The first rugby match played in South Africa took place on Aug. 23, 1862 on the Green Point Common in Cape Town. The teams were drawn from civilian and military players, who had learned to play the game at schools in England.
In 1875 the first rugby club was formed, Hamilton Club, followed by the Villager Club the following year. They played the code of rugby made famous at Rugby school in England. Through the years the game spread from the Cape to Kimberley, the Orange Free State, Transvaal and Rhodesia.
To form uniformity amongst all clubs, the South African Rugby Board was formed in 1889. As the game spread through the country, regions formed their own unions under the South African Rugby Board.
In 1891, the first international game was staged at Port Elizabeth against the British.
From 1892, provincial competitions were the Board’s Trophy and the Currie Cup. Only in 1957 were the two competitions separated, making the Currie Cup the premier inter-provincial award.
In 1896 South Africa recorded their first test victory against the British and the first game that the green jerseys were worn. The 1906 team became known as the ‘Springboks’, because of the springbuck on the badge. This was also the year that the now-famous green and gold kit was used.
New ground was broken in 1933 when Australia toured South Africa for the first time. The British Lions teams in 1955 played some of the best rugby that South Africa had ever seen, the interest in this tour brought a record crowd of between 95,000 and 100,000 to the test match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The 75th anniversary of the South African Rugby Board in 1964 saw England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia take part in a series of games.
The tour of Great Britain by Dawie de Villiers’s Springboks in 1969-70 was marred by political demonstrations; they even needed to use private planes due to boycotting.
The Craven Week began in 1964 in order to give schoolboys the necessary training of a higher standard than school and to scout players to move into provincial level. Many great Springboks have come through this system. It was estimated that in 1972 there were about 2,000 rugby clubs in the country.
Due to South Africa's political situation, we were banned from international competition, but we have returned from international isolation in 1992.
In 1995, South Africa competed in the World Cup for the first time. They hosted the finals and celebrated their inclusion in the competition in the best possible way by defeating New Zealand 15-12, becoming world champions.
Wearing a Springbok shirt, Nelson Mandela presented the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar, a white Afrikaner. The gesture was widely seen as a major step towards the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.
The Springboks join Australia as the only other national team to win the trophy twice in 2007, reinforcing the southern hemisphere dominance in the tournament with five out of six titles to date.
The Tri-nations was first staged in 1996, born of a demand for more regular competition between the southern hemisphere superpowers, which followed the success of the 1995 World Cup. In 1998 the tables were turned as the All Blacks failed to win a game and the Springboks beat Australia twice to become champions.
South Africa won the Tri-nations for the second time in 2004.
The Super 14 competition features 14 regional teams from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Transvaal won the first Super 10 competition, edging out Auckland 20-17 for the title. ASouth African team had to wait until 2007, when South Africa provided the two finalists, the Bulls and the Sharks. The Bulls scored a last-second win over the Sharks in the final.
The Currie Cup is the still the premier provincial rugby competition in South Africa. The Vodacom Cup has become an important competition on the South African rugby calendar. It takes place at the same time as the Super 14 competition, giving players that don’t make the grade in the Super 14 team, the chance to play at a high level.
Given South Africa's history, as with much else in South Africa, the organisation and playing of rugby has been entangled with politics, and racial politics in particular. Despite this, the future of rugby looks promising in South Africa.
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