In the evolution of the game the four-half-back line
stands as the Welsh contribution to Rugby. Its inception has been attributed
to an inspiration on the part of A. J. Gould, the great Welsh player, who,
as the apostle of the new doctrine, had to preach and labour long before he
saw his work accomplished. As early as 1886 Wales had tried the line of four
against Scotland, but, finding the reduction in the number of forwards
dangerous, Gould, who had started in the half-back line, was transferred to
the full-back position, whence the occupant went into the scrummage. Wales
had a horror of Scottish forwards.
In most of the earlier games, popular opinion of the
Welsh teams was that they could make a stand for about half an hour, and
that they then 'cracked up.' Scotland won the first match in tolerably easy
fashion. The pitch was hard and treacherous after frost, and very early in
the game J. G. Walker twisted a knee and was out of football for the
remainder of the season. Scotland played two half-backs, W. E. Maclagan and
D. J. M'Farlan, behind A. R. Don Wauchope and W. Sorley Brown. D. Y. Cassels
was captain, and had with him in the pack C. Reid, T. Ainslie, W. A. Walls,
and J. B. Brown among a good all-round division.
The next season at Newport A. G. G. Asher dropped a goal
and T. Ainslie scored a try. J. P. Veitch, John Tod, and W. A. Peterkin were
included in a strong Scottish team, which contained Asher and A. R. Don
Wauchope at quarter and W. E. Maclagan, D. J. M'Farlan, and G. C. Lindsay at
half-back. After a draw on a muddy pitch at Glasgow, where the Welshmen were
taking no risks, the series up to 1893 continued in a somewhat conventional
groove, with the exception of a couple of remarkable occurrences in 1887 and
In the 1887 match Scotland ran up the enormous score of 4
goals and 8 tries. I have a clear recollection of that game, which was
remarkable for the flights, successful and unsuccessful, of G. C. Lindsay,
who in all crossed the Welsh line on five occasions. I remember, too, that
although the team contained C. W. Berry and other reputed expert
place-kickers, many easy attempts ended in failure, and as a last resort A.
W. Cameron (Watsonians) was called up from full-back, and he, as others had
done before him, 'sent down a wide.'
G. C. Lindsay's performance remains as an individual
Scottish International record. It is of more merit than modern performances
in so far that as one of a line of three he had more to do than merely run.
The passing game was well established, but it was rarely worked to the
advantage of the wing players as it is done in the present line of four.
In the Loretto team which won the championship of
1881-82, Lindsay was the schoolboy back of his year. He went into the Oxford
University fifteen as a notable addition to the scoring strength of the
team, and was fast enough to be chosen as one of the representatives in the
hundred yards race against Cambridge. Speed was only an adjunct to his
football. It was his vivacity, cleverness, and dash that contributed most to
his effectiveness. He had no defence. On principle he did not believe in it.
A confirmed heretic on the defensive theory, he went out and out for attack.
From an opponent's point he was a most dangerous man. Spectators considered
him an entertainment and a beautiful player.
To transform a defeat of 4 goals and 8 tries into a
victory the following year represented a most unusual occurrence, partaking
of the nature of a convulsion. Following the debacle at Raeburn Place, Wales
won the 1888 match at Newport by a try scored by T. J. Pryce Jenkins (London
Welsh) from a run remarkable in that a goodly part of its course was in
touch. Some of the Scottish defenders allowed him to go, and although his
tracks were quite discernible, he got his try.
Scotland were not so fortunate. Five times the ball was
touched down for a try over the Welsh line, and on each occasion it was
disallowed. They were still fighting adversity and hoping that a sixth
appeal on numeric grounds, if on no other, could not be withstood when time
was called. That was the first Welsh triumph over Scotland.
The coming of the four three-quarters, or halfbacks, as
they were then termed, marks one of the epochs in the history of the game.
Wales had been experimenting with the system, but until England were beaten
at Dewsbury in 1890 the departure had not awakened more than a passive or
academic interest in the other countries, and its adoption and general
acceptance among the Welshmen themselves still hung in the balance.
Before dealing with the 1893 Welsh International, which
clinched the argument as far as Scotland is concerned, I might perhaps quote
some extracts from the Scottish Athletic Journal, in a discussion in
which I happened to be personally concerned, and which will convey some
conception of the state of the Rugby mind on the subject at that time.
A. R. Don Wauchope wrote: 'I have always been a strong
opponent of this "new" game. . . . Beat them well forward, and you have the
game won. Many forwards play as if the half-backs (three-quarters) were the
only real players on the side; consequently they never do their own share of
the play. Swing the scrummage, then it is that the backs get a real chance,
and then it is that the opposing backs are run over by the forwards. If our
Scottish forwards will play their own good game I should not have any doubt.
Forwards who are continually trying to play for their backs will invariably
C. Reid, who at the time of writing had given up playing,
characteristically summed up the situation thus : ' Give me a forward team
like that we had at Manchester in 1882, and I don't care how many
three-quarter backs you have; we could go through them. We dribbled very
close, and one backed up the other so well they could not get away, and they
had fliers like Bolton against us. Dribbling and tackling are the
characteristics of the Scottish forwards, and on them we depend to win.'
The opinion of R. G. MacMillan, one of the finest
forwards who ever played for Scotland, was: 'As to the influence of the
Welsh system on Scottish forwards, I consider it will be deteriorating, as
they will lose all their old dash. I don't say there should be no heeling
out, but as the game stands at present the attention of the forwards is
entirely given up to it. The older players may be able to stick to the old
genuine game which they learned at the schools, but the younger ones will
not be taught to put down their heads and shove, and will shirk and become
H. T. O. Leggatt, the famous Watsonian forward, said: 'My
opinion of the four-half-back system generally is that it is much showier,
and, therefore, more attractive to the spectators. The passing is easily
spoiled when the tackling is determined and vigorous. I prefer the Scottish
style, undoubtedly, for this substantial reason: The Watsonians, who play
essentially a Scottish game, played, under unequal conditions, the strongest
Newport fifteen, who are acknowledged to be facile princeps in the
four-three-quarter game, and morally beat them. I think the Scottish
forwards would lose their strong points, rushes and footwork, if they
adopted the Welsh system.'
The Newport team referred to contained seven
International players, and was regarded as the perfection of the Welsh game,
and invincible in club football. Reference to the Watsonian-Newport match in
question will be found in its appropriate place under Club Football.
Scotland stood at the parting of the ways. On the one
hand, we had a style of play peculiarly national and Scottish, well adapted
to the conditions in Scotland, and admirably suited to the temperament and
upbringing of the players. Forward play was a Scottish heritage. It was
Scotland's contribution to Rugby football. Even such a great exponent of
back play as A. R. Don Wauchope said, ' Keep your forward play.' On the
other hand, the fear of jeopardising International prospects, and the dread
of being left behind in the apparent march of progress, hung like the sword
of Damocles over Scotland's head.
We joined in with the mob. Whether we were right or
wrong, or whether we should have stood firm and forced our game upon the
others, does not admit of more than a conjectural answer, and it is too late
now to turn back the hands of the clock. The only certainty about it all is
that in accepting the new game Scotland bartered her heritage, and
henceforward there was nothing left in Rugby that was exclusively or
If it had been known that proficiency in the
four-three-quarter system entailed assiduous and intensive practice,
coaching, rehearsal, and training, I doubt whether it would ever have
obtained a footing in Scotland. During the years of 'Welsh ascendancy,' when
the prospects of challenge seemed hopeless, the advantages lay far more in
the preparatory functions than in the formation of the teams, and the host
of great Welsh players of the time owed much of their superiority to
comparison with novices in the inner requirements of the Welsh game.
Time has dispelled that early advantage and obliterated
the distinction. Schoolboys are all now trained in the Welsh game. That they
are better players, or that the straining after unity and perfection of
combination has not had a deteriorating effect on the individual, even so
far as self-reliance is concerned, are questions of a debatable character.
To all who remember the old Scottish forward game the accuracy of the
prognostications dreading deterioration of the forward play will appear
In the demonstration of 1893 the Scotsmen were not well
placed for a critical test. All round, the team were rather under than over
the normal strength, and, owing to an unusually long spell of frost, the
players were not in good physical condition. The backs—A. W. Cameron ; D. D.
Robertson, Gregor MacGregor, and J. J. Gowans; and R. C. Greig and W.
Wotherspoon—compared unfavourably with many former Scottish back divisions.
R. G. MacMillan, H. T. O. Leggatt, W. B. Cownie, G. T. Neilson, W. R.
Gibson, H. F. Menzies, A. Dalgleish, T. L. Hendry, and J. N. Millar formed a
strong pack, whose failure to beat the Welsh forwards, playing a man less,
was largely attributable to want of condition.
No scoring occurred in the first half of the game, and
general expectations were to the effect that the Welsh team would 'crack up'
in the second half. Instead of that, the play opened out, and we had the
finest exhibition of sustained handling, passing, and running that had been
seen in an International match. The Welsh wings were occupied by two fast
men, W. M. M'Cutcheon and N. Biggs; A. J. Gould and his brother, G. H.
Gould, were in the centre; and F. C. Parfitt and P. Phillips were the
'quarters.' The younger Gould and M'Cutcheon worked out a try very prettily.
A. J. Gould was playing clever football in the centre, and controlling the
back play thoroughly. Another passing movement brought a try to Biggs.
Bancroft dropped a goal, and the cup was full to overflowing when M'Cutcheon
ran round and laid the ball behind the posts.
The Scottish forwards had worked hard and seemed to be
denied a good try scored by H. F. Menzies (West of Scotland). But they had a
heartbreaking experience, and even when they bore down on Bancroft in a body
and seemed sure to smother him, that acrobatic member in most unorthodox
fashion met the falling ball with his foot ere it reached the ground, and
kicked it back over the heads of the advancing mass.
I can still hear the sharp ejaculation of a
Mer-chistonian bystander: 'That's not football,' and the equally prompt
Welsh rejoinder : ' No, that's Banky.' That was the older and the great
Bancroft. His play did not conform to Scottish ideas of the requirements of
full-back position. Still he was wonderfully clever, and in nothing more
than in the manner in which he initiated or participated in an attack. Two
years later, Scotland, leading by a goal, were being hard pressed, when W.
M. C. M'Ewan made his mark almost on the line. His lofty punt was caught
before finding touch by the waiting Bancroft, who made a straight line into
the centre, whence he dropped a goal. In a rather unsatisfactory match the
numeric difference in value between the two goals was all that separated the
teams. A. J. Gould, when it was all over, was an annoyed, if not an angry
man. The pitch, after frost, was hardly fit for play. Before they had long
started, the clatter of feet sounded very ominous. When the result hung in
the balance, Gould saw a possible chance of winning the match and darted
through a gap in the Scottish three-quarter line. Thus far he got and no
farther, for in the next stride or two, in endeavouring to change his
course, the slippery ground took the feet from him. There is no question as
to 'Monk' Gould being a great player. I do not know that he could have stood
up in a hurricane and sustained attack as W. E. Maclagan and H. J. Stevenson
would have done, though his abilities extended much beyond the limit of the
'winning game' type of player. Years afterwards, when I heard Welshmen extol
Gwynne Nichols as the greatest of all Welsh three-quarters, I thought they
could never have seen or known Gould. Three years
later than the match referred to, the famous Welshman became the storm
centre in an International convulsion which interrupted the
Scottish series of matches with Wales during the years 1897 and 1898. The
trouble arose through the largeness of the public subscription raised, and
the form of the testimonial proposed to be presented, by the Welsh football
community to Gould on his retirement. The sum, approaching £1000, was
regarded as too large, and the investment of the money, in the purchase of a
dwelling-house, could not be reconciled with the retention of Gould's status
as an amateur. Scotland, as usual, was blamed for raising the dust, but if
the fabric of amateurism is to be kept clean, the use of the broom is not to
be hindered by the risk of soiled fingers.
The further story of Scottish relationship with Wales
differs from that with the other countries in so far that while Scotland
appeared to be meeting England and Ireland on conditions of comparative
equality, a period dating from about the beginning of the century and
continuing until the year of the outbreak of war witnessed such an eclipse
of Scottish football as to engender a feeling almost of hopelessness of ever
attaining the standard of the Welshmen. England was no more immune, and
scarcely less was Ireland. When in 1906 Wales alone, of the four countries,
beat the 'All Blacks,' Welsh football appeared to have reached the peak of
perfection, and her rivals could do little more than endeavour to assimilate
her teaching and copy the model that had been set up. These were the years
of ' Welsh ascendancy.' I do not think
that this predominance was due to the birth in Wales of a
race of phenomenal players. Rather was it the product of an intensive system
of practice, preparation, and training already referred to.
After the 1901 victory, Scotland beat Wales at Inverleith
in 1903 and 1907, and lost the remaining matches up to the war interval. The
position is even more emphasised when it is realised that until 1921
Scotland had not won in Wales since 1892.
Wales has been an impoverished country since the
resumption, and Scotland has been rapidly making up leeway. The flicker of a
revival presented itself in 1922 when Wales routed England at Cardiff by the
strength of her forward play, for about the first time in history.
Immediately the cry arose that Wales had introduced something new and more
potent than anything hitherto known in that department of the game. Scottish
scepticism was justified in a draw snatched by Wales at the last gasp at
Inverleith, and since then the home section have witnessed one Welsh debacle
in 1924 reminiscent of the old times of the 'eighties, and has seen Welsh
national football descend to quite the primitive level. That it will revive,
and soon, may be hoped in the interests of Rugby in general. There is no
manner of doubt that the game, as played at present, is the Welsh model
moulded and polished on the base of the four-three-quarter system introduced
by Wales early in the 'nineties.