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The Calcutta Cup

September 17, 2019 3:59 pm

All You Need to Know About the Prestigious Sporting Event

The Calcutta Cup is a historic trophy given to the winning team in the much anticipated rugby showdown between England and Scotland. The cup itself is of exquisite Indian workmanship, adorned with an elephant on top and three king cobras on the sides.

Calcutta Cup

As for the prestigious event, it is by far the oldest among several competitions under the annual Six Nations Championship, which is also known as the RBS 6 Nations since it includes England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and France.

The individual competitions include the Centenary Quaich, the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy, the Millennium Trophy, the Doddie Weir Cup and the Auld Alliance Trophy.

The Six Nations Championships came into being in 1883 and was originally known as the Home Nations Championships, when England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales battled for the crown. Trophies have been awarded more recently for individual competitions including the Millennium Trophy which is presented to the winner of the match between England and Ireland; the Centenary Quaich which is presented to the winner of the match between Scotland and Ireland; and the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy which is presented to the winner of the match between Italy and France. Note, however, that all of the Six Nations trophies are pre-dated by the Calcutta Cup.

Brief History

It all started with a game of rugby football on Christmas Day of 1872. Held in the city of Calcutta, the game was between England and Scotland, with 20 players on each team. It was a resounding success so another match was scheduled just a week later. Rugby enthusiasts in the city wanted to form their own team and the two games became the agents that paved the way for the creation of the Calcutta (Rugby) Football Club in 1873.

The following year, the Calcutta Club decided to join the Rugby Football Union. In spite of the fact that the Indian climate was not really conducive for playing rugby, the club flourished considerably during its first year. Unfortunately, a local British army regiment was pulled out from India and the free bar at the club was cancelled. Both led to a decline in membership and the public interest in rugby waned.

Other sporting events like cricket, polo and tennis, which were better suited to the climate, made progress and eventually took the limelight. Members of the Calcutta Club opted to disband but decided to perpetuate the club’s name. At that time, the club had bank funds and back then they were in the form of silver rupees. The members withdrew all 270 silver rupees from their account and had the coins melted to be made into a cup that they handed over to the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in England in 1878. The gesture came with the condition that the cup must be competed for annually, and that it was “the best means of doing some lasting good for the cause of Rugby Football.”

The Cup

As previously mentioned, the Calcutta Cup is of Indian workmanship. It is 18 inches (45 cm) high, with the body having three king cobras finely engraved to serve as handles. The convex lid features an Indian elephant which is said to have been copied from the Viceroy’s personal stock. Also affixed to the base are plates that indicate the date of each game played, along with the name of the winning nation and the names of the two team captains.

Interestingly, there is a controversy in the recording of the winning nation on the wooden base. The Calcutta Cup was first competed for in 1879, but the inscription reveals records going way back to the first international which was held in 1871. The original trophy is now in a very fragile condition, following decades of mistreatment and poor handling. It is not even strong enough to go on tours or be transported to official sporting events.

When England won the first ever Calcutta Cup, a showcase was purposely built and the trophy was displayed to the public in the Museum of Rugby in the affluent suburban town of Twickenham. This has become the practice whenever England wins the match. The cup is displayed at the museum for public viewing. Both England and Scotland own full size replicas of the iconic cup. While the original was meticulously handmade by Indian artisans, the replicas were crafted using modern technology. These replicas are the ones used during presentations in order to preserve the original trophy.

There was once a request from the Calcutta Club that the cup be used as the counterpart to the FA Cup of football. In spite of the request, the Rugby Football Union declined to convert the prestigious Cup into a knock-out tournament for English club sides. The RFU explained that ‘competitiveness’ was not in accordance with amateur spirit and that it prefers to keep the matches at international level in order to preserve the ‘gentlemanly’ nature of the sport. It then decided that a match must be held annually between Scotland and England, and the winning team gets to keep the cup for that year.

During this period, Ireland actually had an international team but it wasn’t as good as those of Scotland and England. In eight international matches that the Irish team played during the 1870’s, it did not score a single point.

The first ever Calcutta Cup match was held at the Raeburn Palace on March 10,1879. It was an epic match that ended in a 3-3 draw, with England scoring a goal and Scotland a drop goal. The next year on February 28, 1880 the match was played in Manchester. England emerged victorious after outlasting Scotland two goals to one. Since then the matches continued yearly except on two periods due to World War I (1915–1919) and World War II (1940–1946).

In 2004, the rugby governing bodies of the two nations – the Scottish Rugby Union and the Rugby Football Union (England), considered adding a second Calcutta Cup each year and it would be outside the Six Nations. In the original plan, the second fixture will be hosted by the visiting country in the Six Nations fixture during the same year. According to the plan, one country will have to win both matches in order to take the Cup from its current holder. However, the idea was not well received and the plan was eventually scrapped.

To date, a total of 126 Calcutta Cup matches have been played. The playing field alternates between Twickenham Stadium in London (during odd years), and Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh (during even years).

The Calcutta Cup – Bashed and Misshapen

The Calcutta Cup was badly damaged in 1988 due to the antics of drunken players, including Scotland flanker John Jeffrey (a.k.a. “The Great White Shark”) and England eightman Dean Richards. The mishap took place after the England-Scotland match at Murrayfield. Apparently, the group played football with the cup along Princess Street, a major thoroughfare in Edindburgh. Because of the infamous incident, Jeffrey was banned from the Rugby Football Union for six months, while Richards was handed a one-match sentence.

More than two decades after the incident, Jeffrey disclosed that the 100-year-old trophy was not kicked along Princes Street, as was initially reported. He said it was merely dropped after they used it as a makeshift rugby ball. He added that they went to a couple of hostelries in central Edinburgh and the Calcutta Cup got bashed during that time.

Current Records

Since the first game of the Calcutta Cup in 1879, England has won 54 percent of the 118 games played and Scotland 39 percent. The Cup has been tied 16 times, representing 13 percent of the total number of games played.

Calcutta Cup Scotland

The highest number of points scored by a player is currently held by Johnny Wilkinson. As a fly-half, he scored 27 points in 2007 when he had 1 try, 1 drop goal, 2 conversions and 5 penalties.  Wilkinson also holds the distinction as England’s highest scoring international rugby union player with 1,179 points.

The previous record was 24 points by Christopher Robert Andrew. Nicknamed ‘Squeaky’, Robert is England’s fourth highest scoring international rugby union player, with 396 points.

Other Calcutta Cups

The Calcutta Cricket and Football Club created another rugby section in 1884. Six years later, it formed an inter club trophy known as the Calcutta Rugby Union Challenge Cup, which was later named the Calcutta Cup. The trophy is now kept by the Jungle Crows who defeated the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CC&FC). The Calcutta Cricket and Football Club Panthers won the second division title.

The original and the oldest Calcutta Cup is a silver trophy that is played for annually by distinguished members of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club. The Royal Calcutta Golf Club gave the trophy as a gift in response to a medal presented by Blackheath. The cup is made from melted silver rupees, supposedly from the same batch of silver rupees as the Rugby Union Cup that is annually played for by Scotland and England.

The Cup was brought to London in 1875 and it was initially played for three years before the first Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England. The cup under the possession of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club only has two handles unlike the Calcutta Cup with three. A lot of people are not aware of this and it is only recently that sporting historians showed appreciation for the history of the original Calcutta Cup.

The members of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club had close ties with the Blackheath Football Club (Rugby) which was a very popular organization during the early years of the Rugby Football Union. During the 1870s, members from both clubs served in India. This link is the most plausible explanation for the creation of a similar cup by the Calcutta Rugby Club a couple of years later and ultimately becoming the world renowned Calcutta Cup.

Five Epic Calcutta Cup Matches

1938 (England 16-21 Scotland)

England was pummeled 26-6, after handling over a try, captain John Southern Spencer fumbled near his line, allowing John Frame to score. The five-try rout was Scotland’s largest margin of victory against England since 1905. It capped an exhilarating week for Scottish rugby. Just a few days earlier the team won the Calcutta Cup for the first time in 33 years. They notched the win at Twickenham and they did it in epic fashion as legendary Peter Brown converted the last minute try of Chris Rea to outlast the old rival by a solitary point, 16-15. Brown captained the Scottish team to three wins over England and his 67 points in international competitions made him Scotland’s all-time highest scoring forward. 

Scotland’s victory at HQ in 1938 is regarded as one of the classic blowouts. It wasn’t because the winning margin (21-16) was something to brag about, but the team ran in five tries while England only had one. Back then, tries were only awarded 3 points, so the Scots would have had a more resounding victory if they converted all their scores. They failed to capitalize on all their conversions, though they cannot be blamed too much because the game was played amidst high winds and mist. Nonetheless, kicker Wilf Crawford managed to belt over two penalties, including one from more than 50 yards.

Scotland’s best player during that game was Wilson Shaw. He was the one who masterfully set up the match’s first try with a kick to the corner. He also scored later in the first half then capped his spectacular play with a flounce through multiple defenders late in the game.

After that match, Scotland only recorded two wins at Twickers: 16-15 in 1971, and a 22-12 Roy Laidlaw inspired victory in 1983.

1988 (Scotland 6–9 England)

A drop goal was scored by Rob Andrew, while Jon Webb and Gavin Hastings had two penalties each, one of the latter’s 50 meter match winner. That’s it. Nothing much to say about the game, what’s epic was what transpired at the after-match banquet.

The English team showed up late for dinner and found that the Scots had consumed all the free whisky. Predictably enough, a food and booze fight broke out. England’s Dean Richards and Scotland’s John Jeffrey filled the Calcutta Cup with champagne and poured the contents into the face of Brian Moore. The two then hurtled out of the hotel and through the heart of Old Town.

After an evening of flaunting their passing and kicking skills along the cobbled thoroughfares, the cup and both players were disheveled the morning after. It was the night when the cup was damaged as was mentioned in the preceding section. A jeweler in Edinburgh tried to knock the trophy back into shape but signs of the buffoonery appear to have been etched for good.

March 17, 1990 in Murrayfield (Scotland 13-7 England)

This was a classic in every sense of the word. The Five Nations, Triple Crown, Grand Slam and the Calcutta Cup were all at stake in this final match of the championship. It was essentially a winner takes all affair. Both teams played the game with a chance to win the grand slam.

The Scottish team was widely regarded as the underdogs as they squared off against the English team that made it all the way to the World Cup finals the next year. England was the bookmaker’s bet at 3-1. This was largely due to Scotland’s less than stellar performance against Ireland and Wales. Judging from those matches, the Scots are due for another severe drubbing. 

But right from the start when Scottish team captain David Michael Barclay Sole led his squad out into the field with a now popular walk, the air was filled with a feeling that something special was about to unfold.  The energy of the crowd fuelled the home team and Craig Minto Chalmers gave them a 6-0 lead after kicking two early penalties.

Outside centre Jeremy Clayton Guscott scored a try and narrowed the gap to 6-4, back in the days when a try was awarded 4 points. It was a bit windy that day and fullback Simon Hodgkinson was hesitant to trust his boot in such difficult kicking conditions. This prompted captain Will Carling to run penalties – a decision that the Scots perceived as arrogant. From there, it was all downhill for the English team.

Scotland full-back Andrew Gavin Hastings had a kick through that allowed Anthony George Stranger to burst over for the try, raising their lead to 13-4 during the early stage of the second half. Hodgkinson incurred a penalty which pulled back the score to 13-7. However, that was all she wrote for England. Carling, Richard Hill, and Rory Underwood were badly beaten by John Jeffrey, Scott Hastings and Finlay Calder. The Scottish team was just too determined to earn its first Grand Slam since 1984.

March 22, 2003 (England 40-9 Scotland)

The World Cup winning side of England was spectacular in all facets of the game during the 2003 season. The team was formidable and included the likes of Lawrence Dallagio, Martin Johnson and Richard Hill. The team’s back division was also solid with Johnny Wilkinson and Matt Dawson orchestrating play.

With the French team bagging the Grand Slam in 2002, and England not winning any since 1995, Sir Clive Ronald Woodward’s players imposed on themselves the challenge of making it a ‘World Cup’ year. 

Multiple tries by Jason Thorpe Robinson, in addition to one a piece from Ben Christopher Cohen and Owen Joshua Lewsey, proved pivotal in a prolific day for the back three of England. The defense of the English team was unforgiving through the entire game and the lone bright spot points-wise for the Scottish team was three penalties courtesy of Chris Paterson.

Johnny Wilkinson had an impeccable day with the boot as he kicked all his goals, adding 18 points to England’s tally. The game was physical, but Richard Hill also brought his A-game and played tirelessly for his team.

After the match, coach Ian Robert McGeehand thought that the score line was not a fair reflection of how the game really went. He said they committed crucial blunders, England had superb strike players, and Johnny Wilkinson didn’t miss a lot of kicks. However, he added that there were many commendable things about the way they played and the opposing team had to work extremely hard to bag the win.

England went on to book their Six Nations Grand Slam against Ireland, which they decisively won in Dublin to the tune of 42-6.

April 2, 2000 in Murrayfield (Scotland 19-13 England)

It was in this year when Italy was included in the Five Nations to form the Six Nations (Rugby) Championship. As historic as it was, the tournament was a forgettable one for Scotland, as its team lost all four of its matches, including a humbling 34-20 thrashing from the Italians in Rome.

Meanwhile, England was unbeaten coming into its final game. Apart from a close win over the French team, they had commanding victories over the other three nations.

Scotland had not defeated England in a decade, the last being the Grand Slam winning victory in 1990. April 2, 2000 wasn’t a good day to play rugby as the conditions in Murrayfield were treacherous. The pitch was waterlogged, the game was physical and the collisions were brutal.

Scotland fly-half Duncan Hodge had a huge game as he scored 19 points, including four penalties, a try and a conversion. His stellar play was underpinned by his teammates as they denied Sir Clive Woodward’s team a Grand Slam.   Two penalties by Johnny Wilkinson and a converted try by Lawrence Dallagio went for naught as England lost 19-13. The Scottish team did a lap of honour to the delight of thousands of elated supporters.

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