Rugby lovers over the last sixty years have been fortunate to grow up with a visual library of the great tries from the International Championship now readily available on video, DVD and YouTube. But what of the great tries of the pre-visual era which can only be recalled from grainy newspaper reports of long ago and, much more rarely, even grainier pre and post-World War One highlights footage from Pathe News?
The first Five Nations Championship took place in the 1909-10 season with the official arrival of France as one of the competing countries, but the original competition started in 1883, twelve years after the first international between Scotland and England, with the four home countries taking part in the tournament for the first time. The Twickenham and Murrayfield grounds had not yet been purchased but Lansdowne Road and Cardiff Arms Park were up and running and other grounds around the United Kingdom were being used for these increasingly popular contests.
From the championship in the closing years of the 19th century, some remarkable tries stand out from the pages of the sports journalists and historians. On March 3rd 1883 in a close-fought encounter at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh with the score tied at 3-all in the second half, the powerful Blackheath winger Wilfred Bolton in his first season of international rugby scored under the posts. It was his third try in three games and secured the Triple Crown and the title for England.
Two years later at Whalley Range, Manchester on February 7th 1885, Bolton was again the English hero. Ireland had won only one championship match but they took the lead with a try before England equalised similarly before half-time. Both conversions were missed so the second half opened with all to play for. With under fifteen minutes remaining Alan Rotherham made an incisive break and passed to Bolton now winning his ninth cap. Bolton's exceptional speed took him clear of the Irish defence and "he ran in amidst the wildest enthusiasm". His try proved decisive in England's victory by two tries to one.
Ireland at last broke their streak of 13 matches without a win on February 5th 1887 at Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Playing against a strong English side, the match was scoreless after 68 minutes but Ireland touched down two tries in the final twelve minutes to huge excitement among the 6,000 spectators. Charles Tillie on the right wing scored the first try and then left wing Robert Montgomery on his international debut crossed for the decisive second Irish try two minutes from time. Both tries were converted by Daniel Rambaut to give Ireland a thrilling and unexpected victory by two goals to nil.