Old Dragons in the Varsity Rugby Match

1945 Varsity MatchThe Dragon has a strong reputation for rugby and has produced a string of international players and England captains. In a year in which two former pupils of the Dragon featured in the Varsity Rugby Match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities, it is fitting to recall the long tradition of Dragon involvement in the fixture throughout its one hundred and thirty year history.
(The image on the right shows four Old Dragons snapped at the 1945 Varsity Rugby Match)

Prior to this year’s match, twenty seven different ODs have played a Varsity match, and due to several of them having played in more than one Varsity match (indeed, four have played in three matches and eight have played in two), the Dragon has been represented a total of thirty times on the Varsity pitch. Four Dragons went on to captain a Varsity team – Ronnie Poulton (OD 1902), John Pearce (OD 1938), Philip Moore (OD 1934) and Giles Bullard (OD 1936) – and ten Dragons have been awarded Blues. A further nine Blues were awarded “Wartime” Blues in the unofficial matches held between 1940 and 1944. ODs have predominantly played for Oxford in the Varsity Match; only twice have Old Dragons represented Cambridge during the history of the Varsity Match. Brian Jones (OD 1937), whose grandson Gus, also an OD, played this year for Oxford, played for Cambridge in 1949, while James Foster (OD 1980) did so in 1988. It is not unusual for more than one Dragon to play in one Varsity match; like in 2012, two Dragons played in the 1927, 1947, 1949, 1950 and 1956 fixtures, four ODs played in the 1940 fixture, and three ODs were joined by an OD referee, Cyril Gadney, in the 1945 fixture.

The most notable of Dragon rugby players are Harry Vassall, Ronnie Poulton, Bernard Gadney and Cyril Gadney. Vassall – later known as ‘Jugs’ – was early connected to the Dragon through his friendship with influential Dragon headmaster, Charles (“Skipper”) Lynam, which was forged when Skipper played three-quarter under Vassall’s captaining of the Oxford University team in 1882-3. Vassall gained his first sporting ‘Blue’ during the 1879 Varsity Match, and went on to lead Oxford to victory in the 1881 Varsity match with a performance in which ‘picking up close to the line [he] went over like a traction engine’. He is recognised as one of the most important figures in the early development of rugby.

Ronald (‘Ronnie’) Poulton left the Dragon in 1902 and played for Oxford in three Varsity matches from 1909, captaining the last one. During the 1909 match, he led Oxford to victory by scoring five of the game’s nine tries. This remains the individual record for the fixture. Poulton went on to captain England in 1913/14 and was killed in the First World War, aged just twenty-five. He was one of the most notable players of his time, and considered by many contemporary observers as perhaps the greatest-ever attacking rugby union three-quarter.

Bernard Gadney left the Dragon in 1923 and was a scrum-half for England's rugby team in the 1930s.  He won 14 international caps, captaining the side eight times, and led England to win the Triple Crown in 1934, and to their first victory over New Zealand, in 1936.

Cyril Gadney, who left the Dragon in 1919, became an international rugby referee and was made President of the Rugby Football Union in 1962.

This year’s Varsity Match (2011) saw recent ODs Will Rowlands (OD 2005) and Gus Jones (OD 2007) bolstering the Oxford side in the fixture’s 130th incarnation, continuing on the long and proud tradition of Dragon Varsity players.