Mythical Silverware

by ‘Fun On The Shore’

The 6 Nations comes to a climax this weekend with 3 teams going for the title. However there is also a world championship at stake in one of those matches. If you hadn’t heard about it there is an alternative world rugby championship that is ongoing and has never stopped since 1871. The Raeburn Shield is rarely mentioned in the media, it’s a mythical trophy that doesn’t physically exist, yet. There again, there was no 5 Nations trophy until 1993 or Triple Crown until 2006, yet they were revered and craved by players and fans alike, so this title should be no less important, it just needs exposure and support from fans to keep it alive.

The Raeburn Shield is a challenge trophy which is perpetually on offer and defended by whomever the holders are in every single test they play. It works rather like boxing’s championship belts, (but without the confusing multiple versions). The current holders are Wales who won it by beating Ireland who in turn picked it up from the Springboks during their 10 match winning streak. The Raeburn Shield never stops for long however, so expect it to move again soon, especially in World Cup year. (1999 saw it held by 6 different nations in 30 days) The Webb Ellis Cup winner will undoubtedly win the Raeburn Shield during the tournament too but holding on to the Shield is much tougher as it is up for grabs in every match the holder plays, be it a friendly or part of another tournament.

The Shield was the brainchild of some genius fans who had the idea and researched rugby results from every holder since the first ever test between Scotland & England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh in March 1871 (hence the name). Scotland won that day and became the original holders, England won it the following year in 1872, Ireland joined in in 1887 and Wales in 1888. South Africa got their mitts on it during their tour of 1906 before New Zealand finally won it in 1921. The All Blacks have held it by far the longest (no shock there) but here is the best thing, the Raeburn Shield is not the sole preserve of the established rugby superpowers. Teams like France have a knack of taking it off teams like the All Blacks in one off tests before collapsing against lesser teams soon after. Japan won the Shield in 2013 against a Welsh team depleted of it’s British & Irish Lions, offering local teams in the Pacific Region a chance to challenge for it (if only they’d known). In total 12 nations have held this unknown world championship including Samoa, Romania, Argentina and Japan. Italy have never held the Raeburn Shield, yet they probably are not even aware that they are pulling on their boots for a world championship this weekend.

Scotland vs England  at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh in March 1871

Some years ago the Raeburn Shield organisers contacted the then IRB, offering it as a concept but the powers that be were not interested. I guess unions already have sponsors in place for the meaningless, drab ‘EA Sports Generic Style’ trophies that have appeared between nations in the past decade or so such as the James Cook Cup, James Bevan Cup, Guiseppe Garribaldi Cup, Millennium Cup and other trophies that 90% of the people who read this simply will not be able to name who the current holders are without Google.

I like the Calcutta Cup and the Bledisloe Cup, these have history and are therefore worth something. But if history, myths and legends still have value in the modern game then the Raeburn Shield has these in bucketloads. It simply needs recognition, it needs interest from the fans, I couldn’t care less if it has a physical trophy or a corporate sponsor, but wouldn’t Italy have more to play for against Wales in Rome if they knew what was at stake? I know there is no room for sentimentality in the modern professional game but there is always room for romance, especially in test rugby.

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