Two new caps were introduced to the “big boys” game in England’s first Six Nations International at the Stade de France on Saturday. Both Luther Burrell (scoring a try) and Jack Nowell acquitted themselves well, despite England losing a thrilling match by two points.
They will receive their caps.
The practice of awarding caps is traced back to Rugby School (where else?). The School House team of 1839 was the first side to adopt a rugby uniform. The boys paraded in the ‘quadrangle’ wearing red velvet caps with gold tassels during a match attended by the Dowager, Queen Adelaide (widow of the late King William IV). On that occasion Thomas Hughes, the English lawyer and author (of ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ fame) captained the School House.
In this game the teams had a very high number of players: School House (75) versus The Rest (225).
The boys retained their caps and this practice of cap wearing continued into the 1840s. There were two classes of player at this time at Rugby School, those who wore caps and were allowed to ‘follow up’ or play the ball, and those without caps, normally the younger pupils who acted as ‘goalkeepers’. There was no hard rule as to how a boy won his cap, it was on the whim of the ‘house captain’ as to whether he was good enough. Once selected, a player was ‘invited’ to pick up his cap.
The velvet cap became a sign of attainment at Rugby School and was adopted by other clubs, then by England and other Unions, as a symbol of national and international achievement. Traditionally, every international player who represents his country receives his cap on this occasion. But just one actual, physical cap is awarded – no matter how many further internationals they play.