Let’s Open Up the Books: the History of the Sport of Rugby

feature4 - Let’s Open Up the Books: the History of the Sport of Rugby

All distinguished things have a history. There is always great virtue in learning about the origins of things. Today, we will be looking back at the history of the sport of Rugby.

When you ask a rugby enthusiast about the beginnings of the sport, they will probably only tell you the beginnings of their favorite team. Another common occurrence is that they will ask you if you are referring to the beginnings of league or union (they are quite different after all).

For the sake of a well-rounded look at history, we will be looking at the overall history of the sport. We will be tracing back where the divide between the union and the league occurred and why. We hope that you will take away new information and lessons from this discussion.

The History

For all intents and purposes, it is generally believed that the concept of Rugby was invented around 1823. They credit a boy named William Webb Ellis for the concept of rugby when they had seen him carry the ball in both arms. This was quite different; quite different from just one arm (like you would come to expect in the game of Football). While there is not enough tangible evidence—in record form and whatnot—to support the claim, Ellis is still the figurehead that is linked to rugby.

While football was already around during that time, there was a section of people that wanted to try something derivative but had a spirit of its own. As such, there was a spike in the interest regarding ball games. However, as it was deemed to be disruptive, unproductive, and often dangerous (from the lack of safety gear)—there was also a movement wherein such games were banned.

The reason why Ellis’ actions were considered to be the start of rugby was because at the time, it was not allowed to run toward the opposite team’s goal with the ball cradled in both arms. You can expect that this was met which quite violent reactions. The reason why this was not banned outright was because there were players that felt that was better in terms of safety and stability.

It was not until 1845 that the action of being able to run toward the opposition’s goal with the ball in the arms was written into the rules and bylaws of the game. Despite this, both rugby and football for the common people were being met with bans. It was only the sons of the nobility or the financially well off families that were allowed to participate in the sport.

These were mostly done in schools and universities where it found a lot of support. For a while, there was a bit of debate on what came first: Union or League. However, a bit of a dig into the history of rugby would definitely tell you that they actually started at the same time. When there was more support going around for rugby as a separate sport from Football, different teams had started to form.

From then, in was in 1871 were the different teams got together and formed the very first Rugby Football Union. Around twenty years later, there were some serious charges that were laid against several members of the union. It seemed that there was some unsportsmanlike conduct going around wherein players were getting paid to NOT show up in their respective games.

While it was initially proposed that these players should be fined, a majority of the members of the Union has voted against it. As such, cracks were beginning to form between certain teams. Eventually these cracks grew bigger and it was determined that it would be better off if different authoritative bodies were formed.

From there, the Rugby Union and the Rugby League developed. What struck people as odd during the time was the fact that the teams of each governing body still played the same game. It was not until much later that they started to change their rules and the game play.

The rugby that we know of today has very distinct styles and rules when you either play in the league or in the union. Each does carry its own charm. While they do still have a bit of similarities like penalties and drop goals, there is enough of a difference for any beginner to pick up on them.

Why is it Important to Learn History?

History used to be the most boring thing in school—at least, for most of us it was. Where was the fun in having to read about past accomplishments and events? As it turns out, the older you get, the more you get to appreciate how things came to be. Particularly, if they were the things that you really like!

We have mentioned that we will be touching upon the history of rugby. Now the question is: why is it important to learn about the history of rugby?

In our years of being rugby enthusiasts, we have discovered that there were so many things about the game that had a deeper meaning than we had originally thought. Understanding the history behind the shifts in rules or how the game is played can offer a deeper appreciation to what we have now. It is also a good way to determine what shifts are needed in the future.

In Conclusion

Rugby, as a pastime and as a sport, will not be going away any time soon. After the journey that it has had through the centuries, rugby will continue to capture the interest and admiration of many. We certainly learned a lot through this exercise and we hope that you guys did too! What tidbit about rugby history did you discover from today’s discussion? Was there something that we missed out on?

If we missed out or made errors, let us know so we can tweak this! We are always open to receiving feedback so we can better serve our readers. Until then, we hope you thoroughly enjoyed this discussion.