On Saturday afternoon, UCD, UCC and QUB will be competing for the Irish Universities Rugby Union Dudley Cup…

The Dudley Cup, named after Lord Dudley, was initially played for in season 1903/04 however during the past decade participation of the Universities in the All Ireland League has overshadowed the Dudley Cup. Indeed, the Dudley Cup has not been competed for on a regular basis over the past few years.

Thankfully, the Irish Universities have agreed to play the competition this year and it will be played in Belfield in a league basis with each University playing against each other. Irish University rugby has rarely been as strong over the past few years.

All visitors welcome to attend and support Irish University Rugby. The first match kicks off at 12 noon.


The Dudley Cup is considered by many to be the premier Rugby competition between the Irish Universities and was presented by the, then, Viceroy, Lord Dudley over 100 years ago. The Cup was initially played for in season 1903/04 between the three Queen’s Colleges in Belfast, Cork and Galway.

The first competition was organised on a league basis, with the first match being played at Lansdowne Road between Belfast and Galway, on Tuesday 1st March 1904. The match was won by Belfast (8-0) “in a snowstorm, and before only a few spectators…the ball being very greasy was difficult to handle, and the play towards the end partook of a scraggy nature”. Remarkably, by modern standards, the Belfast team then took the train to Cork and won the trophy the following day by beating Queen’s Cork (19 – 3) before “ a large attendance at the Turner’s Cross ground…the visitors were much the superior team, and had an advantage at all points of the game.” Until the advent of World War 1, and the suspension of competitive rugby, both Belfast and Cork won the cup on five occasions, with Galway winning it for the first time in 1904/05.

Meanwhile, UCD was established by the National Universities Act, 1908 and the Rugby Club was affiliated to the Leinster branch in 1910, but as a Junior Club. By winning the Leinster Junior Cup in 1914, they were entitled to Senior status. However, this elevation was postponed until May 1919, due to World War 1, and thus UCD played their first match as a senior club in October of that year. UCD participated in the Dudley Cup for the first time in 1919/20 and won the competition by beating Belfast in the final (3-0) “before a large attendance, in splendid weather and in a very fast, open game by a try to nil”. The Irish Times commented that this was Belfast’s first loss this season (the match was played on 24th February 1920). However, Queen’s recovered from this defeat and won the Ulster Senior cup a few weeks later.

Trinity College first participated in the Dudley cup in 1920/21, which was played in College Park, but then withdrew and did not participate again until the mid 1970s. Queen’s then won the cup four years in succession, beating UCD in the final on each occasion. In 1925, following Trinity’s example, Queen’s Belfast withdrew, leaving the Dudley cup to be competed for by the three “National” universities, but UCG’s participation was erratic.

Thereafter UCC dominated the competition winning it four years in succession but were beaten by UCD in a “torrid match” in the 1928/29 competition match. Again, the following season UCD beat UCC (6 – 3) in Dublin and the match was described by The Irish Times (21st November 1929) as: “One of the most strenuous games witnessed for a long time and on more than one occasion the referee was compelled to speak to a Cork player.

“The game was to a large extent spoiled by ever-robust play, but the Dublin students played the better football and on the general swing of play deserved to win. Stoppages were frequent owing to injuries to players”. The following season (1930/31) UCD withdrew from the competition, as it was considered best to allow a cooling off period between UCD and UCC. The Dudley Cup was now reduced to just two competitors (UCC and UCG) and soon the competition lapsed and the Cup was safely stored in the vaults of UCC. It has been suggested that the display of the cup at the UCC RFC centenary banquet in 1974 generated discussion about reviving the competition.

The Irish Universities Rugby Union (IURU) revived the Dudley Cup for competition between all Irish Universities (QUB, TCD, UCC, UCD and UCG) in the 1975/76 season. It provided an additional “incentive” to inter-varsity matches. In the first season of the revived competition, Trinity won the trophy convincingly by beating all the opposition. Indeed, that season Trinity, who won all their Dudley Cup matches, also won the Leinster Senior Cup under the captaincy of John Robbie.

All the more remarkable was that the previous season was considered by many to have been one of Trinity’s worst seasons in its long history. For example, the Colours match against UCD was lost by a, then, record score (30 – 12) and Trinity were knocked out of the Leinster Senior Cup by (then) Junior Club, Skerries. Some questioned whether or not Trinity deserved to exist as a senior club since students were too young and small to compete – so went the argument.

Since its inception, one hundred years ago, many household names in Irish rugby have played in the Dudley cup. In the 1920s/1930s, for example, Andy Courtney, Eugene O’D. Davy and Larry McMahon represented UCD and also played for Ireland. During the same period UCC supplied JJ O’Connor and Jack Russell to the national team, while George Stephenson represented Queens, to name but a few. In more recent times, one can include the names of Paddy Johns, Hugo McNeill, Brendan Mullin, John Robbie, Jamie Heaslip (all Trinity), Moss Finn and Donal Linehan (both UCC), John Cantrell, Denis Hickie, Gabriel Fulcher, Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Derek McGrath, Darragh O’Mahony and Paddy Wallace (all UCD) and David Humphries, David Irwin, Garry Longwell and Trevor Ringland (all Queen’s). Many other names could be mentioned, in addition to those who have played provincial rugby while at university or those who received international caps subsequent to their playing days at college.

During the past decade participation of the universities in the All Ireland League has overshadowed the Dudley Cup. Indeed, the Dudley Cup has not been competed for on a regular basis over the past few years. Thankfully, the Irish Universities have agreed to play the competition tomorrow in the UCD Bowl and the competition will include Queen’s, UCC and UCD. Irish University rugby has rarely been as strong over the past few years. If ever there was time to seriously assess the state of Irish University rugby in general, and to support it, the time is surely now.


UCC: 20
UCD: 15
QUB: 11
Trinity: 4
UCG: 2