Calcutta Cup History

Written by on February 23, 2018

On Christmas Day 1872, a game of rugby, between 20 players representing England on one side and 20 representing Scotland, Ireland and Wales on the other, was played in Calcutta.

The match was such a success that it was repeated a week later. These lovers of rugby wanted to form a club in the area and the aforementioned matches were the agents which led to the formation of the Calcutta Football Club in January 1873.

The Calcutta Club joined the Rugby Football Union in 1874. Despite the Indian climate not being entirely suitable for playing rugby, the club prospered during that first year. However, when the free bar had to be discontinued, the membership took an appreciable drop. Other sports, such as tennis and polo, which were considered to be more suited to the local climate, were making inroads into the numbers of gentlemen available. The members decided to disband but keen to perpetuate the name of the club, they withdrew the club’s funds from the bank, which were in Silver Rupees, had them melted down and made into a cup which they presented to the RFU in 1878, with the provision that it should be competed for annually.

The cup
The cup is of Indian workmanship, approximately 18 inches (45 cm) high, the body is finely engraved with three king cobras forming the handles. The domed lid is surmounted by an elephant which is, it is said, copied from the Viceroy’s own stock. The inscription on the Cup’s wooden base reads: THE CALCUTTA CUP.

The base has attached to it additional plates which record the date of each match played with the name of the winning country and the names of the two captains. There is an anomaly in the recording of the winning country on the base of the Cup. It was first played for in 1879, but the plinth shows records extending back to the first international in 1871.

The original trophy is in a very fragile state following many years of poor treatment and is not in a strong enough condition to attend functions or go on tours. When won by England the original Calcutta Cup is put on public display in the Museum of Rugby in Twickenham, where it slowly turns around in a purpose built showcase. Both nations have full size replicas of the Cup. Whilst the original was handmade by Indian craftsmen, the replicas were made using modern technology.

In 1988 the cup was damaged by the antics of some drunken players, including England number eight Dean Richards and Scotland flanker John Jeffrey who played football with the Calcutta Cup along Princes Street in Edinburgh. Jeffrey received a six-month ban from the SRU, whilst Richards was given a one-match sentence from England.

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