At the Arms Park on Saturday 11th May 2019, Rumney defeated Rhiwbina 20-17 in the final of this season’s Mallett Cup. A hundred and twenty five years is a long time in rugby and Cardiff can be especially proud of this cup competition, because – apart from the war years – it has been held every year since 1894 and is therefore the oldest still being contested in Wales. This year’s final was the 114th .
Despite recent changes and reorganisation in local rugby, the Mallett Cup is still going strong. Before this season, it was the premier competition of the Cardiff and District Rugby Union. But from 2018-19, the Mallett has become the senior cup for the newly constituted East District Rugby Union (WRU District B) into which Cardiff and District has merged. S A Brain & Co., another Cardiff institution, remain as sponsors, as they have been since 1976.
But who was it named after? Who was the “T H Mallett” inscribed on the trophy?
Thomas Henry Mallet was born in 1840 at Appledore in Devon. A carpenter by trade, he came to Cardiff in 1875 to work as a foreman in a railway wagon works. He was keen on sport throughout his life and took an active interest in athletics, cricket and baseball. But rugby was his greatest love.
When he later became the licensee of the New Market Tavern (today’s Old Market Tavern) in Trinity Street in 1891, it was said that he was the oldest non-playing member of Cardiff Rugby Club. Quick to recognise the pub’s potential, he invited players and supporters to frequent the “Home of Athletes”, which he advertised as only a minute’s walk from the Arms Park and five from Sophia Gardens. He even laid on hot and cold baths for players to use after a game.
So, as it was such a popular venue for rugby followers, it was the New Market Tavern which, in November 1892, hosted delegates from sixteen local clubs who met to form the “Cardiff and District Football Union”. Because of his support for the game in Cardiff, Tom was elected the District’s first President and later Patron.
Not long after this important meeting, he took over the licence of the Blue Bell (today’s Goat Major) and it was there, in November 1893, that he presented the District with the magnificent silver cup which still bears Tom Mallett’s name. It cost him £20 guineas (£21). This was a considerable sum, which would be worth well in excess of £2,000 in purchasing power today. But it was a smart move on Tom’s part because the District had already transferred their headquarters to the Blue Bell.
Fifteen clubs competed in the first Mallett Cup of 1893-4. Those still in existence are Cardiff, Barry, Canton, Llandaff, Pentyrch and Whitchurch. The other (long defunct) Mallett Cup pioneers were: Blackweir, Cardiff Hornets, Cardiff Northern, Cardiff Star, Cathays, Garth, Grangetown, Grange Stars and Splott Crusaders.
The competition was an immediate success with the public. For instance, when Cardiff Reserves met Llandaff in the first round, more than 2,000 spectators turned up to the Arms Park to watch. Even the Blackweir v Cardiff Hornets match drew a crowd of 500. Over a thousand supporters were at the Harlequins Ground for the final held on 14th April 1894 and played between Cardiff Reserves and Canton. It was a closely fought contest which Cardiff were a little fortunate to win by 8 points to nil. They were helped by the presence of a young Gwyn Nicholls in the centre. He of course captained Wales to victory over New Zealand in 1905, but winning his Mallett Cup medal that afternoon was the first of his many honours in the game. Canton were not without stars of the future either. Playing at fullback for them was Viv Huzzey who later won five caps on the wing for Wales before turning professional.
So Cardiff RFC became the first of the thirty-six clubs who have won the trophy over the hundred and twenty-five years of its existence. Besides Cardiff, the other thirty-five Mallett Cup winning clubs include: Caerau Ely, Canton, Cardiff Metropolitan University, CIAC, Dinas Powys, Fairwater, Glamorgan Wanderers, Llanishen, Llanrumney, Pentyrch, Rumney, St. Albans, St. Josephs, St. Peters, and Whitchurch; as well as twenty clubs which no longer exist: Canton Wanderers, Cardiff Barbarians, Cardiff Crusaders, Cardiff Dockers, Cardiff Gas, Cardiff Northern, Cardiff Romilly, Currans, Grange Baptists, Grange Stars, Grangetown, Guest Keen, Mackintosh, Melingriffith, Old Howardians, Old Sandonians, Roath, Spillers, St. Davids, and St. Pauls.
Cardiff did not defend the Mallett Cup the following season, probably because for the next two years, the competition was organised as a league rather than a knock-out. Cardiff never entered a team in the Mallett Cup again. Canton, however, after being runners-up three times, won the first of their five Mallet Cups in 1896-7.
Tom presented the cup to the winning team immediately after that first final. He attended many more cup finals and presentations over the years and he continued to support Cardiff RFC for the rest of his life. He died aged 85 in 1926 only a few days after watching the Blue and Blacks at the Arms Park. By then, the Mallett Cup was thirty-two years old and had become a much loved Cardiff sporting institution. Tom Mallett therefore deserves our gratitude.
For much more on the origins of rugby in Cardiff and its growth and development in the nineteenth century see: This Rugby Spellbound People: The Birth of Rugby in Cardiff and Wales, published by St. David’s Press, Cardiff.
This is an amended and extended version of an article which appeared in the programme for the Mallett Cup final at Cardiff Arms Park on 11th May 2019.