Rugby football (also known as “rugby”) is either of two current sports, either rugby league or rugby union, or any of a number of sports through history descended from a common form of football developed in different areas of the United Kingdom. Rugby union, or simply Rugby, is a full contact team sport, a form of football which originated in England in the early 19th century. One of the codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand.
It is played with an oval-shaped ball, outdoors on a level field, usually with a grass surface, up to 100 metres (330 ft) long and 70 metres (230 ft) wide.
On each goal line are H-shaped goal posts. The origin of rugby football is reputed to be an incident during a game of English school football at Rugby School in 1823 when William Webb-Ellis is said to have picked up the ball and run with it. Although this tale is apocryphal, the Rugby World Cup trophy is named after him.
Rugby football stems from the form of game played at Rugby School, which old pupils initially took to university; Old Rugbeian Albert Pell, a student at Cambridge, is credited with having formed the first ‘football’ team.
During this early period different schools used different rules, with former pupils from Rugby and Eton attempting to carry their preferred rules through to their universities. Significant events in the early development of rugby football were the production of the first set of written laws at Rugby School in 1845, the Blackheath Club’s decision to leave the Football Association in 1863 and the formation of the Rugby Football Union in 1871.
The code was originally known simply as “rugby football”; it was not until after a schism in 1895, which resulted in the separate code of rugby league, that the name “rugby union” came to be used for the game itself. Supporters of both codes will frequently refer to theirs as merely “rugby” or “rugby football”, unless they are differentiating between the two. The first rugby football international took place on 27 March 1871, played between England and Scotland.
By 1881 both Ireland and Wales had representative teams, and in 1883 the first international competition, the Home Nations Championship had begun. 1883 also saw the first rugby sevens tournament at Melrose called the Melrose Sevens, which is still held annually. Five years later two important overseas tours took place; a British Isles team visited Australia and New Zealand—although a private venture, it laid the foundations for future British and Irish Lions tours; and the 1888 New Zealand Native team brought the first overseas team to British spectators.
From 1905 through to 1907, all three major Southern Hemisphere rugby countries sent their first touring teams to the Northern Hemisphere; Dave Gallaher’s New Zealand in 1905, followed by Paul Roos’ South Africa in 1906 and then Herbert Moran’s Australia. All three teams brought new styles of play, fitness levels and tactics, and were far more successful than critics at first believed. 1905 also saw the first French internationals.
The years during the First World War saw an end of international rugby union games and union-sponsored club matches, but competitions continued with service teams such as the New Zealand Army team. The Second World War saw an end of international matches from most countries, though Italy, Germany and Romania played a limited number of games, and Cambridge and Oxford continued their annual University Match. In 1973 the first officially sanctioned international sevens tournament took place at Murrayfield, as part of the Scottish Rugby Union centenary celebrations.
In 1987 the first Rugby World Cup was held in New Zealand and Australia, and the inaugural winners were New Zealand. The first World Cup Sevens tournament was held at Murrayfield in 1993. Rugby union was an amateur sport until the IRB declared the game ‘open’ in 1995, removing restrictions on payments to players. However, the pre-1995 period of rugby union was marked by frequent accusations of “shamateurism”, including an investigation in Britain by a House of Commons Select committee. [pic] The only known portrait of William Webb Ellis
Rugby union differs from association football (soccer) in that the hands can be employed to move the ball. However, a player can only pass the ball backwards or laterally (i. e. not forward) to another player, or kick it. This means that the majority of progress made by an attacking team occurs through a leap frog cycle of passing the ball, running to make ground, being tackled and repeating this process. Each of these cycles (greatly simplified) is called a phase of play. Rugby union includes the concept of “advantage” (not to be confused with the “advantage line”).
If one team commits an infraction of the Laws, the referee will not stop play if the opposing team is in a position to gain a territorial or tactical advantage from the mistake. Instead, he calls “advantage” and allows play to continue until he judges that adequate advantage has accrued, when he calls “advantage over”, and play continues as if the original infraction had not occurred. If he deems that no advantage can accrue, the referee will stop play and award a scrum, free kick or penalty, as appropriate, at the site of the original infraction.
The question of what is “advantage” and how long play should be allowed to continue to see if any advantage is gained, is a moot point: the referee is the sole judge of what constitutes “advantage” and different referees can and do take different approaches to this question. But in general, if in subsequent “advantage” play a team has the chance to do what they could have done if the referee had stopped play for the infraction, then advantage has been gained and the referee will call “advantage over”. So, for instance, suppose a team commits an infraction that would result in their opponents being awarded a scrum.
If their opponents are able to take clean possession of the ball and advance it following the infraction, then they have done what they would have been able to do from a scrum — advantage is thus over. If on the other hand their possession is “messy” or closely contested then there is no advantage, and the referee will (or should) award the original scrum. Advantage play automatically ends if the team seeking advantage commits an infringement itself: normally, they would then be awarded the consequences of the original infringement, but if they commit an act of foul play, then they will (or should) be penalised directly themselves.