Royal Mail issued a set of eight stamps on October 19 to celebrate the passion of rugby union, marking the 150th anniversaries of the formation of the Rugby Football Union and the first international match.

The dynamic designs feature famous players and iconic moments in key international matches within living memory, giving equal billing to the four nations of the British Isles.

They also give equal coverage to the men’s and women’s games, even though the first Women’s Home Nations Championship was staged as recently as 1996.

Played by 10 million people in 124 countries, rugby union is becoming an ever more inclusive sport, and almost three million of those competitors are now female.

Rugby-like sports, in which teams wrestle for possession of a ball and carry it forward towards the opponent’s line, have been popular for thousands of years. But the rules varied until 21 English clubs met in London in January 1871, to form the Rugby Football Union and agree a universal set of laws. 

A few weeks later England met Scotland in Edinburgh in the first international match, with Scotland winning by one goal to nil (a converted try being the only way to score a point at the time).

The Scottish Rugby Union was founded in 1873, the Irish Rugby Football Union (which manages the sport across the entire island) in 1879, and the Welsh Rugby Union in 1881.

Royal Mail worked closely with all four governing bodies on selecting the images for the stamp, which are based on photographs but with selective colourisation against a monochrome background. Not only are various players recognisable, but at least one in each image has been named by Royal Mail.

Designed by True North, they were printed in litho by International Security Printers, and are available in four se-tenant pairs.

2nd class Women’s Rugby World Cup Final, 2014

After defeat in three successive finals, England won the Women’s World Cup by beating Canada 21-9. Pictured with the ball is one of the try-scorers, Emily Scarratt.

2nd class Five Nations Championship, 1970

A 17-13 victory over England marked the start of a glorious era in Welsh rugby, with a side featuring all-time greats such as JPR Williams, pictured scoring a try.

1st class Women’s Six Nations Championship, 2015

Needing to win to secure the Six Nations title, a rampant Ireland ran in 11 tries to beat Scotland 73-3. Pictured running powerfully through the defence is Sophie Spence.

1st class Five Nations Championship, 1984

Scotland won the Five Nations Championship outright for the first time since 1938 when they beat Ireland 32-9. Pictured carrying the ball is Roy Laidlaw, the scorer of two tries.

£1.70 Women’s Home Nations Championship, 1998

Scotland completed a five-year journey from novices to being the best team in Europe with an 8-5 win over England. Pictured (far left) is their captain Kim Littlejohn.

£1.70 Five Nations Championship, 1994

Ireland upset the odds to beat England 13-12 at Twickenham. Pictured is Simon Geoghegan, who scored a brilliant try, inspiring a new generation of outstanding players.

£2.55 Women’s Six Nations Championship, 2009

A last-minute penalty helps Wales beat England for the first time, by a score of 16-15, and win the Triple Crown. Pictured running with the ball is captain Melissa Berry.

£2.55 Rugby World Cup Final, 2003

England become the first northern hemisphere country to win the World Cup, beating Australia 20-17. Pictured is Jonny Wilkinson, whose five successful kicks were crucial.

 

OTHER PRODUCTS

Written by sports journalist Richard Rae, the presentation pack looks back at the history of the sport, and of the four home nations’ governing bodies. Stamp cards and a first day cover are available as usual.

 

PRICES

Set of 8 stamps   £11.52

Presentation pack   £12.40

Stamp cards   £3.60

First day cover   £14.50

 

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   4/5

It’s great to see British stamps concentrating on aspects of British culture, but why omit the first 100 years?

QUALITY OF DESIGN   3/5

The design approach is an effective way of bringing sports action to life, now that depicting living people is commonplace

WOW FACTOR   4/5

Rugby fans from all four corners of Britain will sit up and take notice