England Rose
England Rose

England Rugby is the name of the English national rugby union team. They are the current World champions, having won the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup. They compete annually in the Six Nations Championship and have won that championship and its predecessors more times than any other side with the most Grand Slams.


Early History

They first played in 1871 against Scotland under Scottish rules (the RFU had not finished their first set of laws). The Scots won the game (played at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh and organised by Blackheath Rugby Club) by one goal to nil, but England beat them in a return match the next year. By 1882, games had been organised against both Ireland and Wales, and a Four Nations tournament began. England dominated until the great schism with Northern clubs that led to the founding of the Rugby League. Many of the strongest teams and players were lost and the national squad was weakened, and the Welsh became the dominant force in the Four Nations.

Meanwhile, the game had spread throughout the British Empire and tours to and from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa were organised. In 1905, a New Zealand team toured the British Isles, beating England 15 - 0. Two more tours followed in the next 20 years, by which time the All Blacks were seen to be the best team in the world.

England didn't do any better against other southern hemisphere opposition, drawing with South Africa in the first test between them in 1906, and losing to Australia in 1909. Although the French had been playing rugby since the 1870s, they were still a weak side and didn't join the Five Nations Championship until 1910. By then England were the dominant team both before and after the First World War and for much of the inter-war period. France remained poor, and in 1932 were forced out of the Five Nations tournament due to poor organisation and accusations of professionalism. Tests against southern hemisphere teams were rare, though in 1935 England memorably beat the dominant All Blacks, thanks in part to Obolensky's famous try.


France returned to the Five Nations Championship in 1939 though the Championship was postponed again until after the war. France gradually improved and finally won the tournament in 1959, and the following three years. The England team were winning the occasional tournament, yet failing to establish any kind of supremacy, apart from in the mid 1950s. The 1960s saw the first regular tests against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with the southern hemisphere teams winning the vast majority of them.

The 1970s did not see an improvement in English fortunes, with the Welsh team becoming unstoppable in their Golden Age of rugby. In 1971, the RFU's centenary year, England struggled to overcome Japan 6-3 in Tokyo. Yet England somehow managed to beat the southern teams, with victories over South Africa in 1972, New Zealand in 1973 and Australia in 1976, albeit losing twice to them in previous weeks.

The early 1980s saw Rugby Union become more of an international sport, and for the first time England played Romania, Japan and the United States. These were often the only teams that they beat as they lost more games than they won, despite Bill Beaumont’s Grand Slam win in 1980.

The mid 1980s were also not a great period for the England team. Coming into the last match of the 1988 season, against Ireland at Twickenham, they had lost 15 of their previous 23 matches in the Five Nations Championship. The Twickenham crowd had only seen one solitary England try in the previous two years and at half time against Ireland they were 0-3 down. During the second half the floodgates opened and England scored a remarkable six tries in a thumping 35-3 win. Three of the tries came in quick succession from Chris Oti, a black player making his Twickenham debut. A small section of the crowd started to sing a rugby club favourite – the gospel hymn ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ – in honour of their new hero. At the next home game, against Australia, a young centre named Will Carling made his debut as England captain in another rousing victory. The England team was about to embark upon a period of great success and ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ became synonymous with Twickenham and the England team.

In 1987 the first World Cup was held but England were knocked out by Wales in the quarter finals. In 1991 England lost to New Zealand in their pool, but defeated France in the quarter-finals and Scotland in the semi-final. After criticism for playing boring rugby dominated by forward play and kicking, Will Carling's team played a running game in the final against Australia but lost 12 - 6.

The Woodward Era

In the last decade of the century, the England team often had some of the best players, such as the Underwood brothers, Jeremy Guscott and Will Carling but were never a truly great team. In 1997 Clive Woodward became coach and England managed to draw with New Zealand at Twickenham. But after dozens of injuries to key players and others crying off, the abortive tour in Australia saw a drastically under-strength England record a humiliating 76 - 0 defeat to the Wallabies.

England narrowly failed to win the grand slam four times. In the 1999 Five Nations, England had won every game, but lost 32 - 31 to Wales. In 2000 England did all the hard work only to lose to Scotland at Murrayfield in the final game. The same happened in 2001 when they lost to Ireland at the last game at Lansdowne Road. In 2002, England were outplayed by the French.

However, England's fortunes began to change when a very young squad (captained by Phil Vickery) defeated a full-strength Argentina team in Buenos Aires in the summer. It came to be seen as a turning point in English rugby. In November, England successfully defeated the three giants of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa at Twickenham in three weeks.

In 2003 England continued to dominate and won the Grand Slam for the first time since 1995. This was followed by away victories over Australia and New Zealand. Going into the World Cup of 2003 they were justifiably favourites for the title and beat Australia by a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal in extra time.

After the World Cup win, a number of players, including captain Martin Johnson announced their retirements. England were unable to dominate the 2004 Six Nations tournament, losing to both France and Ireland.

At the end of August 2004, the captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, retired from Test rugby, and the coach, Sir Clive Woodward, resigned on September 2. They were replaced by Andy Robinson as coach and Jonny Wilkinson as captain.

Current players

The 2004/5 elite squad is:


They play in white shirts, white shorts, and black socks with white tops. The badge on the shirts is an emblem of a red rose, instead of the Three Lions of the football and cricket teams.


List of principal captains (others who have captained the side when these were injured are in parenthesis).


This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items.


List of players with 50+ caps

  1. Jason Leonard (114 caps)
  2. Rory Underwood (85 caps)
  3. Martin Johnson (84 caps)
  4. Lawrence Dallaglio (73 caps)
  5. Will Carling (72 caps)
  6. Richard Hill (flanker) (71 caps)
  7. Rob Andrew (71 caps)
  8. Neil Back (66 caps)
  9. Matt Dawson (65 caps)
  10. Mike Catt (65 caps)
  11. Jeremy Guscott (65 caps)
  12. Brian Moore (64 caps)
  13. Peter Winterbottom (58 caps)
  14. Wade Dooley (55 caps)
  15. Jonny Wilkinson (52 caps)
  16. Will Greenwood (52 caps)
  17. Kyran Bracken (51 caps)
  18. Austin Healey (51 caps)

Planet-Rugby has a listing by number of caps.

Other famous players

See also