Rugby football history begins in 1823, we are told, with the moment William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball during a football match and ran with it. True or not, the early game was developed at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England, and so gave its name to the new sport. This historical link is preserved in modern rugby where Rugby World Cup winners receive the Webb Ellis Cup.
Rugby union’s first international match was played between England and Scotland in March, 1871. Played in Edinburgh, the game was won by a single try, scored by Scotland. This was the subject of a heated debate between the teams. Finally, the ‘umpire’ awarded in favour of the Scots, noting that: ‘the side which makes the most noise … are probably in the wrong.’
Object of the game
The aim is to use the ball to score more points than your opponents. Players may run with the oval-shaped ball, and also pass or kick it. Only passing backwards is allowed – passing forwards is illegal. The tackle is the major contact between opposing players. Here, the intention is to gain possession of the ball, whilst staying within the laws of the game. Decisions about the rules are made by an on-field referee, supported by two touch judges patrolling the sidelines.
Points are scored as follows:
- A try gains five points, and requires the ball to be grounded over the ‘try-line’ in the opposing teams’ in-goal area.
- A conversion attempt follows a try. Two points are gained if the ball is kicked between the top sections of the H-shaped goalposts.
- A penalty kick through the posts, after an infringement stoppage, gains three points; as does a drop goal scored during running play.
A match has two, 40-minute halves with a 10-minute break between. The referee’s whistle is sounded at the start and finish of each half, and also to signal stoppages for injuries or rule-infringements.