Christmas has always been a time synonymous with eating, drinking, present giving and rugby. As the uninitiated hoards headed for the Boxing Day sales, the enlightened among us were heading for the Arms Park, and some festive blessings at the Cathedral of Cardiff Rugby.

The history of December rugby at Cardiff Arms Park is a lengthy, yet successful one, for the Blue and Blacks. It is also a period of the rugby season that has spawned some of the very best memories for players and fans alike. Battles to banish the Christmas blues as we edge towards a new year.

It all started back in 1877, and fittingly it was with a Welsh derby as Roath's newly formed rugby club visited the Arms Park. At this point rugby football was a very different sport to today's game, with no referees as such and an odd scoring system. Despite scoring four tries in the game, Cardiff were defeated by just the one Roath goal. Work that one out.

For the next few years sides such as Liverpool, Swinton (Northern Union) and Moseley visited the Welsh capital for the Boxing Day encounters, until the first touring side from New Zealand arrived on 29th December 1888.

The NZ Maoris arrived in the middle of a four month tour taking in a whopping 74 matches, having already beaten Llanelli and Wales on the Welsh leg of their tour. Predictably at this time of the year the Arms Park was a swamp, but from amidst the mud a 12,000 crowd was delighted by Cardiff triumphing by a goal and a try to just a solitary away try.

During the pre-War period other festive international tourists came in the form of the full New Zealand side on Boxing Day 1905, before Australia visited on the 28th December 1908, with the hosts losing out against the All Blacks 8-10, before defeating the Wallabies comfortably 24-8.

It was another touring team that became the regular fixture at the Arms Park for post-Christmas rugby though, as long before the Barbarians were the Easter visitors, they played on or around Boxing Day 18 times between 1892 and the start of the First World War.

Cardiff were the dominant side in those encounters, losing just once in 1894, before fighting brought rugby to a halt. When it resumed again the Christmas visitors to the Arms Park would be New Zealand Services and Australia Services, something that would be repeated at the end of the Second World War when the NZ Army defeated the Blue and Blacks on Boxing Day 1945.

After a mix of opponents saw the likes of Penarth, Plymouth Albion, Bedford, Coventry and Glasgow pitch up on Boxing Days throughout the 1920s and 30s, the post-war period was a much more settled affair in terms of the annual festive battles on the famous Arms Park.

Between 1946 and 1962 the fixture lost showed games against Wasps and Watsonians on Boxing Day and the 27th, or the 27th and 28th, every season except 1956/57, when we played Watsonians on New Year's Day, and in 1961 when frost cancelled the festive matches.

Watsonians of Edinburgh, linked to the George Watson College, were regular visitors throughout the pre-war era, making their first trip to the Arms Park on Boxing Day 1896. They stopped visiting just before their most famous sons, Gavin and Scott Hastings, came through the ranks though.

Wasps meanwhile, much like Cardiff, are still a world famous brand at the top of professional rugby in the modern day. Based at the time in Sudbury, North London, they valiantly arrived at the Arms Park 16 times in this period, and only once headed him with anything other than a loss, a 3-3 draw in 1959. Maldwyn Gough kicked the Blue and Blacks penalty that day.

For the majority of the 1960s the Boxing Day visitors were Liverpool Football Club, a throwback to the very early days in Cardiff's history when 5,000 people saw the Welsh side defeat the Merseyside outfit by three goals and a try to one try in 1885.

After eight wins in nine years against Liverpool, at a time when they provided four internationals to England, and before they merged with St Helens RUFC, the fixtures were ended as Cardiff were unable to offer regular return fixtures up north, and so began the great Boxing Day fixture.

Cardiff v Pontypridd was a Christmas institution for many people across South Wales, and even further afield, for many years between 1972 and 1996, with the exception of 1976 when Crawshays were the visitors to the Arms Park on the 27th December, and 1995, when the advent of professional rugby re-organised the fixture list.

Over 23 games between the two sides along the A470, Cardiff came out on top with 16 wins, while there was one draw and six Pontypridd victories. The final game in this run of Christmas encounters came in 1996, although it almost didn't take place as the Blue and Blacks were locked in dispute with the WRU that eventually lead to the rebel season.

With the advent of professionalism came many firsts for rugby union, but for Cardiff Rugby particularly, there was a huge change. For, on the 27th December 1997, the Blue and Blacks ventured away from the Arms Park for the first time in the game immediately after Christmas.

A trip down West to Stradey Park resulted in a 24-26 win thanks to tries from Leigh Davies, Justin Thomas and Lee Jarvis, but ended 120 years of festive rugby in Cardiff.

Over the turn of the century Cardiff would take on Northampton, Newport, Bridgend and Pontypridd in the Boxing Day fixture, playing both home and away, before the 2003 shake-up in Welsh rugby settled the club back into a tradition.

After the re-branding to Cardiff Blues, the 2003/04 season brought with it a Christmas showdown against the Celtic Warriors, before their unfortunate demise the following summer.

However, that opened the door for 13 years of festive battles with our regional rivals to the East. Newport Gwent Dragons, as they were in each game so far, have been the opponents for 14 years, with games roughly alternating between the Arms Park and Rodney Parade.

So far it's eight wins for the Blues and five for the Dragons, with the 2010 fixture being called due to a frozen pitch in Newport.

This year we will travel to the newly WRU-owned Dragons on Boxing Day, yet another festive match to be played out in front of a bumper crowd. The Welsh derbies still capture the imagination in a way that no other games can.

Fingers crossed for another Boxing Day classic, and yet another Cardiff Rugby win in a Christmas game!

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  • Thu, 21/12/2017 - 22:21 Log in to post comments

    Good old Roath! You know it was just a twist of fate that prevented Roath being the capital city and Cardiff one of its suburbs don’t you.

    I remember Boxing Day matches against Watsonians and Liverpool and at least on one occasion we played UAU on the day after. We used to play Swansea on first Sat of December and London Welsh on the second ,if my memory serves me well, when I started watching rugby  at CAP

  • Fri, 22/12/2017 - 15:58 Log in to post comments

    I too remember the Watsonian fixtures. My dad used to say that the Boxing Day applause was always muffled because the supporters would wear their xmas pressies - new gloves.