Subbuteo rugby began in the 1950s with a “flat” version. In this early game the players were really flat, like tokens. These were simply rolled on their edge towards the try line. The OO scale table rugby was introduced sometime after the cricket, around 1968/69, and disappeared along with cricket and hockey when the Subbuteo range was cut back in 1983. An accessory range with an eccentric numbering system was launched soon after the game’s introduction, and a range of teams was also produced.

The rulebook to the OO scale edition states “After months of research we completely redesigned Subbuteo rugby, and our development Department produced what we believe is the only real table-top ‘rugger’ game in existence”. Certainly rugby is a hard game to recreate outside of computer games, and this simulation can be frustrating to play. However, overall I think Subbuteo did a good job. Of course it isn’t as free-flowing as the football game, and there are things missing (no rucks or mauls), but it is flexible enough to cope with both league and union rules. I think rugby league probably works the best, as the free flowing nature suits the game, although I’m not an expert on either code, so there may be something lurking in the league rules that Subbuteo can’t handle.


This version was played with flat tokens, like draughts, with a picture of a player on a card insert, plus metal rugby posts and one standard celluloid figure (designed like the cricket bowler) to take penalty goals. The 1957 companion sports leaflet says “Table soccer and table cricket principles would not suffice for this most difficult of all reproductions of an outdoor game”. Quite right, but it doesn’t explain what principles are used! There’s a reason for this, as like the simple racing games of the 1950s the reality is different to the hype. The game is really a matter of rolling the tokens at each other, and it’s a very basic game.

As always with Subbuteo though, this was a well presented game. The pitch is the usual quality cloth, and the metal goals with white celluloid tubing is as effective as it is in the football version. The tokens are petite, but do have “Subbuteo” embossed on them. The ball is dark brown, and smaller and less detailed than in the 1970s sets.

Unlike football and cricket, only two versions of the 1950s rugby were made, simply with or without a pitch.

Standard Edition: Price in 1957 18/- (post free!)
Standard Edition with marked out pitch: Price in 1957 an impressive 39/- Time to get the army blanket out!

OO Scale Rugby Editions.

Only three different editions of OO scale rugby were ever produced, and throughout most of its production run only the International version was available. Subbuteo never produced a large set featuring extra accessories. Why this was, I don’t know. It is especially strange when you consider that cricket gained a floodlighting edition, but it was rugby that had the floodlights in its accessory range.

International Edition

The basic set, with the essentials required to play the game. It’s fooling no-one being called “International Edition”, it’s a club edition pure and simple. As with most of the long-lived Subbuteo items, this box set goes through several variations. The “hand-assembled” nature of Subbuteo means that different exteriors and interiors seem to overlap and get muddled up, but I’ve tied the set down to four main variations – three box types, plus the early kicker variation. The boxes are shown above in date order.

  1. 1969-70 style. Orange lid with word “New” on it. Kickers have rests. No kicking wedge.

  2. Early 1970s. Still has orange “New” lid. and pale brown card interior. Now has a kicking wedge. Both these early sets tend to be supplied with the proper rugby figures. The teams can be any within the range, which makes the sets much more interesting. For example, a couple of nice blue vs red versions I’ve seen are the blue hoops of Halifax vs the red hoops of Wigan, and the mixed bands of Bradford Northern vs Wakefield.

  3. Tonbridge mid 1970s re-issue. Brown lid and a shallower box. This was issued with a card interior or a polystyrene one. The card interior is often green rather than brown, and has the Subbuteo logo on it. The teams are often heavyweight by this time, and in the dull red/white, blue/white club edition standards, representing Wales vs France/Scotland. If you are lucky you can get the green/white of Ireland instead. By this time you may not even get proper rugby bases, as production of these stopped in 1975.

  4. 1978-82 new box. A lighter yellow/brown box with styling to match the other sport box sets of this era. The interior should be polystyrene, but at least one catalogue shows it with a card interior. The set might have zombie figures or lightweights – either type being in the standard blue and red kit. The final 1980s versions possibly have the a horrible nylon pitch as well, although I’ve not seen one, and it is possible that Subbuteo had plenty of cloth rugby pitches still to use up!

Rugby Sevens/Display Edition

Two different versions of this were produced:-

Display Edition: This was only available in the early 1970s. It came in a small flat box, that doesn’t resemble either the cricket or football display editions. Whereas these other display editions are just a club edition minus the pitch to keep the cost down, this one tackles a variation of the rugby game. A pitch was not included (although I’ve seen them advertised with and without), and other cost cutting methods were also used on this set. There were less players, of course, but also only one kicker “in neutral white strip” was provided to be used by both sides.  As you can see by the illustration, it’s a well presented set. As it was only produced in the early part of the rugby range, the teams supplied are the proper rugby figures, and in interesting club colours. Also in this set the kicker look like he’s the early version with the extra “rest”.
From: http://www.peter-upton.co.uk/rugby.htm

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