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Rugby football
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Rugby football

This is about the sport 'Rugby'. For other uses see Rugby

General description

Rugby football is a catch-all term which may refer to two related but separate sports: Rugby League and Rugby Union. Both forms of the game are very popular in the United Kingdom, France, Australia and New Zealand. Rugby Union is the national sport of Wales, New Zealand and Pacific countries such as Tonga, Fiji, Samoa. Rugby Union is also played in South Africa,Ireland,Italy,Romania,Argentina, Japan,Russia and many other countries. Rugby League is the national sport of Papua New Guinea and is also played in most of the above countries.

An old saying goes "Soccer is a gentleman's game played by hooligans, and rugby is a rufian's game played by gentlemen." It is quite commonly considered a gentleman's sport, being taught in most private schools, (along with fencing and boxing.) Because of the nature of the game (full contact with little if no padding,) it must be played by gentlemen, for a slight variance of the rules can quickly lead to great injury or death. Because of this the rules are strictly enforced.


The distinctive features common to both rugby games are the ovoid ball and the fact that passing the ball forwards is illegal, so that ground can be gained only by running with the ball or kicking it.

Set pieces of the Union game include the scrum, where packs of opposing players push against each other for possession, and the line out where lines of players attempt to catch the ball thrown from the sidelines.

In the League game, the scrum still exists, but is of greatly reduced importance, and there are no line-outs.

The main difference between the two games, besides League having thirteen players and Union fifteen, is that possession following the tackle is contested in Union and uncontested in League.

Scoring in both games is by either grounding the ball at the opponents' end of the field, or kicking it between upright posts.

The high level of contact and lack of protective padding make both codes of Rugby an extremely physical game. Touch Rugby offers a variation on the same theme without injury or some of the complications of traditional rugby.


Main article: History of Rugby Football See also: Football; History of rugby union; History of Rugby League

The legendary story about the origin of Rugby football, whereby a young man named William Webb Ellis "picked up the ball and ran", while playing football at Rugby School is almost certainly a complete fiction. There were no standard rules for football during Webb Ellis's time at Rugby (1816-1825). The rules were determined by the pupils and were frequently changed with each new intake. Many varieties of football were played at the school and some involved carrying the ball. The story first appeared in 1876, some four years after the death of Webb Ellis, and is attributed to a local antiquarian and former Rugbeian Matthew Bloxam. Bloxam was not a comtemporary of Webb Ellis and vaguely quoted an unnamed person as informing him of the incident. The story has been dismissed as unlikely since an official investigation by the Old Rugbeian Society in 1895. However, the trophy for the Rugby Union World Cup is named Webb Ellis in his honour and a plaque at the school 'commemorates' the 'achievement'.

It is argued that rugby football can claim the world's first "football club", formed at Guy's Hospital Football Club, London in 1843, by Rugby School old boys. A number of other clubs were formed to play games based on the Rugby School rules. Blackheath, founded in 1858 is regarded as the world's oldest surviving rugby club. (See Football.) The rules of Rugby football were first recorded in written form in 1845 by pupils of the school.

In October 1863, a number of football clubs met, with the intention of standardising the various forms of football that were being played at the time. During a series of six meetings, held at the Freemason's Tavern in London, representatives of the public schools, universities and independent clubs met with the intention of establishing a single code of football. The first set of rules drafted allowed play that is now part of Rugby football: for example, players running forward with the ball could be charged, held, tripped, etc. However, these rules were gradually dropped during the meetings. In the final meeting the representative from Blackheath withdrew his club from the association over the removal of a rule allowing hacking (kicking an opponent in the shins). The clubs that remained were the founders of the the Football Association and therefore also founded association football (or "soccer"). Blackheath and a number of other clubs continued to play games based on the Rugby School rules.

On January 26, 1871, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) was formed, leading to the standardisation of the rules for all clubs that played a variety of the Rugby School laws.

In 1886, the International Rugby Board (IRB) become the world governing and law-making body for rugby. It was recognised as such by the RFU in 1890.

The 1890s saw a clash of cultures within the game, between working men's rugby clubs of northern England and Scotland and the southern clubs of gentleman, a dispute revolving around the nature of professionalism within the game. On August 29, 1895 21 clubs split from the RFU and met at the George Hotel in Huddersfield, forming the Northern Rugby Football Union. Their rules gradually diverged from Rugby Union, although the name "Rugby League" was not officially used until the Northern Rugby League was formed in 1901. The name Rugby Football League was adopted in 1922.

On August 26, 1995 The IRB declared Rugby Union an "open" game and removed all restrictions on payments or benefits to those connected with the game.

Culture and humour

An alternative, "posh" name for the sport (though not often heard nowadays, and mainly referring to the Union code) is "rugger". Those heavily into the rugby lifestyle (heavy drinking, striped jumpers, girlfriends called Kay etc.) are sometimes referred to as "rugger buggers". Retired players who still turn up to watch, drink and serve on committees are known as "alickadoos", or less kindly as "old Farts" (see W. Carling).

In Australia and New Zealand, Rugby Union is generally known as "Rugby", whereas Rugby League is called "League", to differentiate them. In the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland, Rugby League is also widely called "footy" (which is extremely confusing for other Australians, for whom the term refers to Australian Rules Football).

See also

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