Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

The Calcutta Cup - from colonial scrap metal to rugby's edgiest rivalry

Scotland form a guard of honour for Calcutta Cup and Six Nations winners England

There are many great rivalries in the world of rugby union. As with most things in life, opinions vary from place to place when selecting the greatest of all rivalries.


Is it between the traditional foes New Zealand versus South Africa where there have been some epic encounters. Some would say the provincial clash between Queensland and New South Wales is as intense as it gets, or maybe the all Ireland clash between Leinster and Munster, which takes some beating for pure passion.

All the contests above are legendary in their own right but it must be said that the Calcutta Cup game is as big as they come. The annual contest between England and Scotland gets the blood stirring all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats. There is a genuine edge between these two teams and encounters at Twickenham and Murrayfield have been brutal and not an inch is given in this historic clash.

Why the name Calcutta Cup?

In the 1870’s the game of rugby was introduced to the Indian sub-continent by a group of men from England who formed the Calcutta Rugby Football Club.

After five years in 1878, the club was forced to close due to the departure of the British army regiment from the area, as well as a lack of new members in the club.

On closure, the club chose to use their remaining money (270 Rupee coins) and melt down these funds to create a silver trophy, which is now known as the Calcutta Cup.

The trophy was presented as a gift to the Rugby Football Union to use as they pleased. It was originally suggested to use the trophy for a knockout competition in English club rugby, however the RFU did not want to create a new competition or a knockout competition fearing that it may lead them down the path to professionalism.


Instead, the RFU looked to use the trophy for international purposes. During this period only England, Scotland and Ireland had international teams and Ireland were particularly weak during this time – during the 1870’s they didn’t score a single point in eight international matches.

It was therefore decided that the victors of the annual England v Scotland game would be awarded the Calcutta Cup and was first played for in 1879, the game ended in a 3-3 draw.

The original trophy is kept at the Museum of Rugby in Twickenham. After years of use and a certain amount of mishandling, it was decided that a replica would be used during presentations. One famous story refers to England No 8 Dean Richards and the hard-as-nails Scotland flanker John Jeffrey on Princes Street in Edinburgh using the trophy as a ball in a drunken kick about.


Three Classic Calcutta Cup Clashes

Scotland 13-7 England (Murrayfield), 17 March 1990

A classic test match in every sense of the word. In a winner takes all encounter, the Five Nations, Grand Slam, Triple Crown and Calcutta Cup were all up for grabs in this final game of the Championship.

Scotland were well and truly the underdogs against an England side that would make the World Cup final the following year.

Bill McLaren the great Scottish commentator described the scene as “A unique atmosphere at Murrayfield in a quite unique occasion”.

From the get go when Scotland captain David Sole led his team out onto the park with a now famous walk, there was a sense that something special from a Scotland point of view was about to take place.

The passion of the crowd got the home side firing and Craig Chalmers kicked two early penalties for a 6-0 lead. Jeremy Guscott scored a try to pull the score back to
6-4, in the days when a try was worth 4 points.

It was a windy day and the consistent Simon Hodgkinson was unwilling to trust his boot in extremely tough kicking conditions.

A kick through by Scotland full-back Gavin Hastings allowed a chasing Tony Stanger to burst over for the try and increased the lead to 13-4 early in the second half. A penalty by Hodgkinson brought the score back to 13-7 but Scotland were not to be denied their first Grand Slam since 1984.

England captain Will Carling stated, “That was the most amazing atmosphere I’ve ever played in. As an Englishman, it took me time to understand the passion and depth of emotion the Scots have when they play England. Part of our learning process was understanding, learning and respecting that, then making sure we felt exactly the same way about playing for England.”

England 40-9 Scotland (Twickenham), 22 March 2003

England’s World Cup winning side was a sight to behold when in full flow during the 2003 season. They had an extremely strong pack containing the likes of Johnson, Dallaglio and Hill. The back division were no slouches either with Dawson and Wilkinson directing play from the halfback positions.

After France won the Grand Slam in 2002 sweeping all before them, and England not winning a Grand Slam since 1995, Woodward’s charges demanded of themselves going in to a World Cup year.

A brace of tries by Jason Robinson, added to one apiece from Josh Lewsey and Ben Cohen proved to be decisive in a productive day for England’s back three.

England’s defence was resolute throughout this game and the only shining light points-wise for Scotland was three Chris Paterson penalties.

Jonny Wilkinson had a perfect day with the boot, kicking all his goals and adding 18 points to his side’s tally.

It was a physical game and man-of-the match Richard Hill worked tirelessly for the home side. After the game Woodward stated, “Well done to Scotland, they got stuck in and proved it was a true Six Nations Championship.”

Scotland coach Ian McGeechan didn’t feel the score line was a fair reflection “We made mistakes at crucial times and England are a good enough side with good enough strike players to really do damage, and Jonny Wilkinson doesn’t miss too many kicks. But I thought there were a lot of good things about our performance and England have had to work very hard for their win.”

England booked their Six Nations Grand Slam decider against Ireland, which they went on to win in emphatic style, 42-6 in Dublin.

Scotland 19-13 England (Murrayfield), 2 April 2000

This was the year where Italy was added to the Five Nations Championship to create the inaugural Six Nations.

Scotland had lost all four games in the tournament including a 34-20 defeat to newcomers Italy in Rome.

England came in to the final match of the tournament unbeaten. Apart from a close victory over France, they were dominant against the other three nations.

Scotland had not beaten England since the 1990 Grand Slam winning victory and conditions on the day were treacherous, this was not a day for champagne rugby. The collisions were raw and physical, similar to that of two heavyweight boxers slugging it out.

A 19-point haul by Scotland No 10 Duncan Hodge including a try, conversion and four penalties was underpinned by a great 15-man effort from the home side to deny Clive Woodward’s side a Grand Slam.

A converted Lawrence Dallaglio try and another two penalties by Jonny Wilkinson were not enough, England eventually going down 19-13.

The Scotland team came out for a lap of honour and they were mobbed by thousands of ecstatic supporters on the waterlogged pitch after this famous victory.
Ian McGeechan was thrilled with the outcome and performance of his charges and said, “We knew if we could just hang on we could do it. The guys were magnificent. They stood up and were counted.”

Video Spacer

Join free



Trending on RugbyPass


Be the first to comment...

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

Jon 2 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

12 Go to comments
finn 10 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

12 Go to comments
TRENDING Two broken legs and two more out long-term: Boks' worrying injury list Two broken legs and two more out long-term: Boks' worrying injury list