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150 years of International Rugby – Fettes College Panel Conversation

On Wednesday 3rd March Director of Sport Mr Mark Appleson and Head of Rugby Mr Duncan Harrison hosted a light hearted rugby conversation with former international players Ian Robertson (Staff 1968-1972) and George Biagi (Gl 1999- 2004). 

As Fettes College celebrates its 150th anniversary so too does the international game of rugby. We took the opportunity to enjoy a reflective conversation on the changes to international rugby over the last 150 years.

The first game of rugby at Fettes, or ‘football’ as it was known then took place on the 12th October 1870, just a week into the very first term of Fettes College. A first-hand account records:

Football began on the 12th with a Bigside.  It was indeed a big side, as the whole School (except one delicate boy) and three Masters were in the one game.  There were five backs and twenty-two or twenty-three forwards aside.  It was Rugger, but very different from the game we know now, and we played with a round ball.

Several months later on the 27th March 1871 the international game of rugby began with the first Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England at Raeburn Place, less than a mile away from Fettes in what is now the heart of Stockbridge.

In 1876 the international game evolved from big sides to the current fifteen, making it easier for the ball to come out of the scrum.  

In 1883 the Home Nations Championship began with teams from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  In 1910 France joined the competition forming the Five Nations.

When Ian Robertson joined the Fettes staff in 1968 international rugby was still an amateur sport.  Whilst at Fettes Ian balanced playing 3 Calcutta Cup matches with being a member of the English department, a Bigside XV coach and resident tutor in Carrington!  Ian shares his thoughts and memories with us from his time at Fettes to many rugby tales from his life as BBC Rugby Correspondent from 1983-2018.

In 2000 George Biagi was in Third Form at Fettes, this was also the year that Italy joined the Five Nations Championship, creating what is now the Six Nations.  George recalls watching the very first Italy v Scotland match in Glencorse Area and being relieved that Italy won the game.  His allegiance was with Italy who he went on to play for between 2014-2018, gaining 23 caps.  At Fettes George was an all-rounder, he captained the Scottish Schools winning basketball team, he was in the 2nd XV and he got a bronze in the Scottish Schools fencing.  George was not just about sport, he produced the Sixth Form play, Robin Hood, and regularly attended Paramecium, History and Political Societies.  After Fettes George went on to Bocconi University in Italy studying International Economics and Management.  Whilst at Bocconi he played club rugby. George shares with us his rugby journey from player to management, placing an importance on academics and on developing a career alongside professional sport ready to step into should physical injury prevent play. 

We are exceptionally grateful to Ian Robertson, George Biagi and to Director of Sport Mr Mark Appleson and Head of Rugby Mr Duncan Harrison for their time and their thought provoking conversation.  It will be interesting to watch the journey of International Rugby as we look to the future. 

This rugby conversation and after event Q&A are available to listen to below or download from Fettes Community Podcast channel wherever you prefer listen to your podcasts.