The first recognised team to begin playing rugby in Cardiff was Glamorgan Football Club, formed as a club team while Cardiff was still a town. The team was formed by a group of young men during the 1873/74 season, after a circular letter was sent to interested parties by S. Campell Cory. Playing under the Cheltenham College rules, Glamorgan FC had increased its membership to sixty six by November 1874. 1874 saw Glamorgan's first away game, against Cowbridge Grammar School, and by 1875 the team played its first encounter with Newport. Around 1875, two further clubs came into existence in Cardiff, they were Tredegarville Football Club, whose ranks included Jas. Bush, father of future Cardiff rugby hero Percy Bush; and the Wanderers Football Club whose captain and founder was William David Phillips. Of the three teams, Glamorgan and Wanderers became the most notable, but both teams rarely travelled, and both had difficulty beating the now established clubs of Newport and Swansea. The supporters of both clubs started an agitation in the summer of 1876 for the two clubs to amalgamate, to give Cardiff town a better chance of beating the neighbouring teams. On Friday 22 September 1876 members of the Glamorgan and Wanderers clubs met at the Swiss Hall in Queen Street, Cardiff and decided to make a single club, to be called Cardiff Football Club. The first team captain was Donaldson Selby of Glamorgan and the vice-captain W.D. Phillips of Wanderers. Initially the club strip was black with a white skull and crossbones, but after pressure from the players parents to change what they saw as an inappropriate strip, the team adopted the black and blue of Cambridge University; after club player Thomas William Rees of Caius College brought his university strip to the club.
Cardiff FC played their first fixture on 2 December 1876, versus Newport at Wentloog Marshes. In 1881, Cardiff beat Llanelli to win the South Wales Challenge Cup, though the tournament was scrapped soon after due to persistent crowd trouble.
In 1881, Newport based sports administrator, Richard Mullock, formed the first Welsh international rugby team. Despite the team losing heavily to England, Mullock had chosen four players from Cardiff to represent the team; club captain William David Phillips, vice-captain B. B. Mann, Barry Girling and Leonard Watkins, a reflection on the clubs importance at the time. A month later, on 12 March 1881, Cardiff RFC was one of the eleven clubs present at the formation of the Welsh Rugby Union in Neath.
A notable early player was Frank Hancock. A skilful centre, Hancock first played for Cardiff due to an injury to a first regular. At this time, rugby was played with six backs and nine forwards but Hancock's performance so impressed the selectors that for the next game they selected him as a seventh back and selected only eight forwards. The system was soon adopted by the Welsh national team and the seven backs and eight forwards system exists in rugby to this day. Cardiff RFC and Hancock were jointly recognised by the International Rugby Board in 2011 for this innovation with induction to the IRB Hall of Fame.
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