History of the England national rugby union team is the history of the England national rugby union team since its first Test match in 1871 until the present.

First matchEdit


Ex-pupils from many of England's private schools (primarily Rugby) spread the game in the first half of the 19th Century.[1] They took it to the universities (a club forming at Cambridge in 1839), to London (where Blackheath were founded in the 1860s) and the provinces.[1] England's first international game was against Scotland on Monday 27 March, 1871.[2] Not only was the match England's first, but also the first ever rugby union international.[2] The game took place at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. Scotland won four points to one in front of 4,000 people.[3]


A subsequent international took place at the Oval in London, England; with England defeating Scotland 8-3 (England scoring three tries, one conversion and one drop goal, and Scotland getting the one drop goal).[4][5] The next game between the two nations was at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow, and resulted in a draw.[4][6] The succeeding match between the two nations took place two years later on Monday 23 February 1874 at the same location as their first game.[7][8] England again won the game, though this time the score was a lot closer; England winning just three points to one.[8]

The following year England played their first game against the Irish at the Oval, winning seven nil; the match was Ireland's first Test.[9][10] Another match between England and Ireland was held in December, with England winning again.[10] Games were played against Scotland and Ireland in 1876 and 1877 respectively, and although holding the opponents scoreless, the margin of scoring was low.[11] A second game against Scotland that year resulted in England's first loss since their first game.[11]

In 1878 Ireland hosted England at the Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin.[12] England emerged as winners, defeating Ireland seven points to nil.[12] After defeating Ireland in 1879, England followed this up with another victory at Lansdowne Road;[10][13] although the game was a lot closer, with England winning four points to one.[13] England hosted Scotland in 1880 at the Whalley Range ground in Manchester; which they won to become the first winners of the Calcutta Cup.[14][15] They beat Ireland at the same ground a year later.[16]

England played Wales for the first time, on February 19, 1881 at Richardson's Field in Blackheath.[15][17] England racked up their largest victory, defeating the Welsh 30 points to nil.[17] The subsequent meeting the following year at St Helens in Swansea was a closer contest; with England winning 10 nil.[18] England drew with Scotland then Ireland in 1881/82, and were then beaten by Scotland in 1882.[19] Scotland came close to defeating England again in 1883.[20] The two try to one try win to England was watched by a crowd of 10,000.[20] That year, the first Home Nations championship was held, and England emerged as the inaugural winners.[21]

In 1884, England defeated Wales at the northern venue of Cardigan Fields in Leeds.[22] This was followed by a successful defence of their Home Nations trophy, although the 1885 tournament was not completed.[21] Despite the tournament not being completed, 1886 would have been a shared victory with Scotland.[23][21][24] In 1887, Ireland defeated England for the first time.[25] In 1889, England played their first match against a non-home nations team. England defeated the New Zealand Natives 7-0 at Rectory Field in Blackheath.[26][27]

In 1890 England shared the Home Nations trophy with Scotland.[24] The following year England lost their game against Scotland, who won the tournament.[24] However, the following year, England won all their games and won the tournament outright.[24] England did not perform as well in the subsequent tournaments, only winning one game in both the 1893 and 1894 Home Nations championships.[24] They won two of their three games in 1895, but dropped to winning one game in the 1896 and 1897 championships.[24] They experienced a Home Nations whitewash in 1899, when they failed to win a game.[24]


After winning one match in 1900, England was again whitewashed in 1901. They returned to form the following year, dropping one game. In 1905 England again lost all of their Home Nations games, and ended the year with their first encounter with the New Zealand All Blacks; the All Blacks won 15-0. In 1906 France began playing in the Home Nations tournament, and England won their matches against France and Scotland. Also in 1906, England played the South Africa (known as the Springboks) for the first time; drawing three all. England began their 1907 Home Nations with a big win, defeating France by 28 points at the Athletic Ground in Richmond. This was followed by three straight losses to the other home nations. England performed slightly better the following year, wining two of their four fixtures. This result was repeated in the 1909 Home Nations. England played Australia (known as the Wallabies) for the first time in 1909; losing three points to nine.

Twickenham was opened as the RFU's new home in 1910. This heralded a golden era for English rugby union. England's first international at Twickenham brought them success over Wales, and England won the International Championship (also known as the Five Nations) for the first time since the great schism of 1895. Their title coincided with the rise of Harlequin F.C., whose brand of attacking rugby led to a purple period in the years leading up to the Great War. England did not retain the title in 1911; winning and losing two games. England only lost one game (to Scotland) in the 1912 Five Nations, and thus shared that championship with Ireland. A Grand Slam of the Five Nations was achieved by England in 1913 (meaning they won every game). England successfully defended the title at the 1914 Five Nations, and achieved another Grand Slam.

There were no games between 1914 and 1920 owing to the First World War, but when the Five Nations resumed in 1921 England continued where they left off; winning another Grand Slam. Davies returned to head the attack, and Wavell Wakefield pioneered specialisation in the scrum to give England an edge in forward play. They lost a game to eventual champions Wales and drew with France in the 1922 championship. In both 1924 and 1925 England won the Grand Slam.

They started 1925 off with a loss to the All Black Invincibles in front of 60,000 fans at Twickenham. This was followed by two wins, a draw and a loss at the 1925 Five Nations. England slipped to just the one win in 1926; with a draw and two losses in the Five Nations that year. This was followed by two wins and two losses at the subsequent championship. In 1928 England returned to Five Nations form, and produced a Grand Slam in the process. Although they only won the two games at the 1929 championship, England won it again in 1930. The following year, the tournament returned to its Home Nations format after France were excluded due to allegations of professionalism.

The 1931 Home Nations resulted in a three-way-tie between Ireland, England and Wales. That same year England played the Springboks in front of 70,000 at Twickenham. England won the 1934 Home Nations with a "Triple Crown".[28] In 1935 England achieved their first victory the All Blacks; thanks in part to Obolensky's famous try.[29][30] The victory is still England's biggest over New Zealand.[31] In 1937, England won the Home Nations, with a Triple Crown. Scotland won the following year, but England shared the championship again a year later, with Ireland and Wales.


Due to World War II, the Five Nations was not held again until 1947. France were now back in the tournament. England won a shared 1947 championship with Wales; losing just the one game. The following year England did not win a game; drawing with Wales and losing the rest of their games. The 1949 championship was better for England when they won half of their games. The early Five Nations competitions of the 1950s were unsuccessful for England; winning one match in the 1950 and 1951 championships. England toured to South Africa for the first time in 1952 where they lost to the Springboks three points to eight. The Five Nations was better that year however, as England won half their games. England was victorious at the 1953 Five Nations, winning all their matches except for a draw with Wales. This was followed up by a three way tie with France and Wales the following year. They won only one game at the next year, as well as drawing another.

England won two of their games at the 1956 Five Nations, and followed this up with a Grand Slam the next year. They drew two games in the 1958 Five Nations, which was enough for them to win the championship. They also defeated Australia in England that year. Two draws, a loss and one win resulted at the 1959 Five Nations. France dominated the Five Nations championship for the early years of the 1960s, but England did share a win with them in 1960. Following this shared championship, England lost to the Springboks at the start of the year and only managed to win one game in the 1961 Five Nations. They drew twice in 1962, winning and losing their other games.

The following year England broke France's four-championship streak by winning the 1963 Championship. After this victory, England played three tests in the Southern Hemisphere and lost all three; 21-11 and 9-6 against the All Blacks, and 18-9 against Australia. The All Blacks came to England the following year; defeating England 14-0. England did not win a single game in 1966, and managed only a draw with Ireland. They did not win another Championship that decade.

The RFU's centenary year was 1971 when England struggled to overcome Japan 6-3 in Tokyo. Nevertheless England had wins against southern hemisphere teams that decade; with victories over South Africa in 1972, New Zealand in 1973 and Australia in 1976 (albeit losing twice to the Wallabies in previous weeks). The 1972 Five Nations Championship was not completed due to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Following the British embassy in Dublin being burnt down by a mob after Bloody Sunday, and threatening letters being sent to players, Scotland and Wales refused to play their Five Nations away fixtures in Ireland. England played in Dublin the following year and were given a standing ovation that lasted for five minutes. After losing 18-9 at Lansdowne Road, the England captain, John Pullin famously stated, "We might not be very good but at least we turned up."


Thanks to a 9-8 (three penalties to two tries) victory against a 14-man Wales, England started the decade with a Grand Slam victory in the 1980 Five Nations - their first for 23 years. This earned England their first BBC Sports Personality of the Year Team Award. The victory was something of a false dawn and the remainder of the decade was not a great period for the England team. The subsequent Championship of 1981 was less successful for England, winning two of their four games, and was followed up with a draw and win against Argentina. England kicked off 1982 with a victory over the Wallabies in a tight game, winning 15 to 11 in England; the game was made famous by Erica Roe's famous streak across the pitch. Their Five Nations campaign was similarly successful, drawing with Scotland, losing to Ireland, and victories over France and Wales. At the match banquet after the win against France in Paris, there was a complimentary bottle of cologne next to each player's place at the table. Second row Maurice Colclough emptied the flask and refilled it with wine, which he then drank. Team-mate Colin Smart saw only Colclough seemingly sink a bottle of cologne and decided to follow suit. Within an hour he was on his way to hospital to have his stomach pumped, although as scrum-half Steve Smith pointed out: 'He may have been unwell, but Colin had the nicest breath I've smelt.'

In the 1983 Five Nations England failed to win a game and picked up the wooden spoon]. This inadvertently led to the formation of the Rugby charity the Wooden Spoon Society. England drew Wales and lost their other three matches, although they completed the year with an impressive 15-9 victory over the All Blacks in England. England improved slightly in the following Five Nations, but still managed only one win. That year the Springboks put 35 points on England in two tests in South Africa, and the Wallabies defeated them at Twickenham. 1985 started with a close win over Romania, followed by a Five Nations draw with France. After a win over Scotland, England succumbed to losses against Ireland and Wales in their remaining Five Nations fixtures. England then lost twice to the All Blacks on tour to New Zealand - 18-13, and a convincing 42-15.

England won two of their four games at the 1986 Five Nations and in the following championship, only won the one game against Scotland. In the first Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, England were grouped in pool A alongside Australia, Japan and the United States. England lost their first game 19-6 against Australia. They went on to defeat Japan 60-7, and the United States, 34-6, to place them second in their pool. They met Wales in their quarter-final and lost the match 16-3.

England opened their 1988 Five Nations with a 10-9 loss to France, which was followed by defeat against Wales. England, however, finished the championship by defeating both Scotland and Ireland. England lost two games against Australia in the same year as well. Their 1989 Five Nations was an improvement over the previous championship, winning two games and drawing another with just the one loss to Wales. England then won games against Romania and Fiji, and carried this winning streak over into 1990, winning their first three Five Nations games. They lost to Scotland in their last game however, and hence Scotland achieved a Grand Slam. In 1991 England had ideal preparation for that year's World Cup, by winning their first Grand Slam since 1980.

On July 20, 1991, the Argentine amateur club Banco Nación defeated England's national team in a surprise 29 to 21 victory in Buenos Aires.

England hosted the 1991 Rugby World Cup and were in pool A, along with the All Blacks, Italy and the United States. The opening game of the tournament at Twickenham was the clash between the All Blacks and England, which the All Blacks won 18-12. England subsequently defeated Italy 36-6 and the United States 37-9, to finish second in their pool. England faced pool D winners France, in Parc de Princes in Paris. In a fiercely contested match they defeated France 19-10. The win earned England a semi-final berth against Scotland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. England won 9-6 to secure a place in the final against Australia. The final was played in front of a capacity crowd at Twickenham, and England eventually lost the match 12-6. This left Australia as the 1991 World Champions. England again won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Team Award albeit shared with the Men's Olympic 4 x 400m relay squad.

The next year, England completed another Grand Slam in the 1992 Five Nations. They extended this success to the rest of their fixtures that year by beating Canada and the newly reinstated Springboks. The winning run continued into 1993 by defeating France and their opening game of the Five Nations. They then lost to the Welsh in their next game, and won their following game against Scotland before losing to Ireland. In November of that year, England then defeated the All Blacks 15-9. England were awarded the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Team Award in 1993, for the third time. England lost just the one game at the 1994 Five Nations, and their only other loss that year was their second test against the Springboks.

In the lead up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, England completed another Grand Slam - their third in five years. With the Five Nations trophy, England headed into pool B of the World Cup, grouped with Argentina, Italy and Samoa. England won their opening game, defeating Argentina 24-18, and went on to narrowly defeat Italy 27-20 and then Samoa, 44-22. England faced Australia in the quarter finals, where they went on to win, the final score 25-22. England moved into the semi-finals, where they met the powerful All Blacks. In a match dominated by the All Blacks and featuring four tries by Jonah Lomu, England lost 45-29. They then lost the third/fourth place match against France, while South Africa emerged as World Champions against the All Blacks.

In 1996, a deal between British Sky Broadcasting and the Rugby Football Union meant that England home games were exclusively shown on Sky. This deal caused great controversy at the time and England were threatened with being expelled from the five nations to be replaced by Italy. This threat was never carried out with the understanding that all future television deals would be negotiated collectively.

In 1997 former international and member of the 1980 Grand Slam winning team, Clive Woodward, became coach of the England team. In that year England managed a draw with New Zealand at Twickenham, after being routed in Manchester the week before. Many of the England team made themselves unavailable for the disastrous summer 1998 tour to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa nicknamed the 'Tour of Hell', notable for the fact that England suffered a humiliating 76-0 defeat to the Wallabies. In the 1998 and 1999 Five Nations England failed to win their crucial games, and handed titles to France in 1998 and Scotland in 1999 by failing to beat France and Wales respectively. In the last ever Five Nations match (the tournament would admit Italy the following season and become known as the Six Nations) Scott Gibbs sliced through six English tackles to score in the last minute. England were defeated and the last ever Five nations title went to Scotland.


England commenced the new decade by winning the inaugural Six Nations title, but missing a Grand Slam due to defeat in their last match of the tournament to Scotland.[32] An outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Britain disrupted the 2001 Six nations championship, and Ireland's matches against Wales, Scotland and England were postponed until later that year. Ireland then defeated England 20-14 at Lansdowne Road to deny them a Grand Slam.[33] Although the 2002 Six Nations title was won by France, England did win the Triple Crown.[34]

In June 2002 England, captained by Phil Vickery and with five new caps, defeated a full-strength Argentina team in Buenos Aires.[35] Then in November that year under captain Martin Johnson, England defeated the three Southern Hemisphere giants at Twickenham. England first defeated the All Blacks, whose team included seven débutantes, by three points.[36] Australia were beaten 32-31 the following week.[37] The match against South Africa, unlike England's previous two matches, was easily won 53-3; their biggest ever win over the Springboks.[38]

In 2003 England continued to progress and not only won the Grand Slam for the first time since 1995 but also maintained 2 years dominance by being the No.1 team in the world. After beating the previous tournament winner and Grand Slam champion, France in their opening match and going on to defeat the Welsh at Millennium Stadium, the remaining matches saw England put 40 or more points on every opponent. This was followed by wins over Australia and New Zealand in a pre world cup tour in June.

File:England world cup.jpg

Going into the Rugby World Cup of 2003 they were one of the favourites for the title and after some minor stumbles along the way they reached the final on 22 November 2003 where they met Australia. England were crowned champions of the world following a drop goal in the final half-minute of extra time by Jonny Wilkinson. The final scoreline was 20-17 in a game that is considered one of the greatest rugby games ever seen. Three days later the English team arrived at the Heathrow airport in the early hours of the morning to be greeted by thousands of fans. On December 8 a national day of celebration like none that had ever been seen before took place. The English team greeted an estimated 750,000 supporters in their parade through London before going on to be greeted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

England again won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Team Award with Jonny Wilkinson finishing ahead of Martin Johnson for the individual awards.

Since the start of the decade, England had dominated world rugby winning 29 and losing only 5 matches against the other seven major rugby playing nations. This included a perfect record of 16 wins and no losses at Twickenham. In addition England had won 12 successive matches against the three Tri Nations teams including victories in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia (twice). England's old nemesis, Wales, had truly been put to the sword with six successive wins for the red rose.

Post 2003Edit

After their World Cup win, a number of senior players, including captain Martin Johnson announced their retirement.[39][40] In the 2004 Six Nations Championship tournament, England lost to both France and Ireland and finished third.[41] In late August 2004, captain Lawrence Dallaglio temporarily retired from international rugby.[42] Sir Clive Woodward resigned on September 2 and Andy Robinson was appointed head coach.[43][39] Robinson had been on Woodward's coaching staff for the duration of the World Cup campaign.[44] Robinson's first Six Nations campaign in 2005 was even less successful then 2004; with fourth place after losing three, and winning two matches.[45]

Many England players were involved in the unsuccessful British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005; where they were beaten 3-0 by the All Blacks.[46] The England coach Andy Robinson was also part of Clive Woodward’s coaching team on the tour.[47] There was a brief break before the 2005 end of year internationals and the 2006 Six Nations Championship. England hosted Australia on 12 November at Twickenham where England beat their old rivals 26-16.[48] The following week (19 November) the All Blacks visited Twickenham and eventually ran out 23-19 winners over England.[49] Despite the loss England's performance was considered an indication they would better compete in the 2006 Six Nations.[49]

In the 2006 Six Nations an opening win over Wales gave England a promising start.[50] This was followed by an unconvincing victory over Italy, then defeats to both Scotland and France.[51] Coach Robinson responded by making seven changes for the final match against Ireland; which they lost to hand Ireland the triple crown.[52][53] An RFU review following the Six Nations decided to bring in new coaching staff. Andy Robinson kept his place as head coach, and the position of Elite Rugby Director was created.[54] After months of interviewing, Rob Andrew was appointed to the new position.[55] The RFU also changed England's backroom staff by bringing in John Wells as Forwards coach, Mike Ford as Defence coach, and Brian Ashton as Attack coach.[55] In 2006's mid-year rugby Tests England returned to Australia for a two-Test series. A squad mixed with youth and experience lost both Tests comprehensively; the first 34-3 and the second 43-18.[56] This extended England's losing streak to five matches; their worst since 1984.[56].

England hosted four end-of-year internationals at Twickenham against New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa (twice) in 2006.[57] England lost their first two matches of the series to New Zealand (20-41), and Argentina (18-25).[58][59] Argentina's victory was their first over England at Twickenham.[58] England managed to win against South Africa 23-21 avoiding a record eight match losing streak.[60][58] However, the following week on Saturday 25 November, South Africa exacted revenge beat England 14-25.[61] This left England with eight losses in their last nine Tests; their worst ever match record. Coach Andy Robinson resigned after this run. Attack coach Brian Ashton was appointed head coach in December 2006.[55] England's next game was their Calcutta Cup tie against Scotland in the 2007 Six Nations. They won 42-20 with Jonny Wilkinson returning and scoring 27 points.[62] Their next fixture was against Italy at Twickenham, which they won 20-7.[63] However, talk of an England revival was quickly silenced by a 43-13 defeat to Ireland, in an historic match at Croke Park. It was England's heaviest defeat against Ireland and the highest number of points they had ever conceded in a Five/Six Nations match. England recovered however to defeat favourites France 26-18 at Twickenham, their first victory over France since the 2003 World Cup, before losing to Wales at the Millennium Stadium 27-18 in the final game of the tournament.

The final build-up to England's defence of their World Cup title was mixed, a thumping 62-5 win over a weakened Wales side being followed by home and away defeats to France. The tournament in France got underway for England with an unconvincing win over the USA, before they suffered a humiliating 36-0 defeat at the hands of South Africa. England were on the verge of being the first champions to be eliminated at the pool stage.

However, England then staged a revival, first securing the wins over Samoa and Tonga which they needed in order to progress, before they stunned Australia with a 12-10 quarter-final victory, all the points scored by the fit again Jonny Wilkinson. The semi-final was against the hosts, who had shocked New Zealand in the quarter-finals, but England proved too tough for the French and came through 14-9, set up by Josh Lewsey's early try after a fumble from makeshift French full-back Damien Traille. Somehow England had come through to face a re-match with their pool stage conquerors South Africa in the final.

England fell behind to an early penalty, but stayed in touch as Wilkinson and Percy Montgomery traded kicks. Had Mark Cueto been awarded a try in the second half, the outcome might have been different, but his effort was controversially ruled out by the video referee for a foot in touch. However, South Africa had enough to hold off the challenge and run out 15-6 winners.


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