CSC Womens Rugby

The Origin of Rugby

The exact beginnings of rugby are not known for sure. Around the 10th Century great mobs in England would get involved in games that involved kicking and throwing an inflated pig bladder through town streets and squares by any means short of murder to get the ball across the goal. In the 1700's and 1800's it was a common pastime and became more civilized. Some clubs changed the rules and their game became known as "association football" also known as soccer.

There is a myth/legend of how rugby started and it all begins with a man named William Webb Ellis. He went to school at Rugby in 1823 (sport named after school not vies versa). Ellis was there from 1816 to 1825. Ellis supposedly, in regards of the rules, picked up the ball and ran towards the goal, "in a fine disregard for the rules," but it was never mentioned until 1875 by M. Bloxham. His first reference appeared in a Rugby School magazine...four years after Ellis' death. There were no witnesses and there really isn't any proof. Bloxham himself wasn't there and no living person could back up this statement. Existing records and documented recollections don't show that this single event dramatically changed the sport of rugby, but then again, one may never know.

There are documents that do prove that former Rugby School students wanted to commence form competitions outside the school in 1862. On October 26, 1863, eleven schools and clubs met once and for all to decide official rules of the game with the different combinations at Freemanson's Tavern in London, England. Before that the captains would just get together, compromise, decide upon the rules for the game that day. Blackheath Club withdrew from the debates after another group voted not to allow running with the ball or hacking an opponent. Other schools went on to change the rules and their game became known as today's soccer. It was the official split between soccer and rugby. On June 1871, the first formal rules in the history of rugby were called the "59 Laws" of the game, which is relatively more complicated than soccer's 7 Laws.

The first known club was started at Cambridge University in 1839. The Rugby Football Union was formed in 1871 representing 21 clubs (Southern England, mostly in London). The first international match was played between Scotland and England in 1871 as well. In 1900 rugby made the first of it's four Olympic appearances (France and Germany were the only entrants and France won the Gold medal).

The debate about whether or not rugby should be a professional or amateur sport was not offcially decided until 100 years after the debate. The Northern Union grew into what is known today as the Rugby League in 1922. Another debate was whether or not rugby athletes should be paid. A couple of teams wanted to compensate players for "broken time." The time that they had to take away from work to travel or play with their team. The Rugby Union had strict rules against paying the players in any form. In 1896 two clubs left the English Union for this reason, and became the Northern Union. In 1922, the Northern Union was changed to what we know today as the Rugby League. Finally in 1976, (80 years later) rugby players could be paid. In 2009 Matt Griteau is the highest paid rugby player. 

Rugby became popular in the "Colonies" (United States) around the late 1800s and early 1900's. The man who created basketball, James Naismith, was a rugby player. The U.S. owns two of the four Olympic Medals ever awarded in rugby (1920 & 1924). Rugby was saddly dropped from the Olympics and the interest along with participants faded from the sport. Rugby in the United States is making a comeback and more than just wearing rugby shirts/jerseys, but also the interest. It has been growing fast since the 1960's. The USA Rugby Football Union was established in 1975, and today over 50,000 rugby players belong to the union. The women's national team won the first ever awarded Women's Rugby World Cup in 1991! They received runner-up in 1994 and 1998. They have recently won the 2009/2010 championship as well. Today there are 97 nations that have rugby unions.