The Interesting History of Rugby


Most of us may probably be familiar with the popular sports football (soccer) and American football, and although they do have similar names, they have different rules. As many sports enthusiasts know, soccer or football was the first sport that was developed before American football, so a few may be wondering, how did a sport that mainly involves using our feet evolved into American football, which primarily uses the hands? The answer to this question is simple, there was a sport created in the early 1800s that served as an inspiration for what American football is today, and that sport is called rugby. How did the sport came to be? And how did it become popular? To find the answers, here is the interesting history of rugby football.

Ancient Games Similar to Rugby

Before the invention of football, there were already several games that were develop that has similar rules. One of these ancient games was “harpastum,” a sport created by the Romans that involves using the hands and feet of players. However, the Romans is said to have only modified the rules in the existing Greek game “episkyros,” which is speculated to have been around before 350 BC. Both of these games are believed to have similarities to football and rugby.

Invention of Rugby

Fast forward to the 1800s, football or soccer was the most popular sport during that time, and people of all social statuses and ages are playing the sport, although the elites are usually the ones who are playing it on a professional level.

It is said that rugby was invented by accident during a game of football in 1823 at the Rugby School, an institution located in Warwickshire, England. In the game, a player named William Webb Ellis started picking up the ball and ran with it towards the goal. There were no historical records that proved that Webb Ellis was the one who created rugby, but his iconic name will forever be etched in sports history as a pioneer. Because of being credited to be the inventor of rugby, the Rugby World Cup trophy is named after him.

After the creating of the sport at Rugby School, other schools eventually formed their own rugby team because of the sport’s popularity among students. The first “rugby football” team was said to have been formed by then-student Albert Pell, an alumni at Rugby School, at Cambridge University. All the other schools will soon follow after Cambridge and created their own rugby team.

Development of Rugby’s Rules

During the early years of rugby, many schools have attempted to create their own rules in the sport, but the Rugby School have tried to convince these schools to implement the same rules that they developed. The standard set of rules for most schools was then written at the Rugby School in 1845, but Cambridge wrote their own rules in 1848.

In order for all football teams to agree on a single set of rules, the Football Association (FA) started writing universal rugby rules in 1863, which prompted all participating schools to follow what is written by the FA. However, many disagreed on the FA rules, as it banned the use of hands, which were essential in playing rugby.

Out of protest, many football clubs who wanted to continue using the “rugby rules” left the FA and formed the Rugby Football Union in 1871. Due to it being invented at the Rugby School, the name attached to the sport officially became “rugby” in order for it to be classified as a different sport from football.

Founding of the Rugby League

In 1895, a scandal broke out of the Rugby Football Union that involves compensating or paying players for not going to their regular work. Because of the major schism, many clubs that were located in Northern England decided to resigned from the Rugby Union, and in August 29, 1985, these clubs formed the “Northern Rugby Football Union.” In 15 years, the new union was able to convince other clubs to join them for better salaries and regulations. The Northern Rugby Football Union will eventually be known as “rugby league.”

With the separation of the Northern England clubs to the Rugby Football Union, it created two different sets of rules in the sport, with rugby union sticking to the classic rules while the rugby league modified the rules and made it more exciting for the players to play and for the audience to watch.

Rugby’s Popularity

tackles in rugby football

Despite losing many clubs, rugby union remained as the more popular sport than rugby league, even though the latter is built on making the game more fun to view at the stadium. The popularity of rugby union can be attributed to the fact that almost anyone can play the sport, as it involves less contact and tackles compared to rugby league, which has rules that are similar to American football, although rugby league players wear less protective accessories or gear to make them move faster.

In addition, according to rugby fans, rugby union involves more strategy and game plane as opposed to rugby league where they say that brute force often wins games. In rugby league, fans often state that the better built you are in terms of muscle mass and strength, the better you can survive tackles on the field. If you look at picture of union and league players and compare them side by side, you will notice that most league players have bigger muscles on their arms, and union players would often have a balanced muscle mass in their body. The large muscles on the arms allow rugby league players to have a better grip on the ball while also being able to use arm strength for devastating tackles.

Many are still arguing today as to which type of rugby is better, but one thing is for certain, both rugby sports are fun and exciting to play. You can go watch videos online or play both rugby union and rugby league so you can decide for yourself if one is better than the other.

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