Rugby first kicks off in Australia
As early as the 1820s, there are reports of Rugby games being played at Barrack Square in the city between the army and the crews of visiting ships. Rugby Union formally began in Australia with the formation of the first clubs, the oldest of which is the Sydney University Club, formed in 1864.
By 1874 there were enough clubs to form a Sydney Metropolitan competition and in that year the Southern Rugby Union was established. In 1892 the Southern Rugby Union of New South Wales and the Northern Rugby Union of Queensland (formed in 1883) became New South Wales and Queensland Rugby Unions respectively.
The First Tests
Representatives from these two unions combined in 1899 when an Australian team played its first Test series - against a visiting team from the British Isles. Four tests were played, Australia winning the first test at the Sydney Cricket Ground 13-3. The second test in Brisbane and the third and fourth Sydney were won by the British Isles who took out the series.
Without a national jersey, the Test matches in New South Wales were played in blue jerseys and in Queensland in maroon - both with the Australian Coat of Arms on their chests. In 1903 Australia and New Zealand played a single test at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of a crowd of 30,000.
This was the beginning of intense rugby rivalry between the two nations. The crowd had grown to almost 50,000 at the same venue when Australia played New Zealand in 1907. As popular as Rugby had become, it would soon feel the impact of the breakaway professional game of Rugby League, which was formed in 1908.
The First Wallabies
That same year the first Australian representative team, the first Wallabies, went on tour. Sailing on the steamship 'Omrah', the team spent 9 months touring the United Kingdom, Ireland and North America. Of the players, their ages ranged from 20 to 27 years old, height from 5'5" to 6'1"(only 1 player was over 6") and weight from 10 stone to 14 stone.
Following on the heels of a tour by the New Zealand All Blacks, the Australian team was pressured to produce a war cry similar to the Maori Haka. The team were ordered to perform an Aboriginal war cry, but were embarrassed by it. The Australian Captain Herbert 'Paddy' Moran called it the first Wallabies gravest affliction.
The 1908 tour coincided with the London Olympic Games in which Rugby Union was a sport. Invited to play, the Australian team won the gold medal by defeating Cornwall, the Champion English team representing England. When the team returned home, eleven of its members were enticed by the money offered to join the newly formed Rugby League.
WWI and the Waratahs
The last test before the start of World War I was played against New Zealand in July 1914, but the war had a devastating effect on Rugby Union in Australia. With so many young players enlisting to fight, the Rugby competition all but closed down in New South Wales and did so in Queensland where it did not commence again until 1928.
During the 1920s the only representative teams available for the international competition were the New South Wales Waratahs. The most famous of these teams was the 1927/28 Waratahs who toured the United Kingdom, France and North America, introducing a style of open, running Rugby never seen before, but which has been the stamp of the Australian game ever since.
Because the New South Wales teams were representing Australia, they have retrospectively been accorded Wallaby status.
In 1931, the then Governor General of New Zealand, Lord Bledisloe donated a Rugby trophy to foster sporting ties between Australia and New Zealand. Bearing his name, the Bledisloe Cup was established. Apart from the Rugby World Cup, of all the trophies contested, the Bledisloe Cup is the one that has the biggest grip on the imagination of the Australian and New Zealand Rugby public.
Until 1947, New South Wales, as the senior union, was responsible for the administration of all incoming and outgoing tours and for representing Australia on the International Rugby Board. However, in that year the various State Unions agreed that the future of Rugby Union in Australia would be better served by forming one administrative body.
Added impetus came in 1948 when the International Board invited Australia specifically (rather than a New South Wales representative), to take a seat on the Board. Union united The inaugural meeting of the Australian Rugby Football Union was held on November 25th, 1949 with 11 delegates from New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.
Sir Leslie Herron, the President of New South Wales Rugby Union was a guiding hand in the formation of the Australian Rugby Football Union and overseeing activity through his role as chairman. The Australian Capital Territory became a member in 1972 and the Northern Territory an associate member in 1978.
In 1985 the Australian Rugby Football Union was incorporated as a company and in 1997, it became simply The Australian Rugby Union Ltd. After a slump in the fortunes of Australian Rugby, in the early 1970s, an in depth survey of the past, present and future Rugby Union was carried out, resulting in a re-appraisal of coaching Rugby World Cup techniques and a restructuring of the administration.
Rugby World Cup
In 1987, following an idea first floated by Australia and New Zealand, the inaugural Rugby World Cup competition was held in both those countries. The 1987 final of this four yearly competition was won by New Zealand on home soil.
In 1995, South Africa also won on home soil. Australia hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and has won the Webb Ellis trophy twice, in 1991 and 1999. In 2000 Australian Rugby Union had a full trophy cabinet containing every international trophy contested. 2003 was an historic year when we hosted the fifth Rugby World Cup and celebrated our past with the Centenary of Test matches between Australia and New Zealand.
From amateur beginnings to today's highly professional organisation, The Australian Rugby Union provides the launching pad for the highly successful Wallabies to make rugby union one of the biggest crowd drawers of any sport in Australia.
History of the Australian Jersey
Blue and Maroon
In 1899 the first Rugby Union test match was played. The opponent was the touring British Isles team and a three tests series was played - two in Sydney and one in Brisbane. Because there was no national jersey, the team wore the jersey of the state in which they were playing, but with the Australian Coat of Arms in place of the state emblem or logo.
Therefore, for the first and third tests in Sydney, the jersey was blue with the coat of arms and for the second test in Brisbane the jersey was maroon. This was also an indication of the makeup of the team which was dominated by NSW players for the tests played in Sydney and by Queensland players for the tests played in Brisbane.
The honour caps were quartered blue and maroon and the socks were also either blue or maroon. There are indications that from the turn of the century, the Australian Rugby Union was looking for a national jersey. In 1905 and 1914 colours were again shared. In 1905, Australia toured New Zealand and wore striped jerseys - described in Jack Pollard's book as maroon with blue stripes.
In 1914, NZ toured Australia and in May, 1914, the New South Wales Rugby Union (NSWRU) Executive Council recommended that 'in view of the difficulty in securing jerseys of a purely Australian design at this late stage', that the national team wears the colour of the State in which they are playing, but the letter 'A' covering the States' badge.
In 1908 and 1912, the Australian jersey was effectively the NSWRU jersey - blue with the Waratah, but with 'Australia' embroidered beneath the Waratah. Because the Australian Rugby Union was not established until 1949, NSWRU was the senior Union which would therefore explain why their jersey was used as the national jersey.
During WWI so many players enlisted into the army that the major competition virtually closed in NSW and Queensland until 1928. Until the Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) was re-established, the only representative team was NSW so the NSW teams that played international matches in the 1920s played in the NSW Jersey with the Waratah emblem.
Green and Gold
These teams have since been accorded retrospective Wallaby status. In 1928, NSW and QLD Rugby Unions agreed that 'the Australian amateur representative colours of green and gold, should be adopted'. In 1929 when New Zealand toured Australia, the first official Australian Jersey was introduced - an emerald green jersey with the Australian Coat of Arms and green leg socks with green and gold bars on the top.
This uniform remained until 1961 when it became gold for the Australian tour of South Africa. It has remained predominantly gold every since. There were variations in 1933, 1937 and 1938. In 1933 when Australia toured South Africa for the first time, the Wallabies wore sky blue with the Australian Coat of Arms is this because at the time, both countries played in dark green jerseys. (This courtesy was reciprocated by South Africa who wore white jerseys for test matches when Australia toured South Africa in 1953).
When South Africa toured Australia in 1937, the Australian jersey was changed to white with green and gold hoops. In 1938 when Australia played New Zealand, the Australian jersey was changed to gold with a dark green hoop - because it had been suggested that there was too much similarity between the dark green of Australia and the black of New Zealand. The change to gold in 1961 was also to avoid any clash with South Africa. It has remained predominantly gold ever since.