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100 years of Twickenham - the 1920s

27 January 2010

Continuing a series of extracts from the book 100 years of Twickenham and the five/six nations we look at the highlights from the 1920s.

Mick Cleary, rugby correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, provides the narrative, while leading rugby historian and statistician Chris Rhys provides an authoritative record of every game played in each decade of the competition plus additional records and tables. The book is available to order online from www.RFUDirect.com.

The 1920s

Action from the 1928 England vs Scotland game

Photo: RFU archive

The economic turmoil in the world at large was reflected in the topsy-turvy nature of the championship during the 1920s. There were switchback fortunes for nearly every side. England won four Grand Slams, a magnificent haul, only to see Scotland looking to eclipse them in the closing years of the decade, during which they claimed four titles in five years, albeit two of them were shared with Ireland. Inexplicably, in 1928, in the middle of this streak, Scotland went from heroes to zeros, picking up just two points, only for England to lift their fourth Grand Slam of the era. Make sense of that!

Scotland were Grand Slam winners in 1925. Their fans ought to have embraced the moment, for although their side did them proud in the following years, it was to be a long, long wait until they were next to savour the Grand Slam feeling – 59 years to be precise, Jim Aitken’s men finally scooping the pot in 1984. Seize the day, for it may be some time before it comes round again. There’s many who’ll raise a glass to that sentiment.

Murrayfield, with its wide-open terraces, came into our midst during the 1920s, and was a suitably raucous, appreciative backdrop for the success of 1925, the first year of the stadium’s use. It was becoming increasingly obvious that there was an appetite for watching rugby. Crowds were growing. The Wales v Scotland game in Swansea in 1921 was almost called off after the crowd of more than 50,000 continually spilled onto the pitch.

Top quality

Ossie Male of Wales kicks for goal in 1927

Photo: RFU archive

England even experimented with taking the Five Nations to the shires, Welford Road hosting the 1923 game between England and Ireland. That initiative, commendable in so many ways, was not deemed a success in that fewer than 20,000 turned out to watch. The small acorn theory didn’t hold good for the RFU grandees, Five Nations matches returned to ‘Billy Williams’ Cabbage Patch’, and Twickenham remained the centre of the English rugby universe.

But if there was one overriding feature of the 1920s it lay in the quality of the performers. There are names from that decade that resonate still, how about Stanley Harris for a Renaissance man? Harris was a Boy’s Own hero. As well as winning rugby caps for England against Ireland and Scotland in 1920, he played polo for England, played Davis Cup tennis for South Africa and won the South African light-heavyweight boxing title. Harris even turned down a place in the Great Britain Olympic modern pentathlon team in 1920 to play rugby, and legend has it he may once have been a runner-up in the world ballroom dancing championships. In 1924, having returned to South Africa, he was called up by the touring Lions and played two Tests. Apart from all that, Stan Harris led a quiet, sedentary life.