Sport and pasttime in wales

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Home » Themes » Rugby

Rugby Union

Ffotograff o dim rygbi de Cymru yn y 1880au / A photograph of the South Wales rugby team in the 1880s

Rugby is widely regarded as a symbol of Welsh national identity, though its popularity is very much a 20th century phenomenon.  There have been attempts to present the rural sport of cnapan as an early form of rugby, but it is generally accepted that its origins were English and that it was imported to Wales through the private schools and colleges in the mid-19th century.

It was men who were associated with schools and colleges such as Llandovery and Lampeter who formed the first rugby clubs in Wales.  In 1871 Neath became the first club to be formed in Wales, closely followed by Llanelli in 1872, Swansea in 1874, Newport in 1875 and Cardiff in 1876.

The Welsh national rugby team played its first game against England on 19 February 1881 and was defeated 30-0 (though it is worth noting that Wales were two players short).

Despite the poor start, rugby gained popularity in Wales during the 1880s and the national team, captained by Arthur Joseph Gould, won its first Triple Crown in 1893.  It was at this time that Wales pioneered a new four three-quarter formation, an innovation that provided the foundation for the first golden era of Welsh rugby between 1900 and 1911.


Items on the Gathering the Jewels website:










Martin Johnes, A History of Sport in Wales, (Cardiff, 2005)
K.O. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880-1982, (Oxford, 1998)
Gareth Williams, 1905 and All That, (Llandysul, 1991)