Try, Try Again
Stamp Magazine|November 2019
With the rugby World Cup currently underway in Japan, what better time to investigate the growing potential for a rugby union thematic collection?
David Gwynn

Legend has it that the game of rugby football was inspired by the actions of one William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School, in 1823. According to a stone plaque at the school, it was he who ‘with a fine disregard of the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it’.

To put this unexpected action in context, catching the ball was allowed in football at this time; running forward with it was not.

The story is firmly entrenched in the folklore of the sport, to the extent that the World Cup trophy is named in honour of Webb Ellis. Yet there is little contemporary evidence to support it, and many consider it a myth.

Webb Ellis certainly existed — he lived from 1806-72 and was a prominent Anglican clergyman — but his favoured game was cricket, which he later played for Oxford University.

Birth of the unions

Whatever the truth about the origins of the game, we do know that the first set of rules was published in 1845, and that 21 rugby-playing clubs broke away from the Football Association to establish the Rugby Football Union in 1871.

Initially the RFU was dominated by London-based clubs, but Scotland, Ireland and Wales also proved fertile ground for the growth of new teams. The Scottish Football Union (now Scottish Rugby Union) was founded in 1873, the Irish Rugby Football Union in 1874 and the Welsh Rugby Union in 1880.

In Wales, rugby would eventually become the national sport. In England, it would diverge into two separate sports after a group of northern clubs split from the Union in 1895 to form what would become the Rugby Football League.

British and Irish stamp issues celebrated the centenaries of the RFU, the IRFU and the WRU in 1971, 1974 and 1980 respectively.

Worldwide expansion

The latter half of the 19th century was the heyday of the British Empire, and the former public school pupils who were posted around the world as colonial administrators took the game with them. Hence, rugby also took root in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

In Australia the Southern Rugby Union, formed in 1874, was the chief vehicle for organised sport, and there was no Australian RFU until 1949. However, the national team, the Wallabies, was playing test matches from 1899, a fact acknowledged by a set of four stamps on the centenary in 1999.

New Zealand organised the NZRFU in 1892, and its centenary was marked by the issue of an illustrated postal stationery envelope in 1992. The country has also issued plenty of stamps on the theme, including a pair in the long-running Health series in 1967 and a set of six in 2003 celebrating the centenary of the national team, known worldwide as the All Blacks.

The South African Rugby Board was formed in 1889, for white players only, while a South African Coloured Rugby Football Board was set up in 1897 to cater for those on the other side of racial segregation. The centenary of the original organisation was marked by a set of four stamps in 1989, but there would not be a unified governing body until after the end of apartheid in 1992.

Under British influence, various Pacific islands also adopted the sport with enthusiasm, including Fiji by 1913, Tonga by 1923, Samoa by 1924 and the Cook Islands by 1948.

Fiji holds the distinction of producing the world’s second stamp in this theme: a 2d+1d Health design of 1951 which shows a player placing a ball ready to kick at goal. It also celebrated the 50th anniversary of its national body with a set of stamps in 1973.

European growth

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM STAMP MAGAZINEView All

Ship Of State

Recess-printed, lithographed, typographed and overprinted, the attractive Lakatoi issues of British New Guinea and Papua are a complex series with myriad varieties

7 mins read
Stamp Magazine
December 2019

Day Of Reckoning

However painstakingly compiled, your collection is destined to be broken up and recycled. It’s not a question of if, but when, and how?

2 mins read
Stamp Magazine
December 2019

‘Oh Help! Oh No! It's A Gruffalo!'

A Royal Mail stamp issue on October 10 marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Gruffalo, the popular children’s picture book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

3 mins read
Stamp Magazine
December 2019

Man Of Peace

Karl bickel not only transformed and rejuvenated Swiss stamp design in the mid-20th century but also built a monument to peace in his spare time

3 mins read
Stamp Magazine
December 2019

Roaring Success?

The first stamp issue for Kenya, Uganda & Tanganyika in 1935 might have united three postal administrations, but its design and printing were far from uniform

2 mins read
Stamp Magazine
December 2019

The Finest Cuts For This Year's Christmas Fare

Royal Mail’s Christmas stamps, released on November 5, take a religious approach this year, featuring classy biblical scenes created by paper-cut artists Hari & Deepti.

1 min read
Stamp Magazine
December 2019

Beasts Of Burden

Animals harnessed for postal purposes have come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the choices and some of the scenarios might surprise you

9 mins read
Stamp Magazine
November 2019

King And Kaiser

Johann Kaiser engraved only three stamp designs, but they were the first issues of the Netherlands and Dutch colonies, so his place in philatelic history is secure

3 mins read
Stamp Magazine
November 2019

Whisper Of Wilberforce

A centenary with particular resonance for Sierra Leone inspired one of the finest colonial issues of the 1930s, even if the key protagonist was barely acknowledged

2 mins read
Stamp Magazine
November 2019

Try, Try Again

With the rugby World Cup currently underway in Japan, what better time to investigate the growing potential for a rugby union thematic collection?

7 mins read
Stamp Magazine
November 2019
RELATED STORIES

THE ALL BLACKS

UNLOCKING THE SECRETS TO SUCCESS

3 mins read
Faces - The Magazine of People, Places and Cultures for Kids
November/December 2020

Bracing For A Beer Run

Japan’s bars are lining up extra brews ahead of rugby’s biggest tournament.

2 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
September 23, 2019

Skoda Octavia SE L Hatch

A new model is cause for both excitement and trepidation, finds Charlie Flindt. Would the Octavia remain endearingly practical or veer towards fripperies and pretention?

3 mins read
The Field
February 2021

Alex Bragg

A late starter who took an unorthodox route into eventing, the five-star event rider’s life experiences nonetheless prepared him well. Pippa Roome meets him

8 mins read
Horse & Hound
January 21, 2021

Women thrived in wartime

Brendan Gallagher begins a new series charting the history of the women’s game

6 mins read
The Rugby Paper
January 17, 2021

Connolly and Foley ruined my Bath team

KEVIN MAGGS THE FORMER IRELAND, BRISTOL, BATH AND ULSTER CENTRE AND FORMER COACH OF MOSELEY

6 mins read
The Rugby Paper
January 17, 2021

All Blacks deal casts doubt over CVC cash

Well, who would have thought it? Rugby seems to be the new darling of the investment industry and those who have taken the first offer now appear to be somewhat inept.

2 mins read
The Rugby Paper
January 17, 2021

Suddenly, Oakham find magic of the Cup

Brendan Gallagher continues his series looking at rugby’s great schools

4 mins read
The Rugby Paper
January 10, 2021

Promotion-relegation must be put on ice

There have been lots of moans about the way points are allocated when a game has to be cancelled because of Covid, but precious few sensible alternative suggestions as to how the current situation could be handled.

3 mins read
The Rugby Paper
January 10, 2021

Lions must be touring underdogs to survive

THE fate of the 2021 Lions has caused much heated debate this week with the options seemingly ranging from cancel for a year, cancel until 2025 or stage a unique home series in Britain and Ireland of three Test matches and perhaps the already scheduled warm-up game against Japan.

3 mins read
The Rugby Paper
January 10, 2021