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rugby football

rugby football. William Webb Ellis is credited with inventing rugby in 1823 by picking up the ball while playing football at Rugby School and running with it. The claim is much disputed but there is little doubt that rugby developed at public schools out of a large-scale, few-rules, mauling scrum game. Other schools played with different shapes and sizes of ball until the oval ball gained favour to facilitate handling and passing. Definition of the code began in 1863 when the Football Association was formed and outlawed handling and hacking. Richmond, Blackheath, and some London clubs stayed with the handling code and in 1871, at the Pall Mall restaurant, the Rugby Football Union was formed. The Scottish Rugby Union followed in 1873, the Irish in 1874, and the Welsh in 1881. As in soccer, the balance moved in favour of northern clubs and there were accusations of professionalism, under the pretence of expenses and broken-time payments. In 1895 St Helens, Wigan, and a number of northern clubs formed a breakaway union, which became the Rugby Football League in 1922. The number of players was reduced from fifteen to thirteen and scrums restricted to produce a fast handling game, which would attract spectators. Rugby league also gave rise to a large number of amateur clubs.

The first rugby union international match was played at Raeburn Place (Edinburgh) in 1871 between Scotland and England, and the Calcutta Cup was introduced in 1879. The spread of the game to the former dominions and some unlikely spots such as Romania allowed the introduction of World Cup competitions in the 1980s. Rugby league made little progress in southern England but spread to Australia, New Zealand, and France, allowing international ‘test’ competitions.

The two codes, amateur and professional, treated each other with disdain for many years and those union players who turned professional, often with marked success, were at once banned from the amateur game. But the advent of television and the growth of commercial values after the Second World War led to a gradual thaw. Rugby union introduced a league system, with promotion and relegation, expenses became ever more substantial, and the ban on players returning after playing rugby league was lifted in 1995. Full professionalism followed. In 1996, in two exhibition matches between the two codes, Wigan outplayed Bath 82–6 at Maine Road (Manchester) in the league game; at Twickenham, in the return match under union rules, Bath won 44–19.

Nicholas J. Bryars

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