What a turn-up indeed! Britain and the fine old British game of Rugby had never seen the like of it: here were 19 young New Englanders playing Rugger with a zest and determination that set one British team after another back on its ears. It all came about when the Dartmouth Rugby Club decided to send a team to England over the holiday season, partly to try its luck in the land of Rugby's birth, partly as a gesture of good will. The British press, after one astonished look at the first game ( Dartmouth 5, Old Millhillians 0), hailed the crew-cut invasion with sporting glee—"What a turn-up for the Yanks!" said the Daily Sketch—and as the touring New Englanders racked up an impressive 5-2 total, good will and Rugby flourished. With Dartmouth Was Author Corey Ford, patron, neighbor and friend of the team, who here tells the story.
There'll always be an England, of course, but it may never be quite the same again after the historic invasion of the 19 husky stalwarts of the Dartmouth Rugby team last month—the first American Rugby team to visit Jolly Old since the game originated here 135 years ago. The team broke new ground in another respect: this was the first athletic unit to travel abroad under the banner of President Eisenhower's People to People Sports Program, and from every point of view the trip was a huge and heart-warming success. What the Dartmouth men lacked in finesse they more than made up in tackling power, in conditioning, in sheer do-or-die. They returned from their three-week tour last week with five wins out of seven games, and the British loved it. The
summed it up: "Now British Rugby knows the worst—Americans can play our game."
More to the point was the plaintive comment of a mud-caked and battered member of the Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank side, which had just absorbed an 11-3 beating at the hands of the Yanks. Victors and vanquished alike were sharing a 20-foot square bathtub in the locker room at New Beckenham, soaping each other's backs and steaming out their mutual aches in the murky water. One of the defeated players peered through the steam at his American opponent seated across the tub. "I mean to say, old chap," he sighed, "why didn't you give us some sort of warning?"
Well, the Dartmouth players can answer that. They didn't have any warning, either. Just in case you happen to be planning to forward a Rugby team to England sometime, here's the inside story of how it happened.
Ever since the game of Rugby was started at Dartmouth, back in 1953, we have been dreaming of an overseas tour. I use the word "we" advisedly; for my house adjoins the Dartmouth campus, and in the course of time it has become the unofficial Rugby Club headquarters. So it was in my living room that the plans for the trip to England were hatched.
Our fall Rugby season had been completed with a total score of 89-0, giving Dartmouth the mythical eastern title, and now, with the end of football, the team had been augmented by four star members of our Ivy League champion squad. Eddie Eagan, chairman of the People to People Sports Committee, had invited the Dartmouth players to initiate his new program which, in President Eisenhower's own conception, is "dedicated to the promotion of international sports exchange on the premise that when good sportsmen get together mutual understanding and friendship are broadened and the prospects for peace are enhanced." Dick Liesching, a scholarship student from England and president of the Rugby Club, enlisted the aid of his father, R. R. de L. Liesching of Surrey, in arranging a schedule. The only problem was how to raise the money.
The Dartmouth Rugby Club, like most American Rugby groups, is self-coached and self-financed. Many of the players are on scholarship, and working their way through school. The college's limited athletic budget could not be tapped. Bit by bit, nevertheless, donations began to come in. Loyal Dartmouth alumni and Rugby enthusiasts sent in personal checks to help defray expenses. Pan American helped out; so did Eddie Eagan's committee; in addition I promised to turn over the proceeds from this article to swell the kitty. Team members pawned watches and rings in order to make their own contributions to the cause.
At the last possible minute the final and deciding contribution came in from Dartmouth Alumnus Sigurd Larmon, president of Young & Rubicam; and the long-awaited bulletin was posted on the door of the Beta house for all the players to see: "We're on our way to England. Get your smallpox shots." Long-distance phone calls broke the news to parents that their sons wouldn't be with them this Christmas; several players who, having given up hope, had already started home for the holidays were hauled back to Hanover in frantic haste; dates converged on the Dartmouth campus for tearful farewells. Dick Liesching woke his father in Surrey at 3 a.m. with the good news. "Of course," Dick added, "we're really not world-beaters, you know, Father."
"Just so long as you know the basic rules," Mr. Liesching senior consoled him, "we should have a lot of fun."
They knew the rules. Twenty-four hours after they landed in London, they took on their first opponents, an experienced Haslemere side. Score: Dartmouth 12, Haslemere 0.