The History Of Rugby

With the 2015 Rugby World Cup fast approaching, spread bettors will be keeping a close eye on this summer’s southern hemisphere rugby tours and next February’s Six Nations before they place their wagers on who they think will be lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy at Twickenham on the 31st October.

The sport has come a long way from men and boys throwing around a pig’s bladder in games that often involved a whole village. It’s now one of the most popular sports around with a global reach. The Rugby World Cup may have been dominated by the big European powerhouses of England and France and the southern hemisphere trio of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but  the game is becoming ever more competitive with the success of Argentina in recent times a perfect example. But where did it all start and how has the game evolved? Rugby first came to England back in the 11th century. It proved very popular with the masses in villages around the country. In the 15th and 16th centuries it was banned because it interfered with the practising of archery, which at that time, was paramount to the defence of the country. Rugby football again became popular in England in the 1820’s when the boys of Rugby School played their football on grass, using a pig’s bladder encased in leather as the ball.

The rules at Rugby School initially stated that you could not handle the ball on the field of play unless the ball was airborne, in which case it could be caught. The catcher stood still, as did the other players, and then he could decide whether to kick the ball anywhere he wished, or place the ball on the ground and kick it over the crossbar between the posts, which if he succeeded, counted as a goal. As the years moved on, the rules changed, whereby instead of boys standing still after they had caught the ball, they could now run towards their opponents goal line with the ball in their arms.

These rules became the norm in some schools around about 1840. When boys left Rugby school, they took the game with them, and clubs sprung up all over the country and in the colonies. There was however still the problem that the game was being played under a variety of rules. In 1870, Edwin Ash who was secretary to Richmond club, attempted to put together a code of practise and a set of rules to which rugby clubs and schools would abide to. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) was formed in 1871 when a meeting was called. It was attended by Fredrick Stokes,  the first England captain along with 21 club representatives and some schools. A set of laws were formed and completed the same year. In March 1871, Scotland who wore a brown jersey, challenged England to the first international rugby match.

The fixture took place at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh. Scotland won with one goal and one try to England’s one goal. Scotland formed their own union in 1873, Ireland followed in 1879 and Wales completed the set when forming up in 1880 The follow up was that an International Rugby Football Board was formed by Scotland, Ireland and Wales. England refused to join, with the result the other three home unions refused to play England. It was only in 1890 that England changed their stance, and normal relations resumed. In 1893 it was rumoured that some players in the North of England were being paid for playing. This was obviously breaking the strict amateur code.

In 1895, 22 clubs from the north broke away from their RFU to form their own Northern Union. In 1905 the New Zealand Rugby team (All Blacks) toured England for the first time. Australia meanwhile, toured the north of England in 1908, and played the first ever true Rugby League test match against Wales, losing narrowly 9-8. The Northern Union finally became the Rugby League in the 1920’s and plays under a different set of rules as of today. I

n 1995 Rugby Union finally became professional when the International Rugby Board (IRB) announced that players could be paid for playing. Today, the sport has changed almost beyond recognition from the days of amateurism. The pace and power of top sides when they are in full flow is a thrilling spectacle to watch. And the 2013 season signed off with the All Blacks laying claim to being the best rugby team of all time. They became the first country to go through a calendar year undefeated with a perfect 14 wins from 14 matches. The last was gained in incredible fashion – a last-gasp conversion from Aaron Cruden sealing an epic fightback against Ireland who led 22-7 at half-time. What made the result even more agonising is that Cruden missed the conversion, meaning the teams would have drawn 22-22, but Irish players were adjudged to have moved off the line too early and he made no mistake with the retake.

That sets up the All Blacks perfectly as they look to secure successive World Cups and a third overall, after years of underachievement which led to accusations that they couldn’t handle the pressure when it really matters. Their winning run can’t go on forever though can it? Will the past point towards the new champions or will the form book be disregarded once the tournament kicks off in earnest? No one knows yet, but we are sure looking forward to finding out.

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