The Elders – the world’s oldest Rugby Clubs

There is nothing quite like a Rugby club. The melting pot of not just players but also officials, administrators and volunteers from parents of junior Rugby to the old boys and girls who have given their all on the field and now continue to contribute off it that the club would simply not be the same without them.

Throughout the history of Rugby, clubs have undeniably been the soul and spirit of the game, with young players rising through the ranks, moving through various competitions and eventually feeding the national squads of their respective countries. Although Rugby itself now boasts several international and professional competitions such as Top 14, the Premiership and Super Rugby, there is always a bond that binds players and fans alike to their “local” club.

Some of the biggest names in the game have started at relatively small clubs and yet still profess undying loyalty to their roots. For example, rumour has it that even Ma’a Nonu and Julian Savea, both capped All Blacks and World Cup winners may be running out in their old Oriental Rongotai colours once Rugby restarts post-lockdown in New Zealand.

With the ever growing number of official, social and even pick-up clubs around the world, we take a look at some of the oldest clubs around. They undoubtedly started long ago what we continue to do today and their history reminds us of the legacy that club Rugby can pass on to future generations.

  1. Several old boys of the Rugby School decided to form a club as they had collectively ended up working at various positions at Guy’s Hospital in London in 1843. Liverpool St Helens Football Club was then established in 1857 and Blackheath in 1858. Several school and old boys’ clubs such as Trinity College, Durham Grammar and surprisingly German-based Neuenheim College predate Blackheath but it is still the oldest surviving open and continuous Rugby club in England.
  2. Founded in 1883, Petersham RUFC is Australia’s oldest suburban Rugby Club with Sydney University being the oldest, established in 1863. Petersham or the “Shammies” as they are known fields five teams in the NSW Suburban 1st Grade while Sydney Uni plays in the Sydney District and have had Wallabies such as Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps play for them.
  3. Founded in 1871, Neath RFC is the oldest Rugby club in Wales whilst in France, Le Havre AC holds the title. In Ireland, the honour goes to Dublin University while Edinburgh Academic Football Club holds that predicate in Scotland. In Italy, it is widely recognized that the first club (of sorts) was formed at Milan University in the early 20th century.
  4. Christchurch Football Club, established in 1863, is recognized as New Zealand’s oldest club although they played their own code and it was not until 1870 that the English Rugby code was introduced to New Zealand by Charles Monro. Christchurch have produced several All Blacks including Jock Hobbs and the incomparable Richie McCaw. Meanwhile, South Africa has Hamilton RFC, established in 1870, as their oldest club with notable player Loftus Versfeld which the stadium in Pretoria is named after having played for them in their early years.
  5. In Asia, the oldest recorded Rugby Club is Yokohama Rugby Club which was established in 1866 and in Argentina, it is Buenos Aries Rugby and Cricket Club, founded in 1864. Marist Brothers in Samoa and Waimanu Rugby Club in Fiji are some of the oldest in Pasifika, while the New York Rugby Club is the oldest club in the USA.

The importance of grassroots, junior and club Rugby cannot be stressed highly enough, especially in today’s world of sports where there is growing competition between codes and sports to attract athletes with bigger contracts is not just prevalent but is the norm.

Club Rugby nurtures loyalty, integrity and above all, fun. May it always do so with the support of the unions but above all with us as devoted members, always at hand to keep it moving forward and onward.

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