1871 - Scotland and England play first international

The first rugby international took place at Raeburn Place on 27 March 1871. Scotland took on England in front of a crowd of 4,000 and, to the home support’s delight, won the encounter by two tries and a goal to England’s single try.

The match came about as a result of a challenge made by the captains of the five senior Scottish clubs - West of Scotland FC, Edinburgh Academicals FC, Merchistonian FC, Glasgow Academicals FC and St Salvator FC (St Andrew’s) – to the footballers of England to play a match “twenty-a-side, Rugby rules, either in Edinburgh or Glasgow...” The challenge, which appeared in the Scotsman and Bell’s Life (a London sporting magazine), was taken up on behalf of the English clubs by Benjamin Burns, Secretary of Blackheath Football Club and an Academical.

In the absence of a rugby football union in either country, and as a result of the game being played at Raeburn Place, EAFC was left to organise the event, with ad hoc national committees selecting the respective teams. Trial matches were held in Edinburgh and Glasgow to select the 20 men who would represent Scotland. The final team included eight Academicals, including the captain, the Hon Francis Moncreiff, who was also captain of EAFC.

The match caught the mood of the country at a time when sporting fever was just beginning to take hold of Victorian society. An advertisement in the Scotsman on match day indicated an entrance fee of one shilling was to be charged – in excess of £200 was taken at the gate.

There were many differences between that match and the game as played today. As well as being 20-a-side, the match was played over two 50-minute halves and the methods of scoring were different from those used today. The sole purpose of the try, which is now awarded five points and is seen as the principle means of scoring, was to provide an opportunity to kick at the posts, ie ‘a try at goal’. A successful kick was a ‘goal’, what we now call a conversion, and was awarded a point. There were no penalty goals as it was assumed gentlemen would not cheat.

The first international became a regular fixture, with a return match played at Kennington Oval in London the following year. It also directly led to the creation of the RFU in October 1871. Raeburn Place was used as the preferred home ground for Scotland for the next 25 years.