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A Short History Of England's Rugby

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Rugby, perhaps the most rough and tough sport of the contemporary world, is just as popular as soccer in most English-speaking countries outside of North America. The game is named after its place of origin, Rugby School in Warwickshire, and is comprised of two main sports; rugby league and rugby union. Rugby football also gave birth to today's American football

Rugby League & Rugby Union

Rugby league is widely played in Ireland, France, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Although rugby league is the national sport of only New Guinea, several other countries hold amateur competitions of rugby league, such as France, Russia, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Serbia, Lebanon, South Africa, Japan, Canada, the United States, Fiji, Cook Islands and Tonga.

Rugby union is the national sport of New Zealand and Wales, but is also played in France, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, and most notably in England. Other less prominent rugby unions exist in Italy, the United States, Japan, Argentina, Romania, and several North African countries. This form of rugby is also the national sport of the Pacific Rim countries, such as Fiji and Tonga.

Rugby league and rugby union share many similar position names and requirements, although a fan of either establishment would be sure to clearly state their differences. In most countries where the sports are played, rugby union is widely regarded as a historically amateur sport, since many private schools and grammar schools play the Ð''union' version. Conversely, rugby league has traditionally the reputation of a working class, professional, hobby.

Because of the rough nature of the games, the world of rugby takes seriously to unsportsmanlike play, since any violation of the rules can lead to mortal injuries. Due to this serious nature, rules are strictly imposed.

Rules and Game Play

Aspects identical of the two rugby games include an oval ball which cannot be passed forward, so that players can only advance down the field by kicking or running with the ball. Maneuvers of rugby union include the scrum, when members of each team push against each other for possession of the ball. The lineout, consists of parallel lines of players of each team, perpendicular to the field's sideline, attempt to catch the ball thrown from the area behind the sideline.

The scrum still exists in rugby league, but with minor importance. One of the most telling differences between the two fashions of rugby is that rugby league plays begin from the pay ball situation. This method has led to rugby league's evolution into a fast-paced and more aggressive game, since more emphasis is placed upon running the ball up the field, passing, and scoring.

Aside from sheer numbers Ð'- league teams play with 13 and union with 15 Ð'- the main difference of the two sports is the process that takes place after tackles have been made during play. Union players contest possession prior to the tackle, then depending on the situation, either a ruck (when players converge in a huddle with the ball at their feet) or a maul occurs (when the ball carrier is hoisted up by other teammates). League players, however, do not contest possession. Play is simply continued with a play-the-ball (a situation much like an American football kickoff).

Scoring occurs in both union and league games by attaining a try or a goal. A try is extremely similar to an American football touchdown, and involves moving the ball over the goal line at the opponent's end of the field. Much like an American field goad, a rugby goal is achieved by kicking the ball between the upright goalposts. Several different types of kicks can score goals, a goal kick after a try has been awarded, a drop kick, or a penalty kick.


The tale of the origins of rugby date back to the mid-Nineteenth Century and a young Rugby School student named William Webb Ellis. It is alleged that Ellis in 1823, during a game of football, took the ball in his arms and ran with it. Although this has been the legend of the beginnings of rugby for years, there is little evidence to support this, and many have dismissed the story. Nonetheless, the story is galvanized in the sport, as the Rugby Union World Cup is named in honor of Ellis.

Numerous variations of football have a long tradition in England, and football games most likely existed at Rugby School close to 200 years before the first set of written rules were published in 1845. Before the codified rules, a set of procedures would be agreed upon before the match of two teams.

Rugby football has strong claims to the world's first and oldest football club formed by former students of Rugby School. The Guy's Hospital Football Club was thus formed in London in 1843. Throughout the former British Empire, numerous other clubs were formed to play games based on the Rugby School rules. In the British Isles alone, football clubs began appearing in such places as Dublin University in 1854, Edinburgh in 1857, and in Blackheath and Liverpool in 1858.

By 1870 close to seventy-five clubs played various versions of the Rugby School game in Britain. However, clubs still played without any unanimous set of rules. In January of 1871, twenty-two clubs founded the Rugby Football Union, thus leading to the codifying of a general set of rules for all of England's rugby clubs.

In 1886, the International Rugby Board became the world governing body and law-making body for rugby, and was recognized by the RFU four years later. The last decade of the Nineteenth Century produced an upheaval between the workingmen's rugby clubs of northern England and the clubs of southern gentlemen. Disagreements concerning the nature of professionalism of rugby led to the historic division of the sport. In Yorkshire in1895, twenty-one clubs split from the Rugby Football Union to form the Northern Rugby Football Union, or the Northern Union.

For simplicity, it became necessary to differentiate the two codes of rugby. The code played by those teams who remained in national organizations, which made up the International Rugby Board became known as Rugby Union. The code played by those teams that played "open" rugby and allowed professional players became known as Rugby League.

National Rugby Football Union rules gradually formed from those of Rugby Union, although the name Rugby League did not become official until the Northern Rugby League was formed in 1901. The origin of the Rugby Football League title dates from 1922.

A conference held in 1948 in Bordeaux set



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