The History of Club Rugby in KwaZulu-Natal

The history of club rugby in KwaZulu-Natal has a proud heritage and is steeped in tradition, which gave the game a sound foundation in the early years - we now need to rebuild what was once a great rugby culture.

The opening two paragraphs in the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union's centenary book - Natal 100 - Centenary of the Natal Rugby Union published by the Union and edited by one of the doyens of rugby journalism, Reg Sweet, gives one such a wonderfully descriptive setting on that special day in Pietermaritzburg way back on 24 June in 1890 when Sir T.K. Murray chaired a meeting to make what was best described as the most important recreational decision yet contemplated in the then fledgling colony.

Indeed it was on that special day all those years ago that the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union as we know it today was founded and here we are in 2006, 116 years later together with the Sharks (Pty) Ltd still going strong, which would surely have made our founding President Sir T.K. Murray a very proud man today, based on the decision made at that inaugural meeting, which ultimately kick-started the sport into the vibrant success that it has become.

To really appreciate the history of the game in KZN we should go back in time and investigate the important role that the clubs in the province played in those early years starting with the oldest club in the province the Kokstad Rugby Club - but first let's look back to where it all began in Pietermaritzburg.

The schools in and around the young capital of the Colony had probably beaten everyone else to the kick-off so to speak, for it was the young lads of Pietermaritzburg High School (now known as Maritzburg College) that were first reported to have started playing the game as far back as 1870. Amazingly enough, that was seven years after the school was founded in 1863.

There is more evidence of the date being absolutely authentic and true in a report published in the Natal Witness on 11 October 1870, which read without any element of controversy, "The match - the best of three games between the city High School and Hermannsberg School - was played on Saturday afternoon commencing just after two o' clock. There were 15 players on each side. The lower end of Market Square was the ground chosen, the former taking the end close to the Dutch church and the latter the upper end."

And so that's how it all began with the game having been reported to have taken two hours to complete, and for the record, Maritzburg College won their first game of rugby they ever played. Even more surprising, it's interesting to note that this all took place five years before the oldest club in South Africa, Hamilton Sea Point Rugby Club was founded in 1875.

In the Western Cape it is also reported that Bishops had also being playing a form of rugby before the clubs came into being. Clearly a structure needed to be put in place so the game could grow and school-leavers needed to be encouraged to continue playing, and so started the birth of clubs all over the country.

We will start to look at the interesting history of the clubs in KwaZulu Natal, which have become an integral part of the traditions and heritage of the game in the province.

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