200 years of rugby

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The event of William Webb Ellis catching the ball and running with it in 1823 has been investigated by rugby scholars and discounted due to a lack of evidence. However, the romantic notion persists to the point where the World Cup is named the Webb Ellis Cup.

In celebrating the bicentenary, Midi Olympique recounted France's first Test match on New Year's Day 1906.

Jacques Dufourcq was the last surviving member of France's first Test XV, who marked their arrival on the world scene with a game against Dave Gallaher's 1905-06 All Blacks at Parc des Princes.

Dufourcq, who died in 1975, recalled the game in a 1973 interview with Midi Olympique. 

He was invited to join the side by letter, and, while accepting, he had to face an overnight train trip from Bordeaux to Paris and arrived at the ground only an hour before kick-off.

He had two other Bordeaux players with him. The team were introduced to each other when arriving in their dressing room. There was no chance of training to prepare for the game.

The All Blacks' time on tour at least ensured they didn't need to get to know each other in the way France did.

Running onto the field, the players, and the crowd, were amazed at the size of the All Blacks.

While the power of such big men was not surprising, the way they were able to play the game astounded the French. The quality of the passing and their running dumbfounded the hosts, Dufourcq said.

The All Blacks demonstrated that speed of play and thought were decisive weapons. However, two other things intrigued the French: the pre-game haka and the players wearing numbers on their backs.

French captain Henri Amand said the French managed to play a little of the way they wanted, but their forwards struggled to win the ball, and when they did get it, they didn't know what to do with it.

The All Blacks won 38-8, 10 tries to two.

Dufourcq said: "We returned to the locker room [after the game] with the feeling of having done more than resist.

"We were certainly very far from the New Zealanders who had outrageously dominated us, but we considered ourselves to be gifted students."

He said the post-Test banquet was as memorable as the game. There were as many items on the menu as players on the ground.

"I remember singing a lot. I had the feeling that rugby was a very beautiful thing that had to be taken seriously," Dufourcq said.


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