A Brief History of Newport RFC 1874 - 2013

Real success is not only measured by results from match to match or even season to season. Newport Rugby Club has had many successful seasons but when one looks at what this club has achieved and contributed both to the game in Wales and world-wide they will see that it can rightfully claim to be one of the greatest rugby clubs in the world.

Newport Rugby Club was formed in 1874 and within 5 years they had 4 invincible seasons, played the first ever Anglo-Welsh club match with Blackheath and also had time to play the first ever "electric light" match at Newport in 1879 and they were to be one of the pioneers of floodlit rugby in Wales in the 1960's.

In 1889 they were founder members of the Welsh Rugby Union and provided the first ever Honorary Secretary Mr R Mullock who served from 1880 to 1892. Later they were to provide 3 Presidents.

Newport had phenomenal success on the field and in the 10 years that the South Wales Challenge Cup was run in the 1870's and 1880's Newport won it 5 times and were runners up on 2 occasions. Newport's success on the field meant they were often called upon to supply players to the Welsh team. Four Newport players played in Wales' first ever match vs England at Blackheath in 1881. Even the first ever Welsh captain James Bevan had played for Newport (and Cambridge University) that season. A Newport player, Tom Baker Jones, scored Wales' first ever try against Ireland in 1882. In 1892/3 Newport provided 9 players including captain Arthur Gould to help Wales beat Scotland 9-0. Newport have in fact provided 20 different players as captain of the Welsh team and have also provided captains for England, Ireland, Canada, Fiji and Czech Republic.

Newport became one of rugby's leading clubs and produced star players season after season. Early names include Tom Baker Jones, Arthur Boucher, Tom Graham, James Hannan, Wallace Watts etc. And then there was Arthur "Monkey" Gould who was certainly rugby's first super-star. He dominated the game in the latter part of the 19th century and one of his records - most tries in a season - still stands to this day. Arthur scored 37 tries in only 24 games in 1892/3 and a further 2 in unofficial matches. The record has stood for an incredible 118 yrs.

At the start of the 20th century, touring sides from the southern hemisphere became regular visitors to Rodney Parade, Newport and in 1912 Newport became the first ever club side to beat   Bill Millar's South African team and were presented with a Springbok head which stands proudly in Newport's trophy room today. This was the era of Walter Martin, JEC Partridge, Reg Plummer, Reg Skrimshire, Tom Smythe, Tom Vile etc. Skrimshire was Newport's first ever British Lion in 1903 and since that time they have provided a total of 31 players on overseas Lions tours . In 1910 Dr Tom Smythe was selected to captain the Lions to South Africa along with 6 fellow Newport players. In 1966 Newport's current President David Watkins captained the Lions in 2 tests in Australia / NZ.

After the Great War, Newport under captain Jack Wetter achieved yet another invincible season in 1922/3 and the years between the Wars saw  Vince Griffiths, George Andrews, Jerry Shea, Jack Morley, "Bunner" Travers and many others wear the Newport and Wales colours. After the Second World War a great side developed at Newport in the late 1940's and 1950's.This was the golden era of Roy Burnett, Ken Jones, Bryn Meredith and Malcolm Thomas and crowds in their thousands flocked to watch. The 1950's saw yet another innovation by Newport - the introduction of seven-a- side rugby in Wales. With great exponents of the game in the guise of Brian BJ Jones, Byn Meredith, Brian Price and David Watkins, Newport dominated the game winning 9 of the first 14 tournaments and being runners-up in another 3.

Oct 30th 1963 was to prove to be what many have claimed to be not only Newport's greatest achievement on the field but the greatest achievement of any rugby club side in the world. They were the only side to  beat the mighty 5th All Blacks. They had beaten the Wallabies in 1957 and so completed a memorable hat-trick over the 3 great Southern Hemisphere sides.

Success continued in the 1960's for Newport and Keith Jarrett, Brian Price, David Watkins and Stuart Watkins were just a few of the many players who became household names. Newport once again beat the Springboks in 1969 and although Newport won the Welsh Cup in 1977 as well as Sunday Telegraph Welsh and English / Welsh Pennants and the Welsh Merit Table there were to be some barren years ahead. Many players sort fame and fortune with other clubs and in the 1990's Newport struggled to come to terms with professionalism and it was only after the generous support of benefactor Tony Brown that Newport halted their decline in 1999. Since then the crowds have come back to watch Newport fight their way back to the top. They have been runners-up in the Premier League twice as well as once again winning the Welsh Cup in 2001. Rodney Parade has seen international super-stars such as Shane Howarth, Gary Teichmann and Percy Montgomery wearing Black & Amber and there have been many memorable European Cup games. Once again there was turmoil in Welsh rugby with the introduction of regional sides but when the Welsh Premier League went semi-professional in 2003/4 Newport RFC duly won it in style losing only 2 matches.They have since been runners-up twice.

Statistics don't tell the full story but when one sees that they have won:

  • the Welsh Championship 11 times,
  • South Wales Challenge Cup 5 times,
  • Welsh Cup 2 times,
  • Snelling Sevens 10 times,
  • beaten South Africa (twice), Australia, New Zealand and Tonga,
  • provided 20 Welsh Captains, 31 British Lions, captains of England, Ireland, Canada, Fiji and Czech Rep and over 150 different Welsh internationals

...then they can justifiably claim to be one of the greatest club sides in the world. Newport Rugby club can look back with satisfaction at what they have achieved both on and off the field.

Mike Dams, Newport RFC Historian.

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