A Brief History of Rugby

A Brief History of Rugby

Usually, when naming a new sport, one characteristic aspect is chosen that defines it from the others. However, there is a case in which the name of a town in Warwickshire has become that of a much loved and practiced discipline: rugby.

  • The spread of rugby in Great Britain
  • The arrival of professionalism in rugby
  • Rugby 15 and Rugby 13
  • The Rugby World Cup
  • The 1995 edition in South Africa
  • Rugby league

Although there were numerous similar sports, starting with Florentine football, Rugby School formalized it in 1845, hence its name. The oval ball game gained popularity in England in the middle of the nineteenth century, and when the Football Association was created in 1863, it allowed and even encouraged players to use their feet.

Like football before 1871, every school and club had its own rugby rules. Hacking—tripping or kicking the opponent’s legs—was the most controversial.

If the impossibility of tripping people in possession of the ball is one of the causes of the break with football in the UK, a real movement of opinion begins against the brutality of the practice, tolerated during the action, and against those who were offside. Since the Rugby Football Union was founded, hacking has been removed from the rulebook.

The spread of rugby in Great Britain

The first international match is therefore held with the rules just established, which, needless to say, pits two English and two Scottish teams (each with twenty players) against each other. On the other hand, in the homeland of rugby, this novelty is not liked, and in fact, the Rugby School will only become part of the federation in 1890.

By that time, rugby had already spread not only throughout the United Kingdom but also in the various British dominions outside the Isles, even in the most remote corners of the Empire. Not for nothing, the annual match between England and Scotland is giving away the Calcutta Cup, a trophy made with 270 melted silver rupees and donated to the Rugby Union by the club of the Indian town, which dissolved in 1878 but in doing so keeps alive its history nearly 150 years later.

The arrival of professionalism in rugby

In South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, the oval ball gains popularity despite the Australians producing their own version, Australian Football, which is still popular today. Eight years before Rugby School joined the “Home Championship” (England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland), which became the “Five Nations tournament” in 1910 with the addition of France, international matches were already being played.

However, a split creates two rugby styles. Professionalism is usually the reason.

The Rugby Union prohibits championships and player compensation. In football in the north of England, a controversy occurs. The firms opted to pay the gamers, who were mostly workers, for “broken time,” i.e., the time the games took away from work, lowering their salaries.

22 northern English clubs fought over this payment in 1895. The Northern Union became the Rugby League in 1922.

Rugby 15 and Rugby 13

Even though the number of players on the field is not the only difference between rugby 15 and rugby 13, the split has had lasting effects.

Rugby Union began live betting in 1995, a century after Rugby League.

Rugby was at the Olympics from 1900 through 1924, which helped establish its global reach before the First World War.

The Rugby World Cup

However, this is clear from the growing popularity of the southern hemisphere’s national teams, especially New Zealand’s, which started wearing an all-black uniform at the start of the 20th century, giving rise to the legend of the “All Blacks.”

Indeed, after the Great War, the New Zealanders embark on a European tour from which they emerge undefeated, signaling that the balance of power does not concern only the Home Nations. Yet it takes several years before the decision is made to play a real rugby World Cup. We have to wait until 1987 for the first edition, which takes place in New Zealand and sees the victory of the home team.

The 1995 edition in South Africa

The 1995 edition, held in South Africa, however, represents the real breaking point with the past. The Springboks had been barred from competing in the previous two cups due to the apartheid regime, and they won the trophy in their first appearance, much to Nelson Mandela’s delight.

The impactful images of the World Cup and the long-awaited turn toward professionalism changed everything for rugby. The Tri Nations competition, which pits New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa against each other, was established in 1996 as the southern hemisphere’s answer to the Five Nations.

A few years later, it will become the Six Nations, thanks to the inclusion of Italy, which in the 1990s began to produce players of international level and was admitted to play in the famous tournament in 2000. The Tri Nations also welcomed a new host national team, Argentina, and changed its name to the Rugby Championship in 2012.

Rugby league

However, the arrival of professionalism also has several repercussions at club level. The dominance that rugby at 13 had for a century, the only one in which players were allowed to pay, has gradually waned, even though rugby “league” is still very popular in England and Australia, as are rugby bets.

On the other hand, many tournaments were born at a continental level (such as the European Champions Cup in Europe) and worldwide (such as the United Rugby Championship, which sees the participation of franchises from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy, and South Africa), whose protagonists continue to spread the love for rugby in every corner of the planet. After all, on closer inspection, rather than being spherical, it’s still oval!