Rugby has always been a popular sport in the county although it did have to cope with several teams such as Wigan, St Helens and Salford breaking away from the Rugby Union code and going to play in the Northern Union in 1898, which later incorporated the Rugby League rules. However, this has still left several strong club sides that play in the top leagues in the country. The County Rugby Union team has a proud record in the county Championship and has produced a number of England captains.
Lancashire has won the county championship more than any other county. Of the 37 times they have reached the final they have lifted the trophy on 24 occasions. The closest county to them in terms of cup wins is Gloucestershire who have won it on 17 Occasions.
Since 2007 the Championship has been renamed the Bill Beaumont Cup, after the ex-England captain who played his whole career for Fylde Rugby club. Fylde play in Lytham-St-Anne’s which is located just outside of Blackpool. As well as playing for the County Beaumont played for England 34 times and captained them on 21 occasions. He led the team to the Grand Slam in 1980 and was made captain of the British Lions who toured New Zealand later in the same year.
Another famous player from the same era was Fran Cotton who also played in the Lancashire team. He played for England on 31 occasions from 1971 until 1981 and went on two British Lions tours. On retiring from the game, he founded the Cotton Traders Company which sells rugby kit. He created the company with Steve Smith.
Steve Smith was the Sale, Lancashire and England scrum half who made 28 appearances for England and went on the British Lions tour to New Zealand in 1983. On retirement as well as going in to business with Fran Cotton, Smith worked in the media and was the ITV rugby commentator between 1991 and 2003.
Prior to rugby union turning professional in 1995 Preston Grasshoppers were one of the most successful sides in the region for producing several England players. Wade Dooley played for the club and represented England on 57 occasions between 1985 and 1993. He also went on the British Lions Tour to New Zealand and while at Preston he was coached by Dick Greenwood. Greenwood as well as coaching Preston, also played for, and coached, England. His son Will also started his career at Preston before going on to the national side, being part of the World Cup winning team in 2003.
Since the professional era has emerged the Sale Sharks have emerged as Lancashire’s top side. Even as an amateur side Sale were always one of Lancashire’s top
clubs playing their home games at their Heywood Road ground from 1905 until 2003. Sales’ most successful time in recent years was during the 2005/2006 season when they won the premiership title. Coached by the Frenchman Phillipe St Andre the side was boosted with internationals such as Andrew Sheridan and Jason Robinson from England, Sabastien Chabal from France and Elvis Seveali’I from Fiji. They claimed the title after defeating the Leicester Tigers 45–20 in the final game. In recent years Sales have been in a constant fight to stay away from relegation, but their fortunes have risen since they moved to the AJ Bell Stadium in Barton-Upon-Irwell in Eccles which they share with the rugby league side the Salford Red Devils.
Lancashire has a rich history in the rugby sides that have been produced, and the players who have gone on to represent their country.