December 13 down the years
When 20 men became 15
Beauty and the ... © PA Photos

Oxford and Cambridge trialled a innovation when the Varsity match at Kennington Oval became the first major rugby game to be played between teams of 15 with a more open contest ending in a narrow Oxford victory. Previously matches were 20-a-side, with 13 forwards complemented by three halfbacks, one three-quarter and three fullbacks. The number of players was officially reduced from 20 to 15 in 1877.

As rugby players started to become celebrities in their own right, Mike Tindall was more often to be found on the gossip pages as his romance with Zara Phillips bloomed. On this day he told the Daily Star he had the approval of her mother, Princess Anne, who he said was "very down to earth". The pair married in 2011.

The British Lions announced a ban on WAGS staying with the team after coach Ian McGeechan said he did not want the tour to South Africa to become a media circus. The prospect of sharing accommodation with Phillips, Charlotte Church and the ubiquitous Kelly Brook clearly did not appeal.

Ireland staged their first home Test. In a 20-a-side match and at a time before scoring by points was introduced, England won by a goal (and two tries) to nil on the Leinster Cricket Ground in Rathmines. Games were decided on goals scored - a goal was awarded for a successful conversion after a try, for a dropped goal or for a goal from mark. Ireland's early Test record was a sorry one and they did not win their first Test until 1881 when they ended a run of 10 defeats by beating Scotland in Belfast.

One of the last vestiges of amateurism died when Will Carling signed a £36,000-a-year contract with the RFU, turning down an offer reported to be worth six times that amount to join am Australian-based rebel circuit. "If you look at their contract, basically they own you lock, stock and barrel," he said. "They can tell you where to play, when to play and everything else that goes with it and that does not appeal to me."

The first national sponsorship for women's rugby in England was revealed with Vladivar Vodka backing the national cup. At the launch England hooker Brian Moore said that he had seen women play and "they are physically equipped to play this game".

Ex-Sale flanker David Tait died with reports suggesting that he fell from an apartment block in Hong Kong.

A (then) record aggregate of 41 points were scored in a gripping Varsity match at Queen's Club in West Kensington. Welshman Billy Geen (a hat-trick) and the great Ronnie Poulton (two) scored tries for Oxford who won 23-18.

The touring Wallabies escaped with a last-minute win against Swansea. Wing Kevin Bourke crossed for the try that fullback Brian Piper converted to give them an 11-8 victory at St Helen's.


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