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England v South Africa: a one hundred year replay�?

30 June 2006

Crystal Palace - an enormous sporting arena in south London which is not to be confused with the football club of the same name - was the venue for a highly anticipated international rugby match a hundred years ago.  In December 1906 the first Springbok team to visit the British Isles took on England in that vast arena, this being a couple of years before Twickenham was built.  It was the 21st match of their 28 match tour and they had already beaten Ireland and Wales and lost to Scotland.

The 3-3 draw did not satisfy anyone and in the following days the press were pushing hard for a rematch.  Numerous high profile personalities were wheeled out to support the campaign, including a young Winston Churchill who also declared that the tour would increase the goodwill between "the South African colonies and the Mother Country" - this being just four years after the end of the Boer War.

The demanded replay never happened and now - a century on - South Africa are heading over here again this autumn, playing two tests at Twickenham against England.  Can we consider the first of those two games to be the 1906 replay and lay a 100 year old ghost to rest?

Whatever happens, we can be sure that the Springbok build up to the game will be very different to their illustrious predecessors (whose tour is the subject of a forthcoming special exhibition at the Museum of Rugby, Twickenham from September 2006).  The 1906 side did no training at all before the England game.  They spent three days in Margate before taking a train in to London and visiting the House of Commons where they asked various MPs for their autographs.  We are very unlikely to see a replay of that!

Jed Smith
Museum of Rugby, Twickenham