WITH a set of representative fixtures in rugby league the focus in Australia this weekend it is worth noting a special Challenge Cup tie with historical context for the sport which will take place in England.
The club of the legendary Lance Todd will match up against the nation’s youngest professional side when Super League side Salford City Reds visit Cheltenham’s Prince of Wales Stadium for a fourth round Challenge Cup tie against the University of Gloucestershire All Golds.
The All Golds* name is a tip of the hat to a significant part of rugby league history when, in 1907/08, a professional All Blacks (New Zealand rugby union team) side toured Great Britain playing under the Northern Union (rugby league) rules.
The final fixture of that tour, and deciding, Test was played in Cheltenham.
A tour which started in October (on the way they played a match in Sri Lanka) saw the rugby league pioneers from New Zealand turn over the hosts 8-5 in the third and deciding Test with tries to William Johnston and Dally Messenger (who you may have heard of)
Victory at the then Athletic Ground in Cheltenham secured a 2-1 series win to the visitors in the sport’s first international series.
After playing a key role on the tour for the All Golds, five-eighth Lance Todd stayed in England to play with Wigan for five years and then Dewsbury.
Todd’s standing in the game is recognised with the awarding at each Challenge Cup final of the Lance Todd Trophy for the game’s best player as voted the Rugby League Writer’s Association.
The ex-tailor and eventual legendary broadcaster went on coach one team in the England and win a Challenge Cup with them. That team …Salford
So as the modern-day All Golds look ahead to their clash with the now Brian Noble-coached Reds, a bit about the current-day history.
To the unfamiliar, the University of Gloucestershire rugby league side had been relatively recent addition the highest level of university sport in the British Isles, BUCS- British Universities and College Sport. That happened in 2008 but after a period of rapid development this season they have found themselves in the Kingstone Press Championship 1 (two tiers below Super League.)
The club still retains the sides in university-competition based as well as working in other development areas with junior sides;. But now the professional side provides a sharp focus for rugby league in Cheltenham, the surrounding country and south-sest region.
Sunday’s fixture sees the Brad Hepi-coached side with an occasion to rival the Gloucestershire Warriors’ 2006 Challenge Cup run which culminated in aloss to that year’s Lancashire County Cup winners, Blackbrook, 36-20.
At that time it was the best performance of a conference side , with the Warriors having beaten Illingworth 25-24 in the preliminary round.
And it is the Warriors’ local links which bring the match full circle to the current day from Todd’s time with Salford’s 1938 Cup-winning team, as the Reds boast former Warrior Jordan James in their ranks.
In beating East Yorkshire side Skirlaugh 26-16, the 2013 All Golds will get the chance, in only their third match as a fully-professional outfit, to mark a new occasion for rugby league in the area.
Let’s just hope it not another 105 years between big games in Cheltenham.
*The ‘All Golds’ moniker is derived from the fact the players were paid with many becoming future stars in the ‘breakaway’ competitions in both the southern and northern hemisphere.
More on the deciding 1908 Test can be found here