In 1908, Cornwall’s Rugby Union team won their first County Championship, beating Durham County 17 – 3 in the final at Redruth. Because they had won the County Championship, the Cornish team was chosen to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games being held in London later that year.
Rugby at the 1908 Olympic Games
Only three teams entered the Rugby Union competition in the 1908 Olympic Games: Great Britain, France and Australia. France pulled out because a team could not be put together. Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England did not to enter the competition, so Great Britain was represented by Cornwall. This meant that the final would be played between Cornwall and the Australian national team.
The Olympic final was played at the White City Stadium, London. Conditions were bad: there was thick fog and lots of mud, and the rugby ball kept going in the Olympic swimming pool at the side of the pitch! The ball became very heavy because it got so wet. The Australian team were much better at handling the wet ball, and were able to score six tries. Cornwall only managed one, scored by Bert Solomon from Redruth, who later played for England. Bert was one of Cornwall’s finest rugby players. The final score was Australia 32 – Cornwall 3.
One silver medal
The Cornish team was awarded the silver Olympic medal. However, there was only one medal made, so the team had to decide who should keep it. In the end, the medal was given to Thomas ‘Chicky’ Wedge. Although the Cornish team were amateur players and had jobs as fishermen and factory workers, some of them (including Chicky) played rugby for the England national team.
The Cornwall Rugby Union team didn’t win the County Championship again until 1991, when 40,000 Cornish people travelled to London to watch the final.
Did you know?
Four members of the Cornwall team that played in the 1908 Olympic final also played rugby for England. They were:
Bert Solomon from Redruth (centre)
Thomas ‘Chicky’ Wedge from St Ives (scrum half)
Edward Jackett from Falmouth (fullback)
James ‘Maffer’ Davey from Redruth (fly half)
Arthur Wilson, who was a forward in the Cornwall team of 1908, was killed in 1917 in the First World War. He was 29 years old.