Experimental Line-up against Gloucester in 1884


‘A special occasion demands a special tailpiece, and I’m indebted to distinguished journalist Wyn Rees for providing just the right one.

On February 2nd 1884, at the Arms Park, Cardiff changed the face of Rugby Union Football. And they did it while playing against Gloucester.

The usual format, in those days, was to play a scrum half, two ‘fly-halves’ and three three-quarters. Apparently, Cardiff only really had three acknowledged backs of this sort, which caused them some embarrassment when travelling to Cheltenham College, because one of their stalwarts wasn’t able to travel.

Cardiff solved the problem by picking up a young West Country player called Frank Hancock. English he may have been, but he still gained four caps for Wales – the first being that very season – and indeed, captained both Cardiff and Wales.

Young Hancock was good. So very good, in fact, that for the Gloucester game they decided to play four three quarters. This was the first time that the left and right wing, plus two centres, had been seen.

The experiment was successful, and although there was some controversy about it for a while, the formation became adopted very widely indeed. In fact, the only exception I can think of is the All Black ‘five eighth’ arrangement.

Here are two interesting sidelines. One is that the match ended in a scoreless draw, which doesn’t seem appropriate. The other is that Frank Hancock came from a well-known Somerset brewing family, which for a club based in the city where they brew Brains Bitter, seems entirely appropriate.

So there you are. A little bit of rugby history from the annals of the Gloucester-Cardiff fixtures.

Well – in its own, rather more minor way, tonight’s game can be said to be a turning point too, marking as it does, the official demise of the old Worcester Street changing quarters which have been a second home to so many great Gloucester players.

It all seems very fitting, somehow.’

Peter Arnold

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