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World Rugby 1889 - 1949


South African RFU founded.


England becomes a member of the IRFB.


South Africa’s first international fixture. They lose 4-0 against the touring British Isles team in Port Elizabeth. This was also the first time a British team had toured South Africa. Under the captaincy of W E Maclagen, they win all 20 matches on the tour, conceding only one point. They remain the only British Isles side to win every game on a tour.


New Zealand Rugby Football Union founded.


The issue of ‘broken time’ payments reaches boiling point at the RFU’s AGM. Hornby – a true amateur – argues for broken time payments because “the so-called amateur sides ask for large guarantees, publish no balance sheets and distribute expenses far larger than would be paid to a professional player.”

Yorkshire complain that, although there are more rugby clubs in the north of England than in the south, more southerners than northerners populate the RFU Committee. Also, committee meetings are held in London at times that are not suitable for northern folk to attend.


29 August – At a meeting at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, 20 clubs from Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire decided to resign from the RFU and form the Northern Rugby Football Union. (From 1922 it will be known as Rugby League.)

Zimbabwe RFU founded (known as Rhodesia RFU until 1980).


Australia’s first international fixture. They defeat the touring British Isles side 13-3 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The first Irish team to tour overseas. They tour Canada playing 11 games. They win 10 and lose one but do not play any Tests.

Argentinian Rugby Union founded.


Rugby is played at the Olympic Games for the first time. Only two countries enter and France defeats Germany 25-16.


New Zealand’s first international fixture. They defeat Australia 22-3 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.


The New Zealand ‘Originals’ tour the British Isles, France and America playing 35 matches. They win 34 games, losing only one – to Wales.

Australia’s first tour, to New Zealand. Even with the strongest New Zealand players touring on the other side of the world, the Australians win only three of the seven games they play.


South Africa tour the British Isles and France for the first time. They play 28 games, winning 25, drawing one and losing two.


Australia tour the British Isles for the first time. They play 31 matches, winning 25, drawing one and losing five. The Australian team receives three shillings a day for out-of-pocket expenses and Scotland refuse to play them, claiming that payment makes them professionals. Scotland’s fears are justified because when the Australians return home, 13 players immediately join up to the newly formed Rugby League.

Rugby is played at Olympic Games for the second time but again only two countries enter. Australia defeat Great Britain 32-3.


The Five Nations Championship begins. This is the first year that England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and France play each other in the same season. The Championship is not formally recognised for many years to come, but England are the first champions after winning three and drawing one of their four games.

A British Isles side visits Argentina for the first time. They play six games and win them all.


Fijian Rugby Union founded.


4 August – Nine days after the outbreak of World War I, a RFU circular advises all players to join the armed forces. One hundred and thirty-three international players from the British Isles, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France and Romania will die during the conflict.


French Rugby Federation founded.


Rugby is played at the Olympics for the third time and still only two countries enter. This time USA defeat France 8-0.


Spanish Rugby Federation founded.

Tongan RFU founded.


USA rugby team tours Britain to warm up for the Olympic Games.

Rugby is played at the Olympics for the fourth and last time. Three countries enter and the USA win the gold by defeating the other two nations – Romania and France. The International Olympic Committee decides to discontinue events such as rugby, which have attracted minimal entrants.

Samoan RFU founded.


The New Zealand ‘Invincibles’ tour the British Isles, France and Canada. They play 32 matches and win them all.


Japanese RFU founded.


Italian Rugby Federation founded.


Italy’s first international fixture. They lose 9-0 to Spain.


All future matches are to be played under the laws of the IRFB.


Ten French Clubs attempt to break away from the French Federation to form their own union. The Home Unions, concerned about alleged illegal payments to players and foul play in the French game, agree to suspend relations with the French Federation until they can prove that they have control over the game in their country.

Romanian Rugby Federation founded.


Federation Internationale de Rugby Amateur (FIRA) is formed at the instigation of the French. It is designed to organise the game outside the major rugby playing nations. The founding members are France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Romania, Catalonia (Spain), Holland and Czechoslovakia.


France is invited to rejoin the Five Nations Championship for the following season, but war is declared and international rugby is suspended. Eight-eight international players from the British Isles, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, France, Germany and Romania are killed during the conflict.

The ban on Rugby League players is temporarily lifted by the RFU. Many play in the eight Services Internationals played between England and Scotland during the war years.


France plays its first Five Nations games since 1931 as the championship restarts after the war.


Australia, New Zealand and South Africa become members of the IRFB.

Australian Rugby Union founded.

First France tour, to Argentina. The tourists win all nine games, including the two Test matches.