Rugby was "invented" in 1823 during an intramural football match, at a private boarding school in Rugby, England. William Webb Ellis became so frustrated by his inability to kick the ball, he picked it up and ran towards the goal. The story is most likely apocryphal, since games involving running with a "ball" in hand had existed for centuries before that. However, Webb Ellis's deed is commemorated by a stone on the Rugby school grounds with the inscription
‘This stone commemorates the exploit of William Webb Ellis who with a fine disregard for the rules of football, as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive features of the rugby game.’
Cambridge University immediately adopted the game and popularized it with local rules. Rugby grew in acceptance at other public schools and in 1871 the first Rugby Union was founded in London and firm rules for the game were established. As the Commonwealth spread the rugby code was taken to the four corners of the world. Nostalgic colonials, keen to capture their youth by played rugger. In the spirit of muscular Christianity, indigenous populations were also taught to play the game. Colleges in the US adopted rugby and the very first college football match was between Rutgers (6) vs. Princeton (4) in 1869.
Eventually in the 1880s gridiron was developed as the more favoured game in the US however almost all the precepts are based upon English rugby. In 1880 the scrum was replaced by a line of scrimmage, drawing emphasis from the free-running characteristic of the game. Gridiron continued with rugby rules until 1905 but when photographs of a harsh game between Sarthmore and Pennsylvania were made public. These caused public outcry and President Theodore Roosevelt called for less brutality or the game would be face abolished entirely. In 1906 the forward pass was introduced to the United States game. The rules of rugby died and the game of American football was born.
When Dr. James Naismith, was looking to develop a new indoor game to keep his football players fit through the bitter Midwest winters, he came up with a neat innovation and called the game basketball.
Rugby continued to flourish throughout the Commonwealth, i.e. New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The governing body for rugby is the International Rugby Football Board (I.R.F.B.) commonly referred to as the IRB, and was founded in 1886.
In 1895 some players in Huddersfield North of England asked to be compensated for loss of wages. This compromised the amateur status of the traditional rugby fraternity and hence a new game was formed with professional players (at least at the highest level). Similar divisions occurred later in Australia and New Zealand in 1907. Gradually the rugby played in these breakaway competitions evolved into a distinctly separate sport of rugby league. The split was extremely acrimonious and bitter resentment between the codes still exists. For 100 years, rugby union authorities stuck to their principles and steadfastly refused to permit player payments. It was also against the union rules on amateurism for union players to be involved in any way with league. Even as late as the 1970s it was normal for union players who switched to league to be ostracized by their former clubs. In 1995 the IRFB finally relinquished and rugby union became fully professional at all levels. Until then there had been widespread abuses (in the form of under the table payments, player trust funds, etc). The top players were now expected to train full time and could not realistically maintain employ, unless they became professional. Increasing media interest in the game gave the financial incentive and now both Union and league are professional games. Despite their origins and past history union stars are sometimes sought out by league scouts, and vice versa. Whilst the elite maintain professional status between 80-90% of all rugby union players remain amateur.
The rules of league are different to union and rugby league teams have only 13 players (with two substitutions permitted) whereas rugby union has 15 (and no substitutions, except for injury). Both games enjoy great popularity. Today rugby union is played in well over one hundred different countries with several million people active participants. The I.R.F.B. is responsible for deciding international fixtures, revising the laws of the game and other general matters related to rugby such as amateur status of players.
Rugby has had a few famous people pull on a jersey and join the rough and tumble of the game for the leather elbow patch crowd. Boris Karloff was a standout forward in his native Hungary. When the big man established himself as Mr Terror in Hollywood (1936) he founded the Southern California Rugby Football Union and it is there to this day. Another enthusiast was Pope John Paul II , a solid flanker in his day, representing his native Poland in international play. Teddy Kennedy played at Harvard and David Niven and Richard Harris were both rugby men. Whilst at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Bill Clinton was known to "strap on the boots" from time to time. Richard Burton when asked if he would prefer to play Shakespeare's Hamlet on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, or represent his beloved Wales in a rugby match versus England before 80,000 fans at Twickenham, answered the latter in the affirmative.
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part One: Introduction
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Two: History of the Games
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Three: Rules of the Games
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Four: Rugby Boots
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Five: Studs or Cleats
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Six: Flower of Scotland
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Seven: How to choose rugby boots
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Eight: The Haka
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Nine: Rugby Injuries