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Crossing the religious divide

John GriffithsMarch 20, 2014
England's Fred Byrne © PA Photos
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I have read that it was not until 1925 that the first Roman Catholic played rugby union for England. Is this correct? And, if this is correct, who was the first Catholic to be capped for England? Colin McKinnon, Australia

The 1925 reference holds for the first Roman Catholic-educated pupil of a major public school to play for England.

Edward Massey, England's scrum-half in their three opening matches of the 1925 Five Nations campaign, was the first rugby player capped from Ampleforth College, the well-known Catholic public school where Lawrence Dallaglio was later a pupil and England's full-back of the sixties, John Willcox, was a noted coach.

Massey was a farmer who played for Leicester. He broke his collar-bone during the 1925 Calcutta Cup match, the first international ever staged at Murrayfield, and never played for England - or the Tigers - again.

But he was certainly not the first Catholic capped by England. The best-known before him were the Byrne brothers - Fred and Frank - who played for England in the 1890s. They learnt the game at St Joseph's College, Rugby.

John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.

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Writer Bio

John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.

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