The History of Rugby

France playing rugby

My French life

France playing rugby

In the words of Winston Churchill, “rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen.” Rugby Football is a collective name for the rugby union and rugby league family. In the United States, Rugby Union is currently one of the fastest-growing sports.

Rugby is a game consisting of two teams of 15 players. The teams have eighty minutes (two forty-minute halves with five-minute halftime) to get the ball past their opponent’s endzone and touch it on the ground for a 5 point score. The ball must be passed backward or sideways, with no blocking. The game starts with a kickoff from center field. Whichever team gets the ball tries to score a goal. A try is when a player touches the ball on the ground in the opponent’s goal. After a trialtry, the team is given the chance to score the ball over the opponent’s cross-bar and in between the goalposts, counting for 2 points, called a conversion. Penalties can give the non-offending team a kick through the posts, which is worth 3 points. At the end of the match, the team with the most points wins.

In 1823, at an independent school in England called Rugby School, William Webb Ellis invented rugby football. Ignoring the rules of the standard “no hands” football (English football), William carried the ball in his arms while running towards the opponent’s goal, making a new move that would evolve into rugby football. Forms of football, though, consisting of the tossing and carrying of a ball, can be traced back to medieval times. William’s move in 1823 led to the formulation of the official sport.  The rules of rugby were established in 1846.  In 1863 a collection of different organizations decided on a rule set. The Rugby Football Union was formed in 1871, and the first-ever international match was played between England and Scotland. Pierre De Coubertin introduced rugby union to the Summer Olympics in 1900, having France, Germany, and Great Britain compete, concluding in a victory from France. In 1987, the first-ever Rugby World Cup took place in Australia and New Zealand, ending with the home team, New Zealand, defeating France 29-9. Rugby entered the United States in the mid 19th century, then began to gain popularity during the late century. The United States won gold in rugby in 1920 and 1924 in the final against France. Today, Rugby is a large influence on the more popular American game, football, whose rules and roots stem from the original English game.

In America, Rugby rules are lesser-known in comparison to larger American sports. Rugby is a very popular international sport, having clubs and national teams in diverse places such as Japan, Côte d’Ivoire, Georgia, Uruguay, and Spain. From its accidental creation to its fast-growing pace today, Rugby is a classic English sport enjoyed by players and watchers around the world.