From The Vaults

09 March 2023
World’s Oldest International Match Footage

Stunning footage has been uncovered of the 1911 England v France Five Nations test-match. It shows the first time that France took the field at Twickenham and is believed to be the oldest footage of an international test match in existence.

The match took place on 28th January 1911, a little over a year after Twickenham had opened its turnstiles for the first time and it was only France's second season in the International Championship, that also included Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Though still a developing nation, Les Bleus had shocked the rugby world by defeating Scotland in Paris three weeks earlier. Captained by Stade Francais' Marcel Communeau, the side included half back combination Georges Peyroutou, of Périgueux, and Guillaume Laterrade of Tarbes, both of whom had scored tries against Scotland. Full back Xavier Dutour and wing Gilbert Charpentier were making their debuts, supported by an experienced pack, led by Communeau, who had played in every French test-match since their first in 1906.

England were led out by their captain John Birkett and fellow Harlequin Adrian Stoop. Having won the championship the previous year for the first time since 1892, they had plenty to defend. Their formidable pack included post-War captain Bruno Brown, Blackheath's Cherry Pillman, Jack King of Headingley and Norman Wodehouse of United Services.

England v France, 1911

Tries from Pillman and Danny Lambert provided England a not insurmountable 8-0 half-time lead. Disaster awaited France in the second half however, as Peyroutou, Laterrade and Dutour succumbed to injury and had to leave the field. In the days before substitutions this fatally weakened the visitors, and six additional English tries followed.

England eventually ran out 37-0 winners and it would be another 40 years before Les Bleus recorded their first victory at Twickenham, 11-3 in 1951.

Given the closeness to the Great War it is unsurprising that most of the 1911 players went on to serve in the Armed Forces. Of them, six lost their lives in the 1914-1918 War. Of the English side, Lambert died at the Battle of Loos, King, shown in the film passing the ball to his team-mate, fell leading a charge at the Battle of the Somme, while Len Haigh died of sickness. Of the French side, Pierre Guillemin and Marcel Legrain were killed within a week of one another outside Neuville-St-Vaast, in 1915, while fighter pilot Marcel Bergun was shot down and killed in 1916.

Naval officer Norman Wodehouse, who had captained England to a first Grand Slam in 1913, survived the First World War and came out of retirement to serve in the Second World War. He went down with his ship in 1941.