History of Rugby


The birth of rugby began in England and has developed and spread throughout Britain into one of the nations top played and watched sports. Rugby is a tough sport not only physically but also mentally. It all began in England in the early 1800s and has grown into a huge sport all across Britain with hundreds of teams. A lot of things are different in its early begging stages from how it played today to how the position and fields are set up. My five topics are how rugby was founded, the early rules of rugby, and the early type of apparel worn, the field of play, and its positions.

How rugby was actually founded is shrouded in mystery. One of its most famous legends of how it all started took place in 1823 at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England. When William Webb Ellis was playing a football game (soccer) at Rugby School instead of following the rules picked up the ball and ran toward the opponent’s goal (Powell 1). All who witnessed this became intrigued on the idea of running the ball and spread the word. To commiserate Ellis in his actions a stone was placed outside of Rugby School etched with the writing, “This stone commemorates the Exploit of William Webb Ellis who with a fine disregard of the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game A.D. 1823” (General History of Rugby 1). Most historians believe this to be urban legend, but not all of it is made up. It is known that at Rugby School is where Rugby became codified into a sport (Fagan 1). While other schools in the area moved ahead refining their rules of football, Rugby school developed differently, and by the 1830s running with the ball a Rugby School was in common use. As word of this new game spread, rugby clubs started to appear all around England in 1870(General History of Rugby 1).

The early rules were not formed right away; it took a period of years to create. As each new rugby club sprang up, they used different rules because there were no official rules created yet. To fix this, a meeting was held on January 26, 1871 where twenty two clubs from all around England attended to agree on setting rules. This is where the Rugby Union was founded. Following the founding of the Rugby Union, a committee was formed consisting of ex- rugby school studiers who formed a set of law or rules to help unify the game (General History of Rugby 1). By June 1871 they had accomplished their task and an official set of rules were made. Their rules were associated with the type of equipment worn, scoring, and player- to- played contact. The scoring system worked almost the same as modern day rugby. A try at goal worth three points, a converted try five points, penalty goal three points and four points for a field goal. The cross bar was accompanied by a rule that a goal could only be scored by the ball passing over the bar from a placed kick or drop kick (History of Rugby 2). Player- to- player contact rules were created to prevent players from seriously injuring each other, but injures and even deaths were quite common in it early history, for example, hacking over was prohibited because it could leave a player with bad bruises or even broken shins, and after rugby first official season was over there was a total of seventy one deaths caused by heat stroke to broken bones and even massive head injuries. They also introduced an off-your-side rule which was used to keep the teams apart and passing the ball forward was not allowed (History of Rugby 2). Some of the rules that were about player equipment, for example, studs in boots can be worn but had to be cylindrical and not less then ¾ inch in diameter. Studs must be made of leather and have to be fastened to boots by at least three nails. Rubber studs were added in 1948, aluminum in 1953, and plastic in 1954 (Rugby Football History 2).

The early type of apparel worn and equipment used by Rugby players was limited because; rugby acquired little or no equipment/ apparel at all. Due to the lack of equipment injuries were extremely common. In 1839 the Rugby School was the first to adopt a Rugby uniform. The uniform included a cap, trousers, boots, and long sleeve shirts with their choice of color decided by the team (Rugby Football History 3). The cap also know as the Scrum Cap is made from light leather or sturdy cloth some people thing the scrum cap was used for head protection but that is completely false, the only protection scrum caps offered was ear protection because it had flaps that cover the players ears to protect them from getting grab and even torn off.. The player’s trousers were made of a light sturdy cloth, and the long – sleeved shirt was made of cotton, which allowed ventilation and there usually was a collar with the player’s number on the back, and on the upper front left corner of the player’s shirt was the team or club badge (Powell 9). The first rugby balls were made of an inflated sheep bladder.

The first rugby fields were about one hundred and ten yards long and about seventy five yards wide. Most fields were covered in grass, but clay and sand field surfaces were acceptable even though they made players much more susceptible to injury (Powell 6). The lines on early rugby fields were marked in white; there were four types of lines: touch lines, goal lines, dead-ball lines, and touch-in-goal lines. Touch lines are the perimeters of the field down the sides, goal lines are located at each end of the field, and in the center of the goal line there is a field goal. Dead-ball lines are located at each end of the field and are also perimeters. Touch-in-goal lines are located at the ends of both sides of the field at the corner where the touch line and dead-ball line come together (Powell 6 7). If a team has any objection about the field or the field markings, they must tell the referee before the start of the game.

All the positions in Rugby require skills such as sprinting can handle the ball, pass the ball, kick the ball, and tackle. In early Rugby their were seven main positions and theses positions are the Fullback, which is the last line of defense and he must be reliable, a good tackler, an excellent kicker, a good ball handler, and a fast runner. The Wings are the fastest sprinters on any team, must run straight and close to the touch lines, and always carries the ball in both hands. Centers , there are two of them, one left the other right, they align themselves in a three quarter line next to each other, their most important role is to be on his opposite center who has the ball so they can be tackled fast. The fly-half kicks the ball high and deep, and are extensions to the scrum half. The scrum-half role is to determine how the play develops after the forward have gained the ball. The half- back role is to watch where the ball goes at any moment and try to get it. The Line-out role is to jump and catch the ball or to tap it to one of his players (Powell 51-87).

The sport of rugby has come a long way from its early beginnings back in the 1800’s, and has exploded into a huge sport in Britain and all around the world. Rugby is still a very physical and mental sport today but that would be the case if the men who started it didn’t play rugged and physical. How Rugby was actually founded is still a mystery, but what is known is that a lot of things were different in rugby when it all started in Britain like it rules, the type of clothing and protection worn, the field, and the positions have all changed for the better of the sport. My topics were how rugby was founded, early rules of rugby, and the early type of apparel/equipment used, the field of play, and its positions. Maybe some day we will really find the true creator of the great sport called they call Rugby.

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