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Rugby History

What is the history of Rugby? What are its origins? Where did Rugby come from? Who invented it? Here is the history of Rugby.

Rugby History

Table of Contents


What Are the Basic Rules of Rugby?

There are two different variations of rugby. One variety requires each team to have seven (7) players occupying the field at any given point, while the other is played with fifteen (15) players to a side. There is also a limit to the number of substitutes that can be included on a team's roster, with a maximum of eight (8) reserve players for the 15-on-15 variation of rugby and five (5) replacement players permitted for a sevens rugby match.

The goal of rugby is to advance the ball down the field and eventually score points by either kicking the ball through the goal posts or touching it to the ground inside of the opponent's end zone area. Unlike american football, forward passes are prohibited in rugby. The ball must instead be advanced by running onto a backwards pass or kicking the ball forwards for a teammate to recover.

Several basic penalties relative to illegal physical contact and improper positioning also exist within the sport of rugby. Players are not allowed to leave their feet and 'jump' into a tackle when trying to bring down an opposing ball carrier, nor are they allowed to lay on top of the ball and neglect to place it down behind them after being tackled.

Rugby Rules

Which Country Started Rugby?

There are many different theories as to wear rugby was first created. However, the widely held belief is that the sport originated in the central part of England. The nation was better known as Great Britain at the time, and the very first rugby teams hailed from Scotland in addition to England itself. The establishment of rugby as an official sport can be attributed to Great Britain because the first competitive clubs represented member nations of the United Kingdom.

Who Invented Rugby?

William Webb Ellis of Great Britain is credited with the invention of rugby. A former football player, Ellis came up with the idea upon realizing that the ball could be picked up off the ground and kicked towards the opposing team's end zone in order to gain more efficient scoring opportunities. Realizing that he had created a significantly modified version of football that appealed to lots of athletes, Ellis decided to introduce rugby as its own unique sport, earning him the naming rights to the Rugby World Cup trophy that is awarded to the winner of the penultimate championship tournament that still exists today.

When was Rugby Established?

Rugby was established by Ellis in 1823, although formal rules and clubs were not brought into the fold until the first professional rugby league (Rugby Football Union) was formed in 1871. Moreover, rugby made its debut as a recognized Olympic sporting event in 1900, further establishing it as a desirable alternative to more well-known sports such as football.

While the sport was played for leisure at several high schools and universities in the early 1800s, it started to gain more popularity in 1895 with the establishment of the first two formal rugby leagues (Rugby Football Union and Northern Rugby Football Union). Nearly 100 years later, rugby officially became recognized as a professional sport in 1995. The year also marked the first ever Rugby World Cup, in which participating nations battled against one another in an attempt to be crowned world champion.

Listed below are the five countries in which rugby is most popular, ranked in order based on the number of players and professional organizations that hail from each nation.

  1. New Zealand
  2. England
  3. Australia
  4. South Africa
  5. France

Rugby History Key Facts and Timeline

For a brief overview of the key facts and historical events in rugby's history, be sure to check out the timeline provided below.

  • 1820-1830: basic elements of rugby gameplay are created in England
  • 1845: the first written rugby rules are drafted by a group of English students
  • 1871: Rugby Football Union is formed in London
  • 1874: first rugby match held in the United States
  • 1882: first international tournament is played between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland
  • 1886: the foundation of the International Rugby Board (first international governing body for the sport of rugby)
  • 1900: rugby makes its Olympic debut
  • 1900s: rugby continues to gain popularity around the globe and universal scoring system is adopted
  • 1987-2015: New Zealand national team enjoys reign of dominance, winning three Rugby World Cups
  • 2019: South Africa upsets New Zealand to win the World Cup hosted in Japan


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