Rugby union in Victoria

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Rugby union in Victoria
Rabodirect Rebels vs Sharks (5537185044).jpg
Melbourne Rebels versus Sharks, 2011
Governing body Rugby Victoria
State team Melbourne Rebels
First played 1878, Melbourne
Clubs 26
Club competitions
Audience records
Single match 90,119 (1997). Bledisloe Cup - Australia vs New Zealand (MCG, Melbourne)

Rugby union in Victoria describes the sport of rugby union being played and watched in the state of Victoria in Australia. The code was first introduced some time between the 1850s and 1880s but remained a minor sport played primarily in the private schools and amongst interstate expats. This has changed, particularly since the professionalisation of the game in the mid 1990s.

Player numbers are healthy for a sport in perhaps the most crowded football code marketplace on earth. Participation in the state has increased 38 per cent in 2016, to 15,829 participants, through 15-a-side Rugby, Sevens Rugby, VIVA 7s and Game-On primary school development program.

There are over 25 Rugby clubs in Victoria at any one time, with age group and community rugby forming the largest portion. The top tier of clubs consisting of a mix of amateurs and professionally contracted players aligned with the Melbourne Rebels compete for the Dewar Shield.

Victoria has produced over 30 Wallabies and many more Super Rugby and Professional players and age group Australian players as well as internationals for a number of pacific island nations.

International rugby matches are popular with spectators in Victoria. This is evidenced by the large crowds which attended matches at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, 2006 Commonwealth Games, England v Australia game (2016) and overall television ratings for blockbuster internationals.

Victoria is represented in the professional Super Rugby competition by the Melbourne Rebels.


Writer Sean Fagan claims that Rugby football was first played in Victoria in the late 1840s and into the 1850s. However, dissatisfaction with how the game was played led to the Melbourne FC in May 1859 adopting its own revised laws of football which was later to become known as Australian rules football.

Club rugby was established in Victoria when the Melbourne Rugby Union (MRU) was formed in 1888.[1][2] The touring 1888 British team played matches in Victoria, as did the 1888–89 New Zealand Native team, and both teams switched between rugby and Victorian rules (Australian rules football).[3]

Victoria first played rugby football against New South Wales in Melbourne in 1894 and sent its first team to play in Sydney in 1895 but after 1889 the game more or less disappeared in the state except for the match played in Melbourne in 1899 against Great Britain.

A Victorian Rugby Union (VRU) was restored in 1908 as arrangements were being made for a Victorian team to play the first Wallabies in Melbourne just prior to their departure for Great Britain. The next year,1909 saw the first presentation of the Dewar Shield, an award for first grade premiership teams still retained. Competition lapsed on commencement of the First World War and was not revived until 1926 when five League clubs decided to convert to Union and form the current VRU.[4] During the following twelve years, up until the Second World War, Victoria played thirty matches against international and interstate teams and produced thirteen Wallabies. Club and representative competition did not resume again until 1946.

Melbourne was selected as a venue for the 2003 Rugby World Cup including finals. The attendances were significant, with the highlights being 50,647 seeing Australia defeat Ireland and 50,647 for England versus Samoa.

Following the success of the Rugby World Cup, in 2004, the Victorian Rugby Union made a bid for a Super Rugby rugby union franchise. The bid had support from backers including the Victorian Government. However it was rejected by the Australian Rugby Union for a team in Perth which became the Western Force.[5]

Rugby sevens being played at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, which was held at Melbourne's Docklands Stadium.

Melbourne hosted the 2006 Commonwealth Games, which included a component of Rugby Sevens, of which all of the matches were sold out. Melbourne holds the current record attendance for Rugby Sevens.

The inaugural Australian Rugby Championship started August 2007, including eight teams, one of which based in Melbourne, Victoria. It was rumoured that the New South Wales Rugby Union (NSWRU) gave up a fourth club to enable Victoria to participate in the new national competition.[6] and the Melbourne Rebels were created and played out of Olympic Park Stadium. Despite having one of the larger crowd averages in the competition, they finished their first season with a home crowd average of just 3,305 and the league folded with losses in the millions, with the ARU openly blaming the Victorian franchise's larger costs of operation for the failure. The move was a great setback for the Victorian Rugby Union.

On 5 January 2010, it was announced by the Australian Rugby Union that it had awarded control of the new Melbourne Super Rugby team to the Melbourne Rebels consortium and that Melbourne would join the game's elite when the world's premier provincial competition expanded to 15 teams in 2011. The Melbourne Rebels played their first match of Super Rugby at AAMI Park against the NSW Waratahs on 18 February 2011, losing 43-0. The team only had to wait another week before registering their first victory, claiming a thrilling 25-24 win against the ACT Brumbies at AAMI Park in Round 2.

On 24 March 2014, the ARU officially announced a new professional national competition, the National Rugby Championship. The inaugural season started in August 2014. Victoria is represented by the Melbourne Rising, which plays out of AAMI Park.[7]

Governing body[edit]

Known as the Victorian Rugby Union until late 2017, the governing body for rugby union in the state of Victoria is now Rugby Victoria. Victoria is a founding member of the national governing body, Rugby Australia.


1st Division 2nd Division
St Kevins, Melbourne Grammar School, Scotch College, Xavier College, Trinity Grammar, Geelong Grammar, Brighton Grammar Ivanhoe Grammar, Carey Grammar, Marcellin College, St Patrick's Ballarat, Mentone Grammar, Melbourne High, Haileybury College


Premier clubs Second Division Country division Masters Division (Over 35s)
Box Hill, Harlequins, Melbourne, Melbourne University, Moorabbin, Power House, Southern Districts, Footscray, Endeavour Hills. Kiwi Hawthorn, Cerberus, Northern, Eltham, Maroondah, Monash University,Wyndham City, Warnambool, Geelong, Melton, Ballarat. Border Army, Cobram, Shepparton, Bendigo, Pukapunual (army), Deniliquin (NSW). Melbourne, Box Hill, Melbourne Uni, Power House, Southern Districts, Harlequins, Barbarians, Maroondah, Chargers.

These clubs in turn feed the Victorian state representative team, The Victorian Country (pre 2008), the Rebel Rising, a joint program between the Victorian Rugby Union and the Melbourne Rebels established in 2011.

Notable players[edit]

Victoria has produced a number of top-level rugby players including

Notable coaches[edit]

Victoria has had a number of outstanding and successful rugby coaches including

  • Bruce Norton (Coached schoolboy, under age and seniors rugby for Victoria over three decades)
  • John McKee (rugby union) (Coached seniors rugby at Harlequins and Victoria before taking up senior coaching roles interstate & internationally)

Crowd Statistics[edit]

Major test matches and attendance 1997-2003

Source: Australian Rugby Union [1]

Rugby World Cup 2003 Matches and attendance in Melbourne.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About VRU". Archived from the original on 18 January 2013. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  2. ^ "Rugby Union Football". The Argus. Melbourne. 11 June 1888. p.9, col.8.
  3. ^ Grainger, Ron (1 November 2013). "Rugby union in Victoria: The Early Years". A History of Rugby in Victoria. Archived from the original on 30 December 2014. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  4. ^ Grainger, Ron (1 November 2013). "Rugby union in Victoria between the Wars (1919-39)". A History of Rugby in Victoria. Archived from the original on 30 December 2014. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  5. ^ Lost opportunity for Melbourne and rugby union from
  6. ^ "New national rugby comp for 2007". Retrieved 2006-06-03.[dead link]
  7. ^ "ARU Board approves nine team National Rugby Championship to start in August 2014". (Press release). 24 March 2014. Archived from the original on 24 March 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  8. ^ Historical Wallabies Player Profile Page Retrieved 30 April 2017.

External links[edit]