In 1908 the University of Sydney challenged the students of the University of Melbourne to play a game of Rugby Football. The game was played with great success and while the ultimate scores were either never recorded or lost forever in the annals of time, the seeds of a yearning for more of this “foreign” game were sewn, leading to the formation of the Club the following year. The Melbourne University Rugby Football Club (MURFC) was subsequently founded in 1909, as one of 5 foundation clubs to establish the Victorian Rugby Union. The Club won its first premiership in 1910 and has always fielded a team in the top grade of any Victorian Competition, winning its fair share of premierships over the years. MURFC has experienced two periods of dominance in the local rugby competition – the late 1920s/early 1930s and the late 1950s/early 1960s.
In 1926 MURFC competed in its first intervarsity match against Sydney University. In the local competition, the club fielded two teams, which in 1927 finished runners-up in A grade and premiers in the B grade. Other clubs at this time were Old Boys, St Kilda and Melbourne. By 1931, MURFC had four teams in the local comp and an estimated 100 members. The club won the inter-varsity competition against Sydney and Queensland universities in 1934, and went on to win the local premiership in the same year.
The first two club players to be selected in a representative side, Harry Yoffa and Gordon Sturtridge, played for Victoria against New South Wales in 1927. Gordon Sturtridge became the first Victorian to be selected for Australia in 1929 and he went on to become “one of the most elusive backs” in world rugby at that time. Other MURFC players of this era to represent Victoria were N R Burns, George Pearson, D M Lombard, Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop and CHM Haydon: with Pearson and Dunlop also playing for Australia. Gordon Sturtridge was also instrumental in inviting Weary Dunlop to join the Club.
An additional key club figure of this era was B K (Mike) Phelan, who played from 1926, coached from after the war and was president from 1958 to 1977. The Club continues to remember Mike’s contribution through the Phelan Bar, and those players who played under him will often hum a rendition of the Marseillaise at functions when his name is mentioned. (This is due to the fact that he bore a similar resemblance to Charles De Gaulle the former French President. Hence the link to the French anthem)
Clearly the most successful period in the club’s history was the late 1950s and 1960s. The period saw the club grow again and produce a new crop of state and national representatives. Most prominent of these players was Geoff Vaughan. Vaughan played for the University with distinction from 1957 to 1964, played intervarsity, captained Victoria, and played for Australia. Other key club players of the 1950s and 1960s included John Cocks (played for Victoria (Captain), Combined Universities and Australia), Ken Alexander, Bob Cowper, Trevor Cowper, Chris Foster, Bruce Jacobs, Bob Humphris, Paul Waylen, Phil Spence, Jock Langlands, Robert Burnet, and Peter Hone who all represented Victoria, with John Cocks and Peter Hone having captained the state team.
Uni sides played in 9 consecutive Grand Finals, and were Premiers in 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, and 1967. The dedication of this group of players is still seen around the Club today through the Peter Hone scholarship and the Geoff Vaughan trophy for the Best Front Rower.
By comparison to the golden years of the 50s and 60s, the period from 1970-90s were lean times for the club.
Uni struggled for consistency against the demands of the transient University population, and building team stability was a constant challenge year to year.The Club also did not have a permanent Clubhouse and used local hotels and the Carlton Bowling Club for home functions. Hearing the call of the drums, ex 1960s player Peter Hone returned to the club as first grade coach in 1989, followed up by a sustained period as President (1993-2004), establishing a more stable club management. In a partnership forged between Hone, club secretary Rick Boykett (1980/90s player), the City of Melbourne and the University of Melbourne, the Smith Oval pavilion was redeveloped and in 1996 provided the club with its first permanent home.
Success on the field has been more sporadic for the club in recent years. Since that time, with the expansion of the University and rugby generally in Victoria, the Club expanded its player base and in addition to fielding three or four sides in the 1st Division, now has a strong Colts side, a Gents team, and a base of over 100 players. Colts teams won premiership flags in 1980, 1987, 2008 and 2017. The Third Grade also have the rare hat-trick of premierships in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and the Womens team were premiers in 2000. Most recently, Second Grade won the premiership in 2011.