The origins of the Exeter University Rugby Football Club can be traced back to the old sides of St. Luke's College. The College was founded in 1839 with the first rugby match taking place in 1860 against Exeter Grammar School. By 1872, Exeter Rugby Football Club had been formed and the club's inaugural match was against St. Luke's College, thus setting the scene for many memorable matches to follow.
By the 1950s college rugby in the United Kingdom had become a major influence upon the game as a whole. In 1957, Devon won the County Championship with St. Luke's providing six members of the team. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed regular fixtures between St. Luke's College and clubs such as Bristol, Gloucester, Rosslyn Park and Wasps. In 1969 a formidable confrontation was established with annual matches, home and away, against Loughborough College. These games proved to be some of the most exhilarating and exciting matches played during this period and ensured that both sides would be remembered as two of the most powerful student rugby clubs of all time.
When St. Luke's College finally amalgamated with the University of Exeter in 1978, many saw this as an end of an era for student rugby in the South-West. Although success has not been as forthcoming as it had been with the St. Luke's College teams of old, the list of those students who have gone on to gain representative honours cannot be ignored. The current crop of players is one of the most exciting to have been assembled for over a decade. Much of their success and anticipated success can be attributed to the University's Sports Scholarship recruitment drive and the close links which have been forged with Exeter Chiefs Rugby Football Club.
Exeter seems to at last be regaining its former glowing reputation within the student rugby arena. Recent successes have seen the club winning the British Universities Sports Association (BUSA) 1st XV in 2001 at Twickenham, which is student sports' most prestigious competition, and the first time Exeter have ever been champions. The club also won the 2nd XV Rugby Championship in 2000 and the BUSA Sevens Competition in 1999. During the same season the Club also reached the finals of the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham. The latter was a feat that had not been achieved for over sixteen years, and not regularly since the glory days of St. Luke's College. The club now has superb strength in depth regularly winning the South-West Fresher’s League.
Currently, thirty-nine former students have won full International Caps. Numerous others have won A, B, Student and Under 21 Caps. Many have played for the Barbarians and several for the British Lions. Former students Richard Hill, John Scott, David Sole and Jeff Squire have all been selected to captain their respective countries.
Off the pitch too, many students have made their mark within the game. In particular, Don Rutherford was the first professional appointment in the Rugby Football Union. He was chosen to be their first Technical Director, while Peter Drewett currently works as the Head Coach of Exeter Chiefs in National League 1. The link with the Chiefs is an excellent one, with the generous coaching and financial support being rewarded through the recruitment of the top players. Former students Jason Luff and James Hanks are currently in their squad, along with current students Toby Freeman, Jamie Fleming, Joe Horn-Smith and Tom Hockedy. Traditionally several 1st XV players have represented the United side although this may continue to a lesser extent in the coming seasons as the Chief’s professional squad increases in size.
The 2007/2008 season saw Exeter perform strongly with the 1st XV being narrowly defeated in the BUSA Semis, losing out to Loughborough on a tense day in South-West London. The 1st VII got even closer to success in the summer term losing in the BUSA final in a close fight with old foes UWIC. The 2nd XV and 3rd XV consistently fought well against several University 1st XV’s and the 4th XV completed its most comprehensive fixture list to date, thanks in part to the activity of Mark Jackson.
Decorated players from the 2007/2008 season include 1st XV captain Michael Rickner (England Students, Exeter United, Sports’ personality of the year), Joe Horn-Smith (England Students, Exeter Chiefs), Tom Hockedy (England Students), Billy Moss (England U20’s, Bath United), Toby Freeman (Exeter Chiefs), Hamish Smales (England Universities, Cornish All Blacks) and Ben Turner (Cornish All Blacks)
The 2008/2009 season saw the 1st XV reach the BUCS (Formerly BUSA) Semi-Finals again, loosing narrowly to UWIC. The Sevens side went on to win the BUCS Championship, beating Loughborough in the final. The 2nd XV had a very promising end to the season narrowly missing out on the BUCS playoffs. The 3rd XV did excellently coming runners up in their league, beating several other teams 1st and 2nd XV's. The fourth XV had their strongest season so far, playing more fixtures than ever and loosing only two fixtures. This strong record has earned them a place in BUCS this season.
Representative players of last year include Billy Moss (England Students, Bath RFC), John Bordiss (Wasps A and 7's team), Toby Freeman (Exeter Chiefs), Jamie Flemming (Exeter Chiefs), Hamish Smales (Cornish All Blacks) and Lewis Webb (Cornish All Blacks).