The Calcutta Cup fixture contested between Scotland and England has produced many magical moments and memorable matches since its inception in 1879.
Spanning three centuries, the trophy has been played annually with only three breaks: for the duration of both World Wars, and during a dispute between the nations in the 1880s, which ultimately led to the establishment of the International Rugby Football Board (now World Rugby).
The 141-year old men’s fixture stirs the emotions of supporters on either side of the border, with bragging rights and the trophy belonging to the victors for at least 12 months.
England are currently in possession of the trophy after regaining it in 2020 following a scrappy 13-6 win in wet conditions at Murrayfield.
For Scotland supporters, beating England alone might not make their season, but Calcutta Cup wins have historically been well celebrated, particularly when the team has otherwise been at a low ebb.
The match at Murrayfield in 2000 was a case in point, as Scotland, who’d lost all four matches in the inaugural Six Nations up until that point, denied a previously unbeaten England their first Grand Slam under Sir Clive Woodward.
Duncan Hodge was the hero of that day in April, scoring all 19 points to secure a famous victory for his side and send England hame tae think again.
“Still now two decades on people stop me in the street and mention that game, it has kind of followed me around, but I am not complaining,” said Hodge, Scotland’s attack coach and former fly-half.
“As a sportsman or woman, there are certain moments you will always remember and that is one for me for sure.”
It simply never gets old!— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) July 1, 2020
One of the great tries in Calcutta Cup history as @HRFJones scored twice and @Scotlandteam brought the trophy home back in 2018.
Relive the day again: https://t.co/yOd6m60cwp pic.twitter.com/QVVUOQE3vd
What is it?
The silver trophy takes its name from the Calcutta Football Club, which was disbanded in 1879 after the departure of a local British Army regiment – Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) 1st Battalion – led to a decline in interest in rugby.
Determined to keep the memory of the club alive, the club captain, honorary secretary and treasurer, Mr G A James Rothney, sent a letter to the Rugby Football Union (RFU) informing them of the club’s intention ‘of doing some lasting good, for the cause of Rugby Football’.
Rothney’s proposal was that a ‘Challenge Cup’ be produced using the 270 silver rupees left in the club’s bank account. The rupees were melted down by local silversmiths and fashioned into the 45cm-high trophy that the RFU decreed would be presented to the winners of the annual England v Scotland match.
The Calcutta Cup is the oldest trophy in international rugby and also one of the most ornate. It has three handles in the form of king cobras, while an Indian elephant stands proudly on the lid in acknowledgement of the British Governor-General and the elephant processions that had carried the rulers of India for more than 2500 years. The base has attached to it additional plates which record the date of each match played alongside the name of the winning country and the names of the two captains.
When was the first match?
Results from the very first meeting between Scotland and England in 1871 are wrongly recorded on the base plate of the Calcutta Cup. The first Calcutta Cup match was actually played at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh, on 10 March, 1879 – eight years after the inaugural encounter – and ended in a draw. These were the days when a majority of goals decided matches; England scored a converted try (a goal) and Scotland dropped a goal to finish all-square on the scoreboard.
The following year, England beat Scotland by two converted tries and three unconverted tries to one converted try to become the first holders of the Calcutta Cup.
Where is it played?
Thousands of miles away from Calcutta, or Kolkata as it is known today!
The Scottish ‘leg’ of the Calcutta Cup continued to be played at Raeburn Place, home of Edinburgh Academical F.C, until 1894. One-off matches at the Old Hampden Park in Glasgow and Powderhall in Edinburgh took place before matches moved to a more permanent base in Inverleith at the turn of the 20th century. Murrayfield has continued to be used as the venue for Calcutta Cup matches since 1925.
Calcutta Cup matches in England had an equally nomadic existence in the early years, with five different venues – three in the north and two in the capital – used in the first two decades.
Whalley Range in Manchester had the honour of hosting the first Calcutta Cup match on English soil in 1880. The fixture returned to the city 17 years later, in nearby Fallowfield, but not before it had ventured across the Pennines, in 1893, to Headingley in Leeds.
Down south, another world-renowned cricket ground, the Kennington Oval, staged the first four England v Scotland matches. The Oval then made way as The Athletic Ground, Richmond, and The Rectory Field in Blackheath shared the early Calcutta Cup matches between them. Twickenham Stadium first came on the scene in 1911 and the fixture has been played there ever since.
One of the last survivors of the Scots’ first visit to English rugby’s new HQ, Charlie Stuart, recalled in old age that he and his team-mates were unable to find the ground entrance and had to battle through allotments before finally gaining access!
Who wins it?
Since the first match in 1879, England have won 71 of the 127 matches played to Scotland’s 40. In the event of a draw, of which there have been 16, the holder retains the trophy.
Scotland, however, claimed the most famous of victories, despite England’s dominance in the head-to-head records, when they came out on top in the winner-takes-all Five Nations Grand Slam decider at Murrayfield in 1990.
Arguably the most extraordinary Calcutta Cup match of them all, however, came as recently as 2019. England built up a 31-0 lead in as many minutes – and looked well on course to beat their record margin of victory in the Calcutta Cup of 40 points, achieved in 2001 and 2017 – only to succumb to a fantastic Scottish comeback in the second half that put the visitors ahead with three minutes to go. Credit to shell-shocked England, though, they held their nerve in the final few minutes to fashion a score for George Ford and salvage an amazing 38-all draw – the highest score-draw in test rugby history.
The match was all the more remarkable for the fact that, on their previous visit to Twickenham, Scotland had lost 61-21, matching their worst-ever margin of defeat, as England not only retained the Six Nations title but also equalled New Zealand's world record for a leading test nation of 18 consecutive wins.
Scotland’s biggest win in the Calcutta Cup, either home or away, is the 33-6 victory they managed at Murrayfield in 1986 when they outscored England three tries to nil. All their tries were scored by backs – John Rutherford, Scott Hastings and Matt Duncan.
You have to go all the way back to 1901 to unearth Scotland’s best margin of victory on English soil – 18-3 at Blackheath.
In 49 visits to Twickenham in the Calcutta Cup, they have won just four times – the last in 1983.
#lockdownrugbymemories @RugbySco— Derek Douglas (@Derek_Douglas50) June 1, 2020
First rugby International 1871. The Sco & Eng XXs & six survivors from the game, photographed at Inverleith, before the 1921 Calcutta Cup - Gibson,Forsyth,Sherard, Osborne,Buchanan, Luscombe. Angus Buchanan RHS scored first points in int rugby, pic.twitter.com/o6WmAnS8GL
Who has played in the Calcutta Cup the most times?
As England’s most-capped player, it should come as little surprise that the World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Jason Leonard also holds the record for most Calcutta Cup appearances. In 13 outings in the famous fixture – Rugby World Cup outings aren’t classified as Calcutta Cup clashes so the RWC 1991 semi-final does not count – the loose-head prop was only on the losing side once – at Murrayfield in 2000.
The front row also provides Scotland with their top Calcutta Cup record appearance-holder in hooker Ross Ford. Contrary to Leonard’s impressive track record, the former Scotland captain was a relative stranger to success in the fixture. Wins in Ford’s first two home Calcutta Cup matches, in 2006 and 2008, stand in splendid isolation from the rest of his encounters with the Auld Enemy.
No player on either side, whose appearances tally into double figures, holds a 100 per cent record in the Calcutta Cup. But England’s Rugby World Cup 2003-winning captain, and Leonard’s fellow World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Martin Johnson, featured nine times and was never on the losing side.
Who has scored the most tries in the Calcutta Cup?
Born in Australia to Scottish parents, Ian Smith stands proudly on top of the Calcutta Cup try-scoring charts. His tally of nine tries in just eight appearances has stood since 1933 and does not look in danger of being beaten any time soon.
Cyril Lowe, another winger from the post-Edwardian era, jointly holds the try-scoring record for England with six in the fixture, alongside modern-day great, Jason Robinson.
Lowe is one of four Englishmen to score a Calcutta Cup hat-trick. The others are John Carleton, Jamie Noon and Jonathan Joseph. No Scot has achieved the feat in the annual rivalry.
Who has scored the most points in the Calcutta Cup?
Against Scotland, only Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara (125) has scored more test points than Jonny Wilkinson, who, like Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny, managed 114 points in 10 games against the Scots., However, although nine of those came in the RWC 2011 encounter in Auckland and fell outside of the Calcutta Cup calculations, making his total in the fixture 105. Wilkinson’s only try against Scotland came in 2007, amid a record 27-point haul.
Current England captain Owen Farrell is fast catching the World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee up, as all 96 of his points against Scotland came in Calcutta Cup matches, from 2012-20.
Chris Paterson was a regular thorn in the side of opposition teams, and England were no different. The main goal-kicking responsibilities lay elsewhere in his first three Calcutta Cup fixtures, but from 2003 to his last encounter in 2011, he contributed 78 points, the most by a Scot, including important match-winning contributions in 2006 and 2008.
Has anyone ever been sent off?
For a game that arouses such passion, the Calcutta Cup somewhat surprisingly has a clean ‘charge sheet’ when it comes to red cards; not a single one has been issued in its 141-year history.
The Calcutta Cup match with the most yellow cards (three) came in England’s Grand Slam-winning season of 2003. Jason Robinson scored two tries in a 40-9 win at Twickenham, but blotted his copybook with a sin-bin offence, while Scotland back-row duo, Andrew Mower and Simon Taylor, also spent 10 minutes on the sidelines.
Has there been any controversy?
Replica trophies are now used in the presentation ceremonies as the original – currently residing at the Museum of Rugby inside Twickenham Stadium – is a little worse for wear. Dean Richards (one match) and John Jeffrey (six months) were banned after playing football with the original trophy on a riotous night out in Princes Street just down the road from Murrayfield in 1988. It’s no wonder the trophy is no longer in great shape!
The rumpus caused by this incident was nothing compared to the outrage when England beat Scotland at Rectory Field in Blackheath in 1884, thanks to the award of a controversial try. The Scots questioned the legality of the English try by Richard Kindersley, from which Wilfrid Bolton kicked the winning goal.
The argument lingered on into 1885, with the Scots refusing to play England, and was finally resolved by agreement of the four home unions to form an International Rugby Football Board, specifically to resolve disputes arising from international matches. The Board, comprising Ireland, Wales and Scotland, came into existence in 1886. But England began a new argument regarding representation on the Board and were outcast in 1888 and 1889, until finally joining in 1890 when normal fixtures were resumed.
A new dispute between the SRU and RFU over allowances paid to players on long overseas tours put the 1909 game in jeopardy. It was finally resolved, but the match scheduled for Twickenham had to be moved to the Athletic Ground, Richmond, because the RFU’s new home was not yet ready to stage matches.