A Brief History of Rugby

By now, many of us have heard the age old legend which tells of William Webb Ellis picking up the soccer ball and running with it, creating what would become known as rugby football in 1823. 

But where did the sport go from there? 

How It All Began

As the tale goes, a soccer ("football" as it's called everywhere else) match was taking place at Rugby School in Rugby, Wawickshire, England in 1823 between Rugby and Bigside. During the match, a boy by the name of William Webb Ellis picked up the ball in two hands and ran forward with it down the pitch. His intentions to this day are unknown, but the consequences of his actions spawned the creation of the greatest game on earth. 

In the years since, people have attempted to dissuade the verity of the tale, but why let facts get in the way of a good story? After all, the World Cup trophy is named the Webb Ellis Cup. 

Throughout the 19th century, various schools adopted their own rules of the game, until eventually the first officially recognized code of laws were established in 1871. This formed what came to be known as the Rugby Football Union. 

That same year, England and Scotland played in the first ever international test match, which was won by Scotland, 1-0. By 1881, both Wales and Ireland also had teams and the first international competition, the Home Nations Championship, had begun. 

The Big Split

In the year 1895, a major schism occurred in England. Teams from the north resigned from the Rugby Football Union, citing issues over a lack of reimbursement for players' time spent away from their workplace. They left to create their own association, which became known as "Rugby League."

To this day, rugby league remains the more popular game up in the north of England and among the working class population. 

Trans-Continental Play

In 1888, a team made up of players from the British Isles toured to New Zealand and Australia, marking the first time that a European side had traveled to the southern hemisphere. Over the course of six months they played a collection of state, provincial, and invitational sides, compiling a record of 27 wins, 6 draws, and 2 losses. 

The following year, the New Zealand Native Football Team brought a side to Britain, becoming the first team from the southern hemisphere to tour the north. 

In 1900, the game of rugby was introduced to the Olympics, where countries such as Great Britain, France, and Germany competed, with the French taking home the gold medal. Australia joined for the second round of Olympic rugby in 1908, winning gold over Great Britain. 

The Olympic games hosted rugby twice more, in 1920 and 1924, both of which were won by the United States before the sun set on rugby in the olympics (until 2016.) 

The Game Gets More Popular

By 1908, the big three southern hemisphere teams -- New Zealand, South Africa, Australia -- all had formed teams and began touring. The first known Haka before a rugby game in Britain came in 1905 when New Zealand took on Wales. In response, Welsh administrator Tom Williams suggested Welsh player Teddy Morgan sing the Welsh national anthem. The whole crowd joined in and this was the first time that a national anthem was sung at a rugby match. 

Throughout the 20th century, rugby became increasingly popular, but remained an amateur sport, played by people who occupied other jobs. In 1987, the first official Rugby World Cup commenced, taking place in New Zealand. The All Blacks won it on their home soil, but would go another 24 years without reclaiming the Webb Ellis Cup. 

In 1995, rugby became a professional sport for the first time. Since then, it has seen the emergence of more powerful nations, such as Japan and Argentina, while the original teams like Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa have remained among the elites. 

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