From The Vaults

04 November 2022
The Birth of Championship Rugby in Argentina

In the year 1899, the first club rugby championship was played in Argentina. This article by Eduardo García Sáenz is a tribute to the players, their families, and their clubs, for the vision put into action, in 1899.

Five Clubs participated:

  • Lomas Athletic Club (formed in 1891)
  • Rosario Athletic Club (today Club Atlético del Rosario, formed in 1867)
  • Belgrano Athletic Club (formed in 1896)
  • Buenos Aires Football Club (today Buenos Aires Cricket & Rugby Club, formed in 1864)
  • Flores Athletic Club (today dissolved)

The Buenos Aires Football Assembly of 7 April 1899, chaired by Leslie William Corry-Smith, met and decided on the formation of the union and ongoing championship. 

The tournament would include four teams from the city of Buenos Aires, who would play each other, before Rosario AC and the Montevideo Cricket Club (formed in 1861), travelled to Buenos Aires to contest the semi-finals. In the end the Uruguayan side was unable to gather enough players and so withdrew.

The inaugural fixture took place on Thursday 11 May 1899, in the small town of Lomas de Zamora, headquarters of Lomas AC, where the home side defeated Buenos Aires FC, 11-4.

Flores Athletic Club were then defeated at home by Belgrano Athletic Club, 16-0, in both sides first ever matches. Flores followed this up, on Sunday 28 May, with another home defeat to Buenos Aires FC, 24-0.

On 1 June in Belgrano AC (at Virrey del Pino n° 3456, district of Belgrano, city of Buenos Aires) Belgrano Athletic C lost to Buenos Aires FC, 24-3.

Lomas AC then defeated Flores AC 15-5 on their home ground on 4 June.

On 11 June 11, Lomas suffered their first defeat, 11-8, to Buenos Aires FC, the first official victory in the history of "Bi Ei" (nickname of Buenos Aires FC).

On 18 June, Belgrano AC defeated Flores AC 17-3 at home. Belgrano AC's first home victory.

Buenos Aires FC beat Flores Athletic Club, 14-0 on 24 June then on 25 June 25 in Belgrano, Belgrano AC defeated Lomas AC, 3-0.

On 2 July, in Lomas, Buenos Aires FC lost to Belgrano Athletic Club 5-3.

On Sunday 9 July 9, on the day of the Independence of the Argentine Republic, Lomas AC defeated Flores AC 18-0.

Finally on Sunday 16 July 16, in Lomas, Lomas AC defeated Belgrano Athletic C, 10-3.

After having lost to Belgrano AC in the round robin, Lomas AC turned the tables by defeating them 16-0 at the Flores AC ground, to book their place in the final. Perhaps impacted by the extent of their travel, Buenos Aires succumbed to a 11-0 defeat to Rosario AC and the side from Santa Fe progressed to the final.

The final itself took place on 30 July 30 at Flores AC (at district of Caballito, city of Buenos Aires) and the teams were as follows:

Lomas Athletic Club: S.Mohr Bell, H.B. Anderson, A. Anderson, A.J. MacMorran, H.A. Cowes, H. Mohr Bell, C.W. Rower, F.H. Jacobs (captain), E.H. Liversegde, H.P Wright, T.R.L. Abbott, A.A. Miller, C.H. Campbell, H. Smiles and Franck Chevalier Boutell.

Rosario Athletic Club: G. Smythies, F.W. Boardman (captain), H. Colson, Hebert Dorning, E.M. Pixton, R. Dorning, George Edward Topping, J.A.H. Beaumont, C.B. Bradbury, E. Glover, F.C.M. Imthurn, L. Jacobs, Edward Charles Jewell, P.W. Pixton and A.F.E. Willcox. (Other members of the Rosario team: F. Watt, J. Arnett, A.J. Sykes, A.W. Topping)

The game was tight from the beginning to the end but was settled by a free-kick from Lomas captain F.H. Jacobs. His magnificent goal gave his side a 3-0 victory and the Lomas Athletic Club were crowned champions.

The new union underwent several name changes before becoming the present: Union Argentina de Rugby.

1899-1907 The River Plate Rugby Union Championship
1908-1930 The River Plate Rugby Union
1931-1951 River Plata Rugby Union
From 29 November 29 1951 Union Argentina de Rugby

Flores Athletic Club disbanded after the tournament and did not compete for the Challenger Cup again. They remained a force in polo however, after winning the championship at the Hurlingham Club in 1894. Of their championship side, Frederick James Bennett was an outstanding rugby footballer (wing three quarters) and went on to play for Buenos Aires Football Club. He born in Ingestone, at the village of Foy, Herefordshire, England.

About the Author - Eduardo García Sáenz played for Marist Brothers Club (1975-79) and coached the Argentina national sides at under 19 and 21 level (1979-80). Since then he has worked as a radio commentator, television and newspaper columnist. He has written extensively about the history of rugby, football and polo in Argentina. Eduardo welcomes correspondence and can be contacted by email or on Twitter.