Rugby union in New South Wales
History of rugby union in NSW
Conducting its inaugural meeting in 1865, the now defunct Sydney Football Club holds the honour of being Australia's first rugby club. The first 'inter-club' match took place between Sydney F.C. and a team placed in the field by the Australian Cricket Club. Held in Sydney's Hyde Park on 17 June 1865.
It has been thought that University formed a football club in 1863 or '64, however, it is now clear there is no evidence to support this. Newspaper reports record no matches amongst the University students or inter-club matches until after the arrival of Sydney F.C. in the winter of 1865.
In Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, a set of local rules had been adopted in 1859 (based on a mix of rugby, soccer and other English and local variations). In 1866 a move to introduce 'Victorian rules' (now called Australian Rules) to Sydney caused a rift between the clubs. It ultimately only left the University club, and a team placed in the field by the Military and Civil Cricket Club, playing any football at all (which was primarily rugby). Inter-club football practically disappeared over the late 1860s, with only a handful matches played between the University, a new Sydney F.C. and teams from visiting English naval ships.
The largest obstacle to growth of Rugby Union was a lack of common agreement on what form of football rules ought to be observed. The Wallaroo F.C. was formed in 1870 to play "according to the rugby rules" by William 'Monty' Arnold with his older brother Richard, who (apparently) had been a student at Rugby school in England.
New gentlemen's clubs and private schools followed including Newington College, playing at Newington House and The King's School, playing on the Parramatta Domain, along with St. Leonards, Lyndhurst College, Camden College, Sydney Grammar School, Waratah F.C., and a handful of others. The increase in interest in rugby was primarily in the rapidly growing private schools, under the guidance of schoolmasters who had come from England. It coincided with the population of Sydney increasing by almost half through the 1860s, from 96,000 to just under 138,000 (in 1871). The inaugural Sydney club competition was in 1874, competed by the Balmain Rugby Union Football Club, Newington College, Sydney University Football Club and The King's School.
Along with the private schools, the Wallaroo club was also instrumental in ensuring the amateur ideals of refined English society were followed in Sydney sport. Concepts in rugby such as a club competition structure, defined player positions, team training sessions (other than for fitness), the use of a coach, compensating for lost travelling expenses and attracting paying crowds were directly foreign to the amateur ideal.
Arguments over the differences in the playing rules followed by each club or school reached a head by 1874. The Wallaroo club proposed a football conference of all teams to decide on a codified set of on-field rules - unsurprisingly the Wallaroo members pushed for the adoption of rugby rules, without any alteration. Ultimately, this led to the formation of the Southern Rugby Football Union (later renamed as the New South Wales Rugby Union / NSWRU).
By 1877 the SRFU had thirteen member clubs from the twenty-three known to be playing rugby football in colony of New South Wales. To tighten its grip on the rugby game, the Union adopted a rule that its clubs could only play other member clubs - proposed matches against 'non-subscribing' clubs had to receive prior approval.
The NSW team (later called Waratahs) played its first inter-colonial game in 1882, against Queensland (later called 'The Reds'). A British team toured Australia and New Zealand in 1888. The exchange of visits led to the continued growth of rugby, and by the 1890s the code had taken hold in the colony, thwarting attempts by Victorian rules and soccer to gain the ascendancy. The game continued to grow becoming the most popular code of football in NSW until the issue of professionalism led to the schism in 1908 and the formation of the New South Wales Rugby Football League. The amateur status of rugby and the severe restrictions placed those who played league meant the NSWRU lost many players including the great Dally Messenger to the professional code. This loss of professional players to rugby league continued until rugby union became a professional sport in 1995.
History of the Sky Blue Jersey
New South Wales state sporting colour is famous throughout Australia. Until 1885 the NSW side wore 'heather green' which was the official colour of the Southern Rugby Football Union (later NSWRU). The jersey also included a white southern cross across the chest.
By 1887 the NSW team was wearing red scarlet jerseys which they appear to have used up to 1891. The choice of red is seemingly based upon following the colour of the Wales jersey, as the badge included a dragon symbol.
In 1892 the NSWRU decided to wear jerseys of 'Cambridge blue' - though the source of the inspiration for colour choice was not recorded. The likely reason was that the Queensland, or Northern Union had adopted a dark blue jersey similar to the dark blue of Oxford University, and so a natural opposition strip was that of Cambridge's light blue. They may also have followed the lead of the NSW cricket team who wore light blue shirts (all white clothing was not yet custom in cricket).
By 1897 the playing strip was specified as: "navy-blue pants, light-blue jersey" and the colour scheme has remained in place ever since.
New South Wales state team
The New South Wales Waratahs are the representative team of the NSWRU and compete in the Super Rugby competition against other domestic sides from South Africa, Australia & New Zealand. The club is yet to win a premiership but the most success has been in recent years when the Waratahs reached the 2005 Final and 2006 Semi-Finals.
There are currently a total of 12 clubs competing at the top level of the NSW Rugby district competition known as the Tooheys New Shute Shield.
- Eastern Suburbs
- Northern Suburbs
- Southern Districts
- Sydney University
- West Harbour
- Glebe (1908 Australian Club Champions)
- GPS Old Boys
- South Sydney
- The Sydney Club (1865)
(see also: Tooheys New Cup, Shute Shield) The sydney first grade competition is called the shute shield and is contested between 12 teams. The Tooheys New Cup, which was the other first grade competition, ceased to exist in 2007.
The Shute Shield was presented to NSWRU in 1923, by the Sydney University Football Club for the 1st Grade Premiership Competition. The Shield is named in honour of the late Robert Elliott Shute, who died while playing for NSW against The Rest on 6 June 1922.
In addition to the two 1st Grade Competitions (The Tooheys New Cup & the Shute Shield) there is also a Colts Competition under the top 2 Competitions. Each Grade Club except for the Central Coast enter a Team in the 3 Colts Competitions: 1st Grade, 2nd Grade & the Under 19s League. These are "Step Up Leagues" which aim to prepare up & coming players from Suburban & District Rugby to get a taste of Top Level Rugby Union in New South Wales.
Below the NSWRU grade competition is the New South Wales Suburban Rugby Union (commonly known as Subbies). With over 6000 players and 55 clubs this is believed to be the largest centrally organised rugby union competition in the world.
The New South Wales Country Rugby Union is affiliated with the NSWRU and covers the majority of non-metropolitan areas of NSW. The Union is split into nine zones with 100 clubs and over 16,000 players. NSW Country is represented by the NSW Country Cockatoos in the Australian Rugby Shield.
- Rugby union in Australia
- New South Wales Waratahs
- Queensland Rugby Union
- Australian Rugby Union
- Australia national rugby union team