also look to celebrate its momentous milestone further with the community game and with supporters back at Twickenham when it is safe to do so.

RFU President Jeff Blackett said: “I am immensely proud to be the President of the Rugby Football Union in our 150th anniversary season. The RFU and rugby in England has such a rich history and it is thanks to the vast amount of work put in by people within the rugby community all over the country.

“These are extraordinary times but we are lucky to have such dedicated volunteers. I would like to pay tribute to all who give so much of their time and expend so much emotional energy so that our young men and women can continue to play the game that we all love. We look forward to marking this special anniversary this year in honour of them.”

RFU Chief Executive Bill Sweeney added: “One hundred and fifty years of rugby union in England is a momentous landmark and is taking place during one of the most challenging times in our history. I do not think anybody could have predicted that the RFU would see out its 150th anniversary in the midst of a global pandemic.

“The recent challenges have shone a light on the spirit and strength of rugby union but the community game is more than a game, it’s a network, it’s a family, a way of life and it will continue to thrive across England for the next 150 years and beyond. I look forward to celebrating with the grassroots game and fans at a later date.”

Over the 150 years that followed the formation of the RFU, rugby has seen key events occur: the purchase and development of Twickenham Stadium; the ‘great schism’ which ultimately led to the breakaway of some northern clubs to form rugby league; two World Wars in which thousands of community game players made the ultimate sacrifice, alongside the 41 full England internationals who were lost to the two conflicts.

There was also the formation of the Women’s Rugby Football Union, the elite game turning professional in 1995, England hosting the second and eighth Rugby World Cup tournaments in 1991 and 2015; England’s senior men winning the Webb Ellis Cup in Australia in 2003 and the Red Roses becoming World Champions in Scotland in 1994 and France in 2014, as well as Great Britain’s men winning silver in Rio as rugby sevens made its Olympic debut.

The 21 clubs that attended the meeting on January 26, 1871:


Belsize Park,


Civil Service,

Clapham Rovers,



Guy's Hospital,


King's College,


The Law Club,

Marlborough Nomads,


Queen's House,

Ravenscourt Park,


St Paul's,

Wellington College,

West Kent and

Wimbledon Hornets.