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The first red card in international Rugby Union

January 25, 2022 2 min read

If you watch all the top tier games over a weekend, you are more likely to see a red card than not. Its all about protecting the players and is rightly rigid, however, player safety didn't always follow such strict protocols. In fact, the first international red card took over a decade to be brandished by a referee.

So who was the original naughty boy to warrant a punishment never seen before?

The very first red card was given to a Welshman. How ironic. Willie Thomas was the recipient on March 13th 1881. He was playing against Scotland at Edinburgh. The match only lasted 15 minutes before it had to be abandoned after a brawl broke out, with punches being thrown by both sides. At that time international red cards were not a thing. Obviously the players hadn't read the rulebook before they got to the match.

The Welsh team had been involved in another fight during their previous encounter against England, but there was no red card issued then. Thomas himself had also become involved in a brawl with his club team mate Joseph "Buller" Stadden, when the two were representing Swansea at rugby against Llanelli.

Ironically, Willie Thomas was also a referee. After he retired from playing in 1886, he took up his whistle duties once again to officiate at Newport v Aberavon in 1892. His last game as an official was between Wales and Ireland in 1896.

A mere 6 years later, more players were sent off in Scotland vs England on 6-0 March 16,1887. Scot Tom Graham became the second player to get his marching orders when he was black carded for kicking England's George Gresham while he lay on the ground. He had to be escorted off by policemen in order to keep the game civil.

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