RAFRU History

History

The Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918 and the airmen were keen to have the opportunity to play high level rugby and to compete against the soldiers and sailors on the rugby field at the earliest opportunity. However when the young RAF Rugby Union Honorary Secretary, Flight Lieutenant William Wavell Wakefield (England, Harlequins and a Conservative politician - later Lord Wakefield of Kendal) tried to arrange fixtures against the other two Services, the Army agreed but initially the Royal Navy did not. Following a great deal of discussion the sailors acquiesced but refused to award caps for the encounter, although they did for their annual game with the Army. When the Chief of the Air Staff, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir (later Lord) Trenchard got to hear about this he mentioned it to the pro-RAF King George V; the King then summoned the First Sea Lord and put him on the spot by saying "I would like to know more about this insult to my Royal Air Force". Needless to say the issue was rapidly resolved and the Tri-Service tournament came in to being in 1920 and the RAF took its first Inter-Services title in 1922.

With famous names from the WWII era such as Douglas Bader, Ken Rees and Bleddyn Williams all playing for the RAF, there has also been a host of post-war regular RAF officers who made their mark, including George Beamish, Bob Stirling, Jeff Young, Lions wing Billy Steel, England locks Peter Larter and John Orwin and full-back Paul Hull. Not to forget of course, Rory Underwood, who served as a pilot throughout his record breaking England career which encompassed 85 Tests and 49 tries. England’s previous top try-scorer was another RAF man, Cyril Lowe.

The RAF has had it ups and downs over the years and has won the overall Inter Services competition 15 times and been part of a Triple Tie 10 times. 2015 has been a fantastic year for the RAF Senior XV with wins against both Oxford and Cambridge University sides on the way to the annual Inter Services, where the RAF tied with the Royal Navy and then beat the Army leading to the RAF collecting the Babcock trophy at Twickenham on 9 May 15 and being crowned Inter Services champions – it had been a long wait since the last time the RAF held the title in 1994.RAF Rugby Union has come a long way since the formation of the RAF and it now offers something for everyone in the RAF regulars and reserves with a wide range of teams and roles to suit all, with the aim of promoting rugby union from grass roots level upwards.

The 2000/2001 season saw the formation of the RAFRU Women’s XV and the fledgling side has developed considerably over the past 15 years with squad members now regularly playing for premiership clubs and with International caps being earned. The RAF 7s team the ‘Spitfires’ have been hugely successful 7s tournaments and the U23s and Hawks development sides have been providing an excellent foundation to grow the Senior XV and allow them to go on to their recent Inter Service success. Additionally there is the Veterans’ side, the ‘Vultures’ who have achieved great success at the Inter-services level.

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