The major rugby trophies which South Africa has accumulated over the last while were carted around the country in the Champions Tour to give the fans an opportunity to see the spoils of success. While my previous column discussed how good the Boks actually are in reality, today’s column is more of an educational piece than an opinionated one, as I lift the lid on the history of some of rugby’s more well-known prizes.
The Holy Grail is the World Cup, also known as the Webb Ellis Trophy (see feature image), which was issued first in 1987. Given that I probably have no Kiwi readers, us Bok fans don’t need much tutoring on this subject! The cup itself is actually silver, but gilded in gold and was named after the supposed inventor of the game, William Webb Ellis, who picked up the ball during a game of football and ran with it. The story has never been proved to be true but it is the most likely one.
South Africa’s ultimate prize is the Currie Cup, which has been collected the most by Western Province (32 times) and the Bulls (formerly Northern Transvaal – 23 times). Named after Sir Donald Currie, the owner of the shipping company which transported the British Isles squad to South Africa in 1891, he donated a trophy to the British team who were instructed to hand it to the local team which provided them with the best match. It then became the award for the domestic rugby competition from thereon in.
The other big trophy – quite literally the biggest in rugby union – is the Bledisloe Cup, which is contested between the Wallabies and All Blacks. Named after the former Governor-General of New Zealand, Charles Bathurst (his peerage after being knighted was the Bledisloe name), who donated it in 1931, the contest became an annual affair in 1982, with the outright winner staking claim to its final resting place. The All Blacks are well ahead with 37 wins to 12.
Another interesting prize is the Calcutta Cup, battled out between England and Scotland. The challenge has its roots in a game played in Calcutta, India on Christmas Day in 1872 between England and a team comprising of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This game gave birth to a rugby club in the city, which then disbanded six years later. However, the members decided to continue the legacy and had the club’s funds (silver rupees) melted down and made into a cup, which was donated to the RFU in 1878 and contested between the two nations commencing the following year. In 1988, Dean Richards and John Jeffrey damaged the trophy by playing football with it along Princes Street in Edinburgh! Both received bans.
More recently the Cook Cup (contested between England and Australia), Nelson Mandela Plate (South Africa and Australia) and Freedom Cup (South Africa and New Zealand) have all made their way onto the rugby trophies landscape.