The History of Rugby Union

The History of Rugby Union

There are several schools of thought as to the origins of the game we all love so much. But one thing is for sure, whatever your views, the game as it is played today – whether in a World Cup Final or in an Under 13s game at your local club – bears little resemblance to any of its forerunners.

Some maintain that rugby evolved from one of the many ball sports that were to be found in different parts of the world from medieval times onward. Two of these potential progenitors of rugby are the Celtic game of Caid, and the Welsh game of Cnapan, both of which placed emphasis on running with the ball. Others are such games as La Soule in France and Campball in East Anglia, along with similar games played by the Maori, Eskimo and Polynesian peoples which may well have had some bearing on the future of rugby. It is, however, most widely believed, though with little factual evidence to support the story, that the game was inspired by William Webb Ellis in 1823.

Webb Ellis was a seventeen year old schoolboy at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England where it is alleged that during a game of football he caught the ball and instead of retiring backwards rushed forwards, ball in hand towards the opposite goal. Put simply he ‘cheated.’ Although handling the ball appears to have been tolerated at the time (rules did vary almost on a game to game basis), running with it in hand was not.

Now although a plaque at Rugby School commemorates Webb Ellis for having ‘a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time,’ and ‘originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game’ in 1823, it must be pointed out that his actions were only reported by one person, another former pupil of Rugby, Matthew Bloxham, and that report was 53 years after the event.

Whatever the involvement of Webb Ellis, it is known that the game began to spread throughout the schools and universities of the United Kingdom, although there were no common rules and teams often became exasperated at their opponents’ interpretations.

At this time football and rugby had not gone their separate ways and in 1843 Old Rugbeians formed Guys Hospital F.C., the oldest ‘football club’ in the world. Other significant clubs to be formed in these early days were Dublin University F.C. in 1854 and Blackheath Rugby Club in 1858.

In 1863 the Football Association (F.A.) was founded during a series of meetings at the Freemasons Tavern, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. The paramount aim of those assembled was to codify the rules of football. Controversy emerged over two points, ‘running with the ball’ and ‘hacking’ and it was decided after five meetings to do away with both. This was the catalyst for the divergence between rugby and football, as Francis Maude Campbell from Blackheath protested that to remove both would ‘do away with all the courage and pluck from the game,’ and that he would ‘be bound to bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a week’s practice.’ Campbell withdrew Blackheath saying that the rules the Football Association intended to adopt would destroy the game and all interest in it. Ten other clubs followed his lead and refused to join the F.A.

For some years the game continued with no standardised rules until on December 4th 1870 Edwin Ash of Richmond and Benjamin Burns of Blackheath published a letter in the Times suggesting that ‘those who play the rugby-type game should meet to form a code of practice as various clubs play to rules which differ from others, which makes the game difficult to play agen bola.” On January 26th 1871 representatives from 21 clubs met in London at the Pall Mall Restaurant in Regents Street. Some of these clubs are still in existence today including Blackheath, Richmond, and Harlequins. London Wasps should have been the 22nd club in attendance, however their representative professed to have received incorrect details as to the time and place of the meeting. It has though been suggested that the man in question had had a few too many drinks and was unable to find the venue.

As a consequence of this meeting the Rugby Football Union (R.F.U.) was formed and Algernon Rutter was elected as its first president. Three lawyers present including Rutter drew up the first laws of the game which were approved in June 1871. The irony of the new code was that it did not permit hacking, a tactic which had been progressively attacked since 1863.

The first ever international fixture was played in 1871 at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh between Scotland and England. The teams were twenty-a-side and the game was played over two 50 minute periods. The match was won by Scotland who scored one goal (a try followed by a successful conversion). Both teams had also scored a try but missed the conversion and therefore did not register any score. In a return match in 1872 at Kennington Oval, London England were the winners.

In 1886 the International Rugby Football Board (I.R.F.B.) was formed by Scotland, Ireland and Wales after a disagreement over a disputed try scored by England in an 1884 fixture against Scotland. The referee had disallowed the try due to foul play by Scotland. England maintained that he should have played advantage, and that as they had made the Laws ‘If they said it was a try then it was.’ England refused to join as they wanted greater representation on the board as they had the most clubs. They also wanted to be the arbiter of the rules of the game. The I.R.F.B. instructed its members not to play in England until they finally recanted and joined in 1890.

In 1997 the I.R.F.B. moved its headquarters from London to Dublin and a year later changed its name to the International Rugby Board (I.R.B.).

The rules have been constantly modified over the years. In 1877 teams were reduced from 20 to 15 players. Originally no points were awarded for a try unless the resulting conversion was successful. In 1889 a try scored one point and a conversion two and then in 1891 it became two points for a try and two for the kick. Two years later a try became worth three points, in 1971 this was increased to four and again in 1991 to five. The value of a conversion has not changed since scoring began. Penalty kicks have been worth three points since 1891. Prior to that date they were worth two. Drop kicks for a period between 1891 and 1948 were worth four points which was subsequently reduced to three. The oval ball was endorsed as the compulsory shape in 1892 having previously been spherical.

In 1895 twenty clubs from the Cheshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire region resigned from the R.F.U. and formed the Northern Rugby Football Union (known after 1922 as the Rugby Football League). This was a bitter split, the result of allegations of player payments to some of the largely working-class participants in rugby in the north of England. Amateurism was strictly enforced by the I.R.F.B. and it would be over a century before anyone accepting payment or having played rugby league would be allowed into the game.

After 1987, and the first Rugby World Cup it became apparent that rugby was generating considerable sums of money and inevitably in 1995 it was declared an ‘open game’. Bearing in mind the acrimonious nature of the divide between the two codes the wounds have healed remarkably quickly over the ensuing years with many high profile players switching back and forth between codes.

Rugby is still in a state of transition and the rule makers struggle to find the balance between developing a modern fast-paced game for the professional strata and accommodating the huge number of participants of the game at the grass roots level. Daftar Maxbet It remains to be seen whether the Stellenbosch experiments etc. and the resulting Experimental Law Variations will have a lasting influence on this great game.