The History of Rugby Football: From the Beginning of the Game to Today

The History of Rugby Football: From the Beginning of the Game to Today

The History of Rugby Football: From the Beginning of the Game to Today


The origins of Rugby Football are inextricably linked with the history of football more generally. Although the modern game of Rugby Union is almost unrecognisable from its early counterparts, some of its features can be found in older schools and college games that have been identified as “football” from their very first appearance. This article will explore the history of rugby football, from its roots in medieval times to the modern game we see today. Alongside this, we’ll take a look at some of the key figures who have influenced the development of rugby, and how it has spread throughout the world. And if you want to get more information about the other most popular game in the world check this website

Early Roots of Rugby

Rugby Football has its origins in the game of football that was played in schools and universities during the Middle Ages. These games were usually a free-for-all in which the aim was to pick up a ball (originally an animal bladder) and get it to your opponent’s end of the field. In the early days of football, there were no specified rules, and games often ended in violence. In order to try and standardise the rules and make the game safer, various schools developed their own versions of football. One of the earliest examples of this was at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England. Around 1850 a man named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it. This was a change from the rules of the day and is often cited as being the birth of Rugby Football.

Rugby in the 19th Century

The game of Rugby Football developed from the various forms of football played in schools and universities. The rules of the game went through a number of changes before they settled on the modern-day Rugby Union rules in 1871. During this era, Rugby quickly became popular in many schools and universities across England. It was also the first football code to be played overseas, beginning in Australia and New Zealand in the late 1850s. The first-ever international Rugby match was played between England and Scotland in 1871. Rugby Union was also included in the first-ever football tournament, the 1883 Rugby Football Union (RFU) Tournament. 

The Birth of Rugby Football

Football was played in schools across England and Wales throughout the 19th Century. Each school had its own rules, but there was no standardised code of rules. Rugby Football was formed from these various codes of football. The exact circumstances of how this happened are unclear, but it is widely believed that the changes were brought about by William Webb Ellis. In the early days of football, the players would pick up a ball and run with it, trying to get it to the other end of the field, or “touch-down”. Ellis is said to have picked up the ball while playing at Rugby School and run with it all the way to his own end. The rules of the game were slowly altered to allow this play and to ensure that the ball couldn’t be picked up by the other team. In 1871, the Rugby Football Union was formed and the Rugby Football rules were finalised.

The Laws of Rugby Football

There are a number of core principles in Rugby Football, summed up in the Laws of the Game. These are intended to ensure that the game is played fairly, safely, and in a way that encourages both players and spectators to enjoy themselves. The most important of these Laws is the offside rule, the scrum, and the line-out. The offside rule is designed to prevent players from gaining an unfair advantage by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The scrum is a way of restarting play after a tackle, and the line-out is a way of restarting play when the ball has gone out of play.

Other Variants of Rugby Developed in the 1800s

While the modern game of Rugby Union was formed in the 19th Century, the game has been played in many different forms over the centuries. Rugby Sevens – As its name suggests, Rugby Sevens is a version of Rugby that is played with only seven players on each team. It was first played in the 1920s as an alternative to Rugby Union but has since grown in popularity to become an Olympic sport. Rugby tens – Rugby Tens is a 10-a-side variation of Rugby. It was first played in 2003 at the Rugby World Cup. Rugby tens women – Rugby Tens Women was created in 2017. It is played by women with the same rules as the Rugby Tens Men’s game. Rugby tens wheelchair – Rugby Tens Wheelchair was created in 2017. It is played by wheelchair users with the same rules as the Rugby Tens Men’s game. Schoolboy rugby – Schoolboy Rugby is a version of Rugby played in schools across the world. It is also sometimes known as Rugger. There are a number of different rules in different countries, but they are usually simplified version of the game. 

1880 to 1900: Rugby is Reborn

Rugby Union played a significant role in the sport becoming more organised and professional during the 1880s. In 1883, the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) was formed. This was the beginning of an international governing body that is now known as World Rugby. Rugby Union also went through a period of rapid growth in the 1890s and early 1900s. Several new competitions were formed and the number of teams playing the sport around the world rapidly increased. Rugby Union was included at the Olympics for the first time in 1900. Since then, it has been a regular event at the Summer Olympics.


Rugby Football has undergone many changes since its early origins in the 19th Century. The game has become much more organised and professional and has grown from a game played in the British Isles to one played all around the world. It has also seen the introduction of a number of new variations, including Rugby Tens and Rugby Tens Women. Rugby is the most popular sport in many parts of the world. It is particularly popular in Australia, England, France, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina. As the game continues to grow, it is likely that Rugby will only become more popular in the future.


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