It’s a rugby match not a cattle sale

140331 Image-Rugby_Union_ScrumWith the upcoming match at Murrayfield in prospect – a good moment to recall another Calcutta Cup match played eighty years ago at Twickenham where the question of numbers arose.

In the earlier part of the last century, the idea of numbering players shirts didn’t really seem to matter to the various rugby unions, as there were no hard and fast rules governing the names of the positions or the numbers worn. Numbering was gradually introduced in the 1920s and used for the first time in an international match when Wales met England in 1922.

Later when Scotland played England in the Calcutta cup at Twickenham in 1928, in front of King George V, the monarch is said to have asked former president of the Scottish Football Union, James Aikman Smith, why Scotland were not wearing numbers that day. Aikman Smith replied: “This sir is a rugby match not a cattle sale.”

However, Scotland succumbed in time and by the 1950s all five nations were using numbering systems from 1 to 15, although Ireland and France did this in the reverse order to the others. Plus ça change!

Rugby of course is full of non-conformists, and adding to the confusion some English clubs omitted the number 13 (like Bath and Richmond) whilst other used letters (Bristol and Leicester). Luckily for spectators, since 1967 it has been agreed by the International Rugby Board (IRB)  — who administer the laws and regulations — that jersey numbering is standardised worldwide. Forwards 1-8, half backs 9-10, backs 11-15.

So, you see: numbers do matter after all.

Image: Wikimedia commons.

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