The British Pathé archives, which were recently uploaded to YouTube, give us a fascinating glimpse into the old amateur era of Irish rugby – including the inaugural years of the Bateman Cup.
Instonians RFC will officially be 95 years in existence on May 23. They experienced the disappointment of relegation from the Ulster Bank League this season, but today we look back on one of Belfast club’s most successful days on the pitch.
It is fitting that in the week of the Bateman Cup final between Cork Constitution and UCD, we remember Instonians’ own Bateman Cup triumph from April 1927 when they defeated Lansdowne 16-8 in a final that went to extra-time at Lansdowne Road.
The competition – known in the past as ‘the battle of the giants’ because it was played between the four provincial cup winners – was initiated in the early 1920s.
The Bateman Cup was first won by Lansdowne in 1922 after a 6-5 win over Cork Constitution. The trophy was presented by Dr. Godfrey Bateman from Cork to the IRFU in memory of his two sons Reginald and Arthur who both died in the First World War.
The IRFU reintroduced it in 2011 with Munster clubs sharing the spoils since then – Bruff were the inaugural winners of the modern era with Garryowen (2012) and Cork Con (2013) following in their footsteps.
In 1927 the Bateman Cup semi-finals were played as a double header at Lansdowne Road, with the final taking place at the same venue the very next day – ‘a real test of stamina’ according to a newspaper article from the era.
The report of the final in the Irish Independent from Monday, April 11, 1927 said the Instonians-Lansdowne game provided ‘one of the best exhibitions of open play seen at headquarters this season’.
That year’s cup decider was fiercely contested with Instonians, who defeated Galwegians 50-0 in the semi-final, scoring twice in extra-time to win by ‘2 goals, 1 penalty goal and 1 try (16 points) to 1 goal and 1 try (8 points)’.
The below clip from the British Pathé archives shows footage of the Bateman Cup final from 87 years ago, as the trophy ‘goes north after a desperate tussle’. Note that Lansdowne Road’s old East Stand was being built at the time!
Inst were captained to victory that day by centre Frank Hewitt, famously the youngest man to play international rugby for Ireland at just 17.
He made a try-scoring debut in the number 10 jersey against Wales in March 1924, following in the footsteps of William Hall and Bob McClenahan who were the first two Instonians players to be capped by Ireland.
In fact, just five years after their foundation, Instonians incredibly provided two starting out-halves for Ireland during the 1924 Five Nations Championship.
Hall played against France and Scotland that year, and Hewitt lined out against Wales and then New Zealand the following November, pairing up with his Instonians club-mate John McDowell at half-back in that latter game.
Hewitt made his ninth and final appearance for Ireland just a month prior to Inst’s Bateman Cup success in 1927, forming a 10-12 combination with Eugene Davy who won three Bateman Cup titles with Lansdowne in 1929, 1930 and 1931 and went on to both captain and manage Ireland.
Of course, the Hewitt family has a rich sporting pedigree and brothers Frank, Victor and Tom all played rugby for Ireland with Tom’s son David featuring in the centre for Ireland and the Lions in the 1950s and 1960s.
INSTONIANS: W. S. Campbell; A. C. Douglas, R. B. Price, F. S. Hewitt (capt), R. O. McClenahan; H. C. Hewitt, J. C. McDowell; J. P. Campbell, R. Campbell, G. Caruth, W. G. Dick, G. B. Goldsborough, J. Kennedy, J. M. McDowell, T. J. Ward.
LANSDOWNE: W. E. Crawford; T. V. Harris, G. P. S. Hogan, J. E. Arigho, E. J. Lightfoot; T. A. O’Reilly, E. O. Davy; J. C. Bermingham, W. G. Brown, J. F. Cullen, J. Heard, J. Rooney, T. O. Pike, W. W. Rossiter, J. J. Winters.
Referee: F. O’Sullivan.