Test match (rugby union)

A test match in rugby union is an international match, usually played between two senior national teams, that is recognised as such by one of the teams' national governing bodies.[1][2]


Some teams do not represent a single country but their international games are still considered Test matches (for example the British and Irish Lions and the Pacific Islanders). Likewise some countries award caps for games between their full national teams and invitation teams like the Barbarians. The first men's international game of rugby football between Scotland and England was played at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh, the home ground of Edinburgh Academicals, on 27 March 1871. (This being six years before the first cricket test match, one year before the first association football international and 24 years before the first field hockey international.)

The first recorded use of the word in relation to sport occurs in 1861[3] when it was used, especially by journalists, to designate the most important (but at that stage non-international) games played as part of a cricket tour by an unofficial English team to Australia and it is thought to arise[4] from the idea that the matches were a "test of strength and competency" between the sides involved. When official and fully representative Australian and English cricket and rugby teams began touring each other's countries a decade or so later the term gradually began to be applied by journalists exclusively to the international fixtures on each tour, though this was not widespread until well into the 1880s.[4]

Although the ICC tightly controls the application of "test match" status for cricket, World Rugby (WR) has no similar rules or regulations concerning the official awarding of "test match" or "full international" status in rugby union.[5] In rugby union test match status and caps may be awarded by either team's governing body regardless of the decision of their opponents.

Although both teams' governing bodies do not need to recognise the match as a Test match for caps to be awarded, it is rare that they should disagree. The only existing example remaining in men's rugby involving two top-tier nations concerns games played by the New South Wales Waratahs against the New Zealand All Blacks in the 1920s. As there was very little rugby union played in Australia outside of New South Wales the Australian Rugby Union retroactively awarded caps to the players from the 1920s Waratahs that played against the All Blacks, however the New Zealand Rugby Union has not done the same for All Blacks that played in those matches. Rugby's professionalism and widespread international media coverage ensures that it is almost inconceivable that Unions would disagree over the status of a game today.[6] Differences in recognition now almost exclusively involve matches between the senior national team of a nation outside the traditional top tier and an official developmental side of a top-tier nation. Depending on the policy of the lower-tier union, these matches may or may not be fully capped for that national team. For example, before a change in policy by USA Rugby after the 2008 Churchill Cup, it awarded full national caps when the its senior national team played top-tier developmental sides, such as England Saxons, Ireland Wolfhounds, Scotland A, Argentina A and New Zealand Māori.

On the other hand, in women's rugby matters are far less clear.[7] The first women's "test" took place in 1982 between Netherlands and France, but the sport was not widely accepted or recognised by many existing national Unions or WR for many years, nor has it ever attracted significant media interest. Some unions do not officially recognise any tests played before they became responsible for the women's game for example the French Union (FFR) does not list any games before 1989,[8] and WR did not (until recently) recognise the first two World Cups.[9]

Nor is the situation confined to history. Some countries particularly England and France, but also occasionally other major nations continue to this day to award caps based on the strength of the side they have selected, rather than make-up of the opposition or of the status of the tournament entered.[10] As recently as December 2008, a game between England and an Irish President's XV was recorded as a "test match" by RFUW even though their hosts and opponents insist that this was not the case.[11] A similar difference of interpretation applies to a two match series between USA and Canada in 2007 when in games previously advertised as internationals the USA decided to field only development XVs. Canada count these games as test matches, the USA do not.[12] Overall the status of perhaps 5% of women's test matches is unclear.[7]

See also


  1. Farmer, Stuart. "Statistics – What constitutes a Test match?". espnscrum.com. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
  2. "Rugby Glossary". espnscrum.com. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
  3. "Stump The Bearded Wonder No 17". BBC Sport. 21 December 2001. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  4. 1 2 http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/141605.html |title=Rowland Bowen - Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development Throughout the World (1970)
  5. http://www.irblaws.com/EN/ Laws of Rugby Union
  6. http://www.lassen.co.nz/pickandgo.php?teama=NSW&teamb=NZL
  7. 1 2 Women's international rugby union
  8. "Retrouvez le palmarès de l'équipe de France depuis l'intégration à la FFR en juillet 1989" (in French). Fédération Française de Rugby. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  9. http://www.rwcwomens.com/history/index.html
  10. http://www.ffr.fr For example, not all games in France's official international match lists are included in their test match cap listings
  11. IRFU confirmed that the game was not an international "the [Irish] team was an Irish President’s Selection and no caps were awarded" (Email from Barry Cunningham, IRFU, 2.3.2009)
  12. http://www.usarugby.org/#cc%3D%5BApplication%5D%5C%5CStructure%5C%5CContent%5C%5CBrand%20Resource%20Center%5C%5CContent%5C%5CHome%5C%5C20907F3F-1296-67BD-B97F-842B448A46E7%5C%5C20907F3F-129A-A100-52BC-A23E8A9678E6%5C%5C20907F3F-129A-D6C5-BEF3-E4CB3EED983F%7B%7BTab%3AView%7D%7D
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