The origins of Rhino Rugby lie in a business called Format Physical Education Products founded in the 1970's by Tim Francis, a former Loughborough Colleges captain who was at that time a master at Dulwich College having been master in charge of rugby both there and at Tonbridge.
The business initially specialised in athletic and gymnastic equipment, but over time Tim became interested in the challenge of building a scrum machine which could address the issues posed by the increasingly technical nature of forward play. He went from messing around with cotton reels and match sticks in the Dulwich Common Room to experimenting with 44 gallon drums and planks of wood, and had by 1980 progressed the project to the stage where he decided to give up teaching and move to Devon to focus more fully amongst other things on developing what became in due course the Powerhouse – the first modern mass produced and marketed scrum machine.
By touring schools and clubs giving demonstrations and taking on board feedback from players and coaches, Tim was able take the project forward with the support of an enthusiastic bank manager (what price that these days?) and gave the Powerhouse its first 'public' outing at the Rosslyn Park Schools Sevens in March 1982. It was left by the side of the pitch for teams to try out as they wished and six were sold at the tournament; the business was up and running. The machine was also demonstrated at an RFU coaches conference at Bisham Abbey in May 1982, with renowned French coach Pierre Villepreux demonstrating it together with RFU technical director Don Rutherford. Pierre went on to evangelise for the machine in the French market, with Rhino subsequently for many years enjoying Official Supplier Status with the FFR.
Tim was joined around this time by his brother in law Derek de Glanville, future Managing Director of Rhino, and also benefitted from the very beginnings of the project from the wholehearted support of Rosslyn Park captain and future England World Cup winning scrum coach Phil Keith-Roach, who was a fellow teacher at Dulwich and an early convert to the merits of the Powerhouse.
Tim, Derek and Phil were the 'founding fathers' of Rhino Rugby and took the business as a partnership through to its incorporation and Business Expansion Scheme share issue in 1988. By January 1983 the England team were using the Powerhouse at a pre 5 Nations training camp, and the Rosslyn Park pack, including the legendary Andy Ripley, a future Rhino Chairman from 1988 to 2006, were the models on the Powerhouse for the 1983 Format Brochure.