Men’s Rugby to Face Canada’s McGill for 145th Anniversary of Two Iconic Matches of 1874

The men's rugby team in a huddle

MONTREAL, Canada / CAMBRIDGE, Mass. The Harvard men's rugby team has been preparing for months for a landmark game to be played at Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal on September 7, 2019 against McGill. The game will be a special tribute to the two iconic games played between the two elite college teams in Cambridge on May 14 and May 15, 1874 that changed the course of North American sports history.

These two games were the first rugby-style football games played in the United States. However, the rules and styles of the sport differed widely between the US and Canada, and even among the Ivy League schools of New England.  

The first game on May 14, 1874 was played under "Boston rules" which featured a round soccer-like ball with limited ball-carrying, and Harvard prevailed. The next day, the second match was played under "McGill rules" which were British-style rugby rules which had been imported from England to Montreal, and featured a rugby-style oblong ball and free-flowing ability to carry the ball until tackled. This second match ended in a scoreless tie, but it was McGill's British-style game that came to be favoured by Harvard and subsequently took root around New England and the US, ultimately planting the seeds that led to the development of what is now known as American football.

To that end, the coaching staff, players and alumni of both teams have been working together over the last year to create a revamped "Covo Cup", the annual competition named after legendary former McGill coach Peter Covo, which was launched in 1974 to formally mark the centennial of the two pioneering games of 1874. Organizers hope the upcoming match on September 7 will appeal not only to the two schools' rugby constituencies, but also to a broader audience of people on both campuses who could take rightful pride in the historic cross-border relationship.

"Participating in the Covo Cup is an important tradition to all alumni, coaches and current players of the Harvard rugby program," said Harvard head coach Mike Diamantopoulos. "Honoring the tradition and rivalry of the oldest rugby game in North America is something very special that we are honored to participate in and look forward to each year. Rugby is a game of respect - for the fans, for the ref, for the opposition, for the game, -and these principles are very much shared between the two programs. We are looking forward to celebrating our shared values with McGill on September 7."

There are two scheduled games planned for September 7. The first will be the development team (junior varsity) contest at McGill's Rutherford Field at 3 p.m. and the second will be the official Covo Cup varsity match scheduled for 6:30 p.m.