November 2nd, 1923
FROM THE ARCHIVES:The centenary of William Webb Ellis’s invention of rugby was marked in 1923 by a match between a Scots-Irish team and an English-Welsh team at the eponymous school where it began. An unnamed special correspondent reported.
IF THE ghost of William Webb Ellis had been present at Rugby School to-day, when the centenary match of Rugby football was played, I think it would have approved of the great strides the game has made since he broke the rules of his day by running with the ball in his arms.[...] Men whose names shone in the Rugby world half a century ago were there. Fred Stokes, the giant of the dark old days before the international matches were much thought of, looked on.
The great Harry Assall, whose Oxford team of the early eighties is still referred to as the classic standard of perfection, sat near the touch line, grey-haired and bespectacled, but as youthful in heart as the schoolboys who sat on tarpaulins in front of him. [...] Scotland and Wales were well represented, and passing through the school quadrangle I heard the familiar Irish brogue. This came from a Press friend of mine, who had made the overnight trip across the Channel. Press tickets were terribly few in the land, but my brother scribe came without one all the way from Dublin, and, disregarding the rule somewhat after the style of Bill Ellis, walked through the gates of admission without the least parley. [...] Solicitude for the public school youth is much greater than used to be the case a hundred years ago. I could not help wondering what the historic rebel of Rugby would have thought of the young sybarites, who brought with them air pillows and soft cushions to add to their comfort while watching the game. The roaming human boy of the twentieth century is a queer fellow, but the strain of sturdy independence goes on. In the centre of an enthusiastic group in front of the Press seats Adrian Stoop [English international after whom the Harlequins’ ground is named] sat tailor-fashion.
The old Rugby schoolboy, the modern apostle of unorthodoxy and enterprise helped to write some vivid pages on the history of the game, but his young predecessors sat round him, heedless of the genius amongst them. Past glories are apt to be whittled down in the mind of the present-day boy. If you want to find a real whole-hearted hero worshipper you must look for your grey-beard, but I will say that the schoolboys made the welkin rattle again with their fierce cries in the last exciting moment of the game.
For England and Wales, who won the match by 21 points to 16, were desperately hard put to it to save their line. The rushes of the Scots-Irish forwards were overwhelming. They drove their opponents before them like so much chaff, but luck prevailed against them. The pace was terrific. If this breathless cyclone of a match was only a friendly centenary celebration, then what sort of a game shall we get presently, when the real internationals come along?