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The Origin of the Calcutta Cup

The Calcutta Cup

Photo: World Rugby Museum

This most famous of all rugby trophies has a wonderful history, beginning in the Indian sub-continent during the 1870s. It was here that the Calcutta (Rugby) Football Club was forced to close in 1878 after five years of life, due to a number of factors:

  • The lack of new blood into the club
  • The rise in popularity of polo in the area
  • The departure from the city of a British army regiment

As a consequence, the club withdrew their remaining funds from the bank and had a silver trophy produced from 270 melted-down silver rupee coins. The value of these coins was £60.

This trophy was then offered to the Rugby Football Union in England for it to be used in any way that the Union saw fit “as the best means of doing some lasting good for the cause of Rugby Football.”

The Calcutta Club had envisaged the trophy being used as a club competition trophy – such as soccer’s recently established and already extremely popular FA Cup.

However, the RFU were unwilling to promote a knockout competition between their clubs in case it should lead them down the road towards professionalism, so they decided to use the trophy for international competition.

At the time, only England, Scotland and Ireland had national sides and the Irish were particularly poor – not scoring a single point during in any of their eight international matches through the 1870s.

So, by default, the Calcutta Cup became the trophy awarded to the winners of the annual England v Scotland match. It arrived in England in 1878 and was first played for in 1879.

By the 1890s, Welsh and Irish rugby had strengthened significantly and both national sides had triumphed in the Home Nations tournament. Between 1895 and 1900, a movement, backed by Charles W Alcock, was instigated to make the two countries eligible to receive the trophy on the basis of winning the Home Nations series.

However, by this time the idea that the trophy should be presented to the winners of the England v Scotland tie had captured the public imagination, and a decision was made that the Calcutta Cup would be retained by the victors of this tie alone.

This has been the arrangement ever since.