What is the Calcutta Cup?
The Calcutta Cup is one of rugby’s most famous trophies and has a long, original and unusual history within the sport that makes it different from other trophies. But what is the Calcutta Cup, and how did it earn its name?
The Calcutta Cup is awarded to the winner of rugby matches between England and Scotland that takes place during the Six Nations Championship. Interestingly, the award predates the Six Nations (previously known as the Home Nations from 1883) and is the oldest trophy awarded in the championships.
The Origin of the Calcutta Cup
Calcutta Rugby Club was established in India by members of Rugby School in 1873, and by 1874, the club had become an official member of the Rugby Football Union (RFU). Unfortunately, the club was forced to close after only 5 years established in the country due to a number of reasons. These included:
- The increasing popularity of other sports including polo and cricket that were better suited to India’s warm, dry climate.
- Lack of new blood and fresh players to the sport
- The departure of the local British Army Regiment
- A less likely but nonetheless humourous reason - the cancellation of the free bar at the club during this time.
Consequently, the club was disbanded in 1878, but members wanted to keep the club’s memory alive. To do this, they withdrew the last of the club’s funds of around 270 silver rupees (around £60) and had these coins melted down into the trophy we know and love today.
The trophy was lovingly presented to the RFU to be used however they pleased as “the best means of doing some lasting good for the cause of Rugby Football.” It is a historic reminder of the core values of the sport; sportsmanship, respect, and enjoyment. They decided in the interests of professionalism, that it should be presented to the victor of an international game.
At the time, only England, Ireland and Scotland had national sides. Ireland, a major player in the Six Nations, was a small team that had limited success, with not a single point scored during their international games during the 1870s. Consequently, it was decided that the cup would be awarded to the winner of matches between England and Scotland.
Why are Wales and Ireland still unable to win the Calcutta Cup?
There was a brief debate over whether Wales and Ireland should be eligible to win the trophy. When both teams grew in strength, there was a movement between 1895-1900 that campaigned for either team to be able to win the trophy should they win the Home Series.
However, by this time, the trophy winners were already common knowledge, and the idea that the award should be presented to either England or Scotland had already captured the imagination of the general public. It was decided that the winner would always be either England or Scotland.
Why is there an Elephant on the Calcutta Cup?
The cup is extremely elaborate, etched with 3 king cobras that form the handles of the trophy. It also has a circular lid and an Indian elephant sitting atop the trophy. This is due to the cup’s Indian history, and also that fact that the workmanship was Indian. It is also rumoured that the elephant was copied from the possessions of the Governor General of India.
The trophy is engraved with the title ‘The Calcutta Cup’, and the date each game was played, the winning country and both names of the team captains also feature on the award.
The Retirement of the Calcutta Cup
Twickenham Rugby Museum is now the home of the original Calcutta Cup after the trophy sustained significant damage over the years and is now unable to be transported. This includes a famous incident in 1988, where the players were caught using the trophy as a rugby ball down the streets of Edinburgh.
Instead, both teams have a replica of the 18-inch award which can be displayed when each team wins. Whilst the original trophy was made by Indian craftsman, the replicas have been made using modern technology.
As of 2019, 126 Calcutta Cup matches have been played. The most recent winners and current holders of the trophy are Scotland from their win in 2018. England’s draw against Scotland in 2019 means that Scotland still retains the Calcutta Cup.
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