BRIAN POPE, England’s oldest living international rugby union player, celebrates his 100th birthday tomorrow (June 29), and the Rugby Football Union is marking the occasion by presenting him with an engraved silver salver. The England Rugby Internationals Club will also be giving him a framed picture and match report from his England playing days.
Though no longer able to get along to Twickenham Stadium to watch matches in person, Brian was fit enough to play golf into his 90s, achieving a hole in one on the famous Maiden hole at Royal St George’s in Sandwich aged 92. The course will be the venue for this year’s Open Championship and it was at the clubhouse bar, over a pink gin or two, that Brian used to swap sporting stories with EW Swanton, the late rugby and cricket writer and commentator, and fellow resident of Sandwich.
Edward Brian Pope was born in Barnet in Hertfordshire in 1911 and attended Uppingham School where he captained the rugby team in winter and the hockey team in the Easter term. Going up to Cambridge, at Clare College, he won his rugby blue in 1932, playing in the 8-3 defeat by Oxford at Twickenham, where Oxford included Vivian Jenkins at centre and Tuppy Owen-Smith, later an England full back.
But Brian was already an England international by then, having played at scrum half in 1931 against Wales, Scotland and France at Twickenham, Murrayfield and Stade Colombes respectively.
After an extraordinary 10-try affair in Edinburgh, England went to Paris on Easter Monday, 1931, for what would turn out to be France’s last Championship match before 1947, due to arguments over professionalism. England led three times and scored three tries to two in the 14-13 defeat (under modern scoring values they would have been 19-16 winners).
The same Swanton reported the England captain Carl Aarvold’s post-match speech was gracious and in fluent French. Among Brian’s team-mates, Aarvold and John Tallent went on to be Presidents of the RFU.
Brian, whose club was Blackheath FC, later served in the RAF in World War II, and was an underwriting company director, working on the Lloyds Insurance market. His grandson Andrew Watson is delighted to report Brian has remained “a great supporter of England rugby” throughout his years of retirement.
Brian Pope for England:
v Wales, Twickenham, drew 11-11, 17 January 1931
v Scotland, Murrayfield, lost 28-19, 21 March 1931
v France, Stade Colombes, Paris, lost 14-13, 6 April 1931