The origins of rugby can be traced back to 1823 when famously William Webb Ellis picked up the ball during a football match and began to run with it. Rugby was brought to the attention of the Cornish people when in 1870 young men returning from public schools outside of the county returned home to their families. Two of the earliest teams in the county were Bodmin and Penryn which were formed in around 1872.
The Cornish Rugby Football Union (CRFU) was formed in 1883, at present it is a union of 39 rugby football clubs. Included in this total is every Cornish rugby club, the main Cornwall XV and the representative Cornwall teams at various age groups. The CRFU is also in membership with the Rugby Football Union RFU, the main rugby football union in England. The famous colours of the rugby jersey, gold and black hoops were introduced in 1885 and the strip in presently sponsored by Trago Mills. The patron of the Cornwall RFU is H.R.H. The Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., K.T.
One of the most important times of the year in a Cornish rugby fans calendar is the County Championship. The county won the championship for the first time in 1907, when they played in front of 17,000 fans at Redruth. The game was against Durham, also known for its mining, this time coal not tin. Cornwall won the game 17-3, scoring 5 tries. The added incentive for the winner was the chance to represent England at the Olympic Games in 1908. Two other countries entered, France and Australia. France withdrew before the tournament which left England (Cornwall) playing Australia. The final score was 32-3 to Australia with Bert Solomon managing to score a try for England.
The next time that Cornwall won the championship is probably the one that most fans will remember for ever. In 1991 Cornwall played Yorkshire at Twickenham in front of 54,000 fans, the majority of which were supporting Cornwall. After 54 minutes Cornwall were trailing 16-3, when they manage to turn the game around and brought the scores level after 80 minutes, 16-16. The game then went into extra time when Cornwall managed to continue their scoring. the final score was 29-20 to Cornwall which sent the Cornish fans into a state of total elation.
Cornwall managed to reach the final in both 1992 and 1998, unfortunately losing both. It was not until 1999 when they met Gloucester in the final that Cornwall managed to win the championship again.
There is at present confusion about the future of the County Championship which Cornwall are keen to a format close to the present. The present RFU proposal is to:
- Set up a competition of eight regions (known as Super-8s), split into two leagues (north and south). The southern league would feature teams known as ‘South Western,’ ‘South Central,’ ‘South East’ and ‘Midlands East.’ The competition would take place at the end of the league season in the same window as the present ‘county championship.
- Downgrade the county championship to run in tandem with the new ‘regional competition.’ These teams would only be allowed to select from players at ‘Level 5’ and below, meaning that players from Penzance & Newlyn, Launceston and Redruth would not be allowed to play for Cornwall.
There are lots of rugby fans in Cornwall that are waiting to hear what the RFU finally decides for the future of the County Championship.
Cornish clubs can be found in a variety of leagues which range from Penzance & Newlyn in National Division One down to Lankelly Fowey bottom of Cornwall Division Two. The teams that play in the National Leagues are required to travel the length of the country to play most of there away fixtures. The teams in the lower leagues i.e. Cornwall One and Two only have to travel within Cornwall but never the less enjoy the social side of playing. This is especially true for a few of the away fixtures that require a coach trip.