A History of Rugby in Victoria

researched & written by Ron Grainger



1888 British Lions rugby tourists in Melbourne. Photograph taken on the Scotch Oval; note tower of Government House in central distance.

1888 British Lions rugby tourists in Melbourne. Photograph taken on the Scotch Oval; note tower of Government House in central distance.

Background: Until the second half of the 19th Century any games of football in Victoria would have contained elements of what would eventually be codified as Association, Union and Victorian Rules, a version of the latter being first defined in Melbourne in 1859, and soon to become predominant in the Colony. Prior to the formation of the RFU in 1871and the adoption of Union Laws any games of rugby would have acknowledged, if not strictly complied with, rules evolved from those of Rugby school (e.g. the ‘Cambridge’ or ‘Marlborough’ rules). The first rugby game on record in Victoria was in 1878, between Carlton FC and the Sydney Waratah Club and there was another match in 1881 between the Wanderers (MCC) and a visiting detached RN Squadron . At international level it was not until the 1870’s that a ‘referee’ was acknowledged as an arbiter of umpires decisions (but appointments were only regulated from 1885 and mandatory from 1893) – and only from 1877 that fifteen a side teams were adopted (for matches held under RFU auspices (but not always in others – see below). Scoring by points, including one for a try, was not introduced until the late ‘eighties, points values being revised from time to time in different Unions. Even the 1890 IRB points scoring system for international matches was to change three more times before 1958.

1888 – 1890 Melbourne Rugby Union [1]

1888 Melbourne and North Melbourne RUFC clubs formed. First inter-club match in June, The privately sponsored English touring team defeat Melbourne 9-3 (often quoted as 15-5 following the NSW points system used at that time) at East Melbourne Cricket Ground (EMCG); 1 August. [Approx.attendance: 6,000]

NZ Maoris defeat Melbourne 3-0 first match, draw second 1-1 at EMCG; 11 & 15 August. [5,000 & 2,000]

1889 Pakeha RUFC formed NZ Maoris (Natives) defeat Melbourne 14-6, a Navy XVIII 13-6 [1,000] and Victoria 19-0 at EMCG on 24 May, 31 May and 11 June respectively. [2]

NSW defeat Victoria 13-6, at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG); 13 July

NSW defeat Victoria 17-14, at SCG; 20 July

1891 – 1907: Several Colonial Unions, none at times.

1893 Union and four club competition for this and the following three years

1894 Victoria defeat NSW 3-0, EMCG; 28 Jul.; NSW defeat Victoria 9-5, EMCG;1Aug.

1895 NSW defeat Victoria 25-6 at SCG; 10 August and 19-5 at SCG; 17 August. Northern (Branch) NSWRU defeat Vic.21-5 at Newcastle 15 August. Western (Branch) NSWRU defeat Vic 11-4 at Bathurst; 21 August.

1899 Great Britain touring team defeat Victorian Rugby Football Club 30-0, at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG); 19 August [7,000]


(The Colony of Victoria becomes a State within the Commonwealth of Australia)

1908 -1914 Victorian Rugby Union

1908 Australia (Wallabies) defeat Victoria 26-6, in Melbourne at MCG; 10 August.[1,500 ]

1909 Of seven clubs in Union Melbourne, East Melbourne, South Melbourne and University compete in first premiership (Dewar Shield); Melbourne win. Sydney University defeat Victoria 14-6 at EMCG, 2 Aug. [3]

1910 NZ Maoris defeat Victoria 32-5 and 50-11, at St Kilda CG; 2 &5 July [5,000 & ?]

1911 NSW City & Suburban defeat Victoria 25-12 & 25-6 South Melb.CG; 5 & 7 Aug.

1912 NSW City & Suburban team defeat Victoria 8-5 & 10-8 at EMCG; 24 & 27 Aug. NSW City & Suburban defeat Victoria 42-0 at Syd.Uni. & 16-0 at SCG; 7 & 9 Sept.

1915 – 1925 No State Union

1921 South Africa defeat Victoria 51-0, at MCG

Many international and interstate teams have played in Victoria against ’Victorian’ XV’s etc. While I have mentioned some known to do so prior to 1926 the only matches recorded from hereon are those with teams at senior State level accredited by the VRU.

1926 – 1940 Victorian Rugby Union

Of the original clubs Melbourne University, Kiwis, Melbourne, RAAF, Navy and St. Kilda all competed at some stage up until WW2. Not all the armed services teams were able to field regularly during this period and occasionally appeared under a different name, e.g. Flinders Naval Depot for Navy; Airforce for RAAF. Warship Melbourne also put in a brief appearance (1927) while Kiwis became Eastern Suburbs from 1931 to 1934.

They were joined by Harlequins and Footscray (founded 1928), Geelong (1929), Old Boys (1934)*and Power House (1933). Geelong did not compete after 1936 until 1958 and Old Boys merged with Melbourne in 1939.

* Changing its name from Camberwell early in 1934. At least one other Old Boys team appeared in 1927, ‘Old Boys again suffer defeat by a large margin’ but apparently there was no connection between the two.

Other clubs competing during this period for the most part ceased a year or two before WW II (during which no competition was held) and did not resume afterwards. These were:- 37/52 Battalion (1931-1934), Northern Suburbs (1931-1933), Southern Suburbs (1933-1934), Dandenong (1933-1939), St.Ignatius (1934-1938) and Oakleigh (1935-1940).

(While several post-WW2 clubs were to adopt names similar to the above they had no formal links with them).

Together these clubs contributed to what has been described as the golden era of Victorian Rugby; some clubs fielding teams in three senior grades and sometimes (notably Melbourne University) by two teams in a grade. From 1931 three grades were organised, often under different descriptions; First, Second, Third, A, B, Grade, First, Reserve and even, in 1937, First, Reserve A, Reserve B and Third. A building at Middle Park was owned by the Union throughout this period as this was the locale for many matches Meanwhile junior and school rugby, led principally by Scotch College, and operating under the aegis of the VRU, arranged matches from the early ‘thirties between RAN College, Melbourne Grammar, Geelong Grammar, University High, Geelong High and Geelong Technical School and while this activity continued more formal competition followed the organisation of the first game between State Schools, Oakleigh v Footscray, in June 1933.

A Junior Under 14 competition was arranged in 1934 as well as an Under 16 in 1935. A range of clubs and schools were represented in these Junior grades e.g St. Ignatius, Footscray, Kiwis, St Kilda, West Melbourne, Brunswick Marist Brothers, Oakleigh, Footscray, St.Kilda, Melbourne. An outbreak of Infantile Paralysis in 1937 significantly curtailed formal Junior Union activities and they did not function effectively in the following year and, although inter-school matches continued, Junior Union activity ceased altogether following the outbreak of WWII.

The War soon had an influence on all levels of competition. By 1939 the intake of volunteers for the 2nd AIF had severely depleted the number of players in many clubs while talented players with interstate experience became available to the armed service clubs.

During this period the following Victorian players represented Australia on 42 occasions;

G.S.(Gordon) Sturtridge of Melbourne University, in 1929, 1932, & 1933, with a total of [nine] Test caps (although a Queenslander by birth he was the first player capped directly fromVictoria);

O.W.(Owen) Bridle, St.Kilda/Footscray 1931, 1932, 1933,1934 & 1936, [twelve];

D.L.(Dave) Cowper, Melbourne, 1931, 1932, 1933 (the first Victorian player to captain Australia) [nine];

E.E.(Edward)Dunlop, Melbourne University (first Victorian born Wallaby),  1932, 1934 [two]

E.M.(Evan) Jessep, Kiwis,1934 [two],

R.W.(Rudolph) Dorr, St.Kilda,1936, 1937 [two] (second Victorian born Wallaby);

J.D.C.(John) Hammon, St. Kilda, 1937 [one];

F.R. (Frederick) Kerr, Power House, 1938 [one], (third Victorian born Wallaby);

C.W.P. (Clifford) Lang, Footscray, 1938, [two];

MacQ.G. (‘Max’) Carpenter, Power House, 1938 [two]. Max Carpenter and the following three Victorian players were selected to represent Australia in 1939, although the cancellation of matches due to the outbreak of World War II meant that they were not able to take the field;

A.W.McT.(Andrew) Barr, Power House,[-];

S.( Stan) Bissett, Power House [-] (fourth Victorian born Wallaby).

G.A.(George) Pearson, Power House, [-] (fifth Victorian born Wallaby).

State team matches held during this period:

1926 NZ defeat Victoria 58-15 in Melbourne

1926 NZ Maoris defeat Victoria 30-0 and 57-0 in Melbourne

1927 NSW defeat Victoria 19-13 in Sydney

1927 NSW*defeat Victoria 19-9 in Melbourne

1928 NSW defeat Victoria 22-19 in Melbourne

1928 NSW defeat Victoria 14-0 in Sydney

1928 NZ defeat Victoria 48-9 in Melbourne [NZRU 58-9]

1929 NSW defeat Victoria 20-8 in Sydney

1929 NSW defeat Victoria 26-19 in Sydney

1930 British Isles defeat Victoria 41-36, in Melbourne

1930 NSW defeat Victoria 40-11 in Sydney.

1932 NSW defeat Victoria 26-19 in Sydney

1933 Victoria defeat South Australia 21-19 in Adelaide

1933 NSW defeat Victoria 17-14 in Sydney

1933 Victoria defeat NSW 14-8 in Sydney

1933 Wallabies draw with Victoria 12-12, in Melbourne

1934 Victoria defeat South Australia 26-18 in Melbourne

1934 Victoria defeat South Australia 35-8 in Adelaide

1934 NSW defeat Victoria 17-14 in Sydney

1935 NZ Maoris defeat Victoria 28-16 in Melbourne.

1935 Victoria defeat NSW 17-14, in Sydney

1935 Victoria defeat South Australia 29-8 in Melbourne

1936 NSW defeat Victoria 29-16 in Sydney

1936 Queensland defeat Victoria 18-17 in Sydney

1936 NSW defeat Victoria 42-3 in Sydney

1936 Victoria defeat South Australia 11-9 in Adelaide

1937 South Africa defeat Victoria 45-11 in Melbourne

1937 Victoria defeat WA 37-15 in Melbourne

1937 Victoria defeat South Australia 34-6 in Melbourne

1938 NSW defeat Victoria 14-12 in Sydney

1938 Victoria defeat NSW 23-14 in Sydney

1938 WA defeat Victoria 28-11 in Perth

1938 WA defeat Victoria 26-14 in Perth

Where available, scores have been taken from VRU Annual Reports but, as with the 1928 match Victoria v NZ, the points shown sometimes conflict with those from other sources.

*In 1986 this team accorded national (Wallaby) status.

1941 – 1945 No formal Competition

1946 – 1958 Victorian Rugby Union

1949 (ARU formed – VRU represented).

As mentioned previously, Footscray, Melbourne, Power House, Kiwis, St Kilda, Navy and Melbourne University resumed competition after the war, being joined by Army in that first year. Harlequins rejoined in the next, 1947, and the RAAF in 1948. Again, armed service clubs were to appear under different names from time to time, Flinders Naval Depot, Army School of Signals, Engineers, etc. and the RAAF, by the early fifties, were to provide teams from no less than four establishments, RAAF (Pt Cook), RAAF College (Pt. Cook), RAAF W/T College (Frognall), RAAF Stores Depot (Tottenham). A new club St.Andrews (Gardiner) was affiliated in 1951 and 1952, Army Apprentices (from 1951), Engineers (21) Const.R.A.E. (in 1954) replaced by 3 Base Workshops RAEME (in 1955), OCS Portsea (in 1955), Old Scotch Collegians (from 1956), Army Puckapunyal, RAAF Laverton and RAAF Sale (from 1957). Although what was termed the Junior Union continued to function as an arm of the VRU it was recommended in 1954 that it should be established on a more permanent basis and work towards that end proceeded until the Victorian Junior Rugby Union was reconstituted in its own right in 1956 and affiliated with the VRU. In the same year the Associated Public Schools played the first match against Combined High Schools and junior players and competition increased generally over the following years. Interest was still high during the early post war years, 9,900 attending the MCG to see NZ Maoris defeat the Southern States 35-8 in 1949 and 8,000 attending the same venue the next year for the first (and only) visit by Queensland to play Victoria. In 1953 the Seven-a-Side competition was revived after 18 years.

The first post-war Victorian player to be selected for Australia was G.A.Gourlay, Melbourne, 1946 [no Test caps]. He was followed by Eric Davis, Footscray, 1947/8, 1949, with [four] Test caps. E.F.(Ernest) Hills, Melbourne, 1950 [two], G.N.(Geoffrey) Vaughan, Power House/ Melbourne University, 1957-58, 1958 [six], A.R. (Robert) Kay, Footscray, 1958, 1959 [two]; and J.R. (John) Cocks, Melbourne University, 1958 [none].

State team matches during the period were:-

1947 NSW defeat Victoria 32-6, in Melbourne

1947 Victoria defeat South Australia 30-24, in Melbourne

1948 South Australia defeat Victoria 17-16, in Adelaide .

1949 Victoria defeat WA 31-6, in Melbourne

1950 Queensland defeat Victoria 31-12, in Melbourne

1951 Victoria defeat WA 29-0, in Adelaide

1951 Victoria defeat Tasmania 53-3, in Adelaide

1951 Victoria defeat South Australia 12-5, in Adelaide

1954 Fiji defeat Victoria 42-12, in Melbourne

1954 Victoria defeat WA 32-0, in Hobart

1954 Victoria draw with Tasmania 22-22, in Hobart

1954 South Australia defeat Victoria 13-6, in Hobart

1955 NSW defeat Victoria 43-3, in Wagga Wagga

1956 Victoria defeat NSW Country 17-6, in Melbourne

1956 Victoria defeat NSW Country 27-3, in Melbourne

1956 Victoria defeat WA 23-3, in Perth

1956 Victoria defeat South Australia 22-14, in Perth

1956 Victoria defeat Tasmania 51-0, in Perth

1957 New Zealand defeat Victoria 28-3, in Melbourne

1958 Queensland defeat Victoria 17-14, in Sydney

1958 NSW defeat Victoria 40-14. in Sydney

1958 NSW Country defeat Victoria 27-12, in Melbourne

Postcript 1959-2010

In Going For The LineA History of Box Hill RUFC and the 2003-2008 Supplement I record all VRU affiliated clubs 1958-2008. International teams playing matches in Melbourne 1958–2003 are listed on page 162 ; the Supplement records the omission from the list of the 1962 match Vic v NZ 3-58 but not of the 1980 match Vic v NZ 6-45 or that the team opposing GB in 1989 was Australia B, not Vic.

Victorian registered players selected for the Wallabies 1959 – 2010 were:-

A.R.T. ‘Art’ Turnbull, Power House 1961, [one];
J.A.(Jim) Douglas, Melbourne, 1962 [three];
D.J (Dave.)Shepherd,
Harlequins, 1963,1964, 1965,1966 [five].
R.D.((Russell) Tulloch, Melbourne, 1966-7 [-]; (sixth Victorian born Wallaby),
P.R.(Paul) Gibbs, Melbourne,1966-7 [one];
R. (Dick) Webb, Melbourne 1966-7; [-]
J.E.L (John) Meadows, Kiwis, 1974, 1975-6, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1981-2, 1982 [nineteen];
D.H. (Doug) Osborne, Kiwis,1975 [three].


[1] Sometimes described as the Melbourne Rugby Union but also referred to as the Victorian Rugby Union or the Victorian Rugby Union Football Club.

[2] Addition of 24 May 1889 match.

[3] Addition of 2 Aug.1909 match.

Research & content  Ron Grainger

November 2005. Revised: December 2005; May 2006; February & August 2010; November 2011; October 2013; November 2013

Entry page: A History of Rugby in Victoria

Entry page: A History of Rugby in Victoria