20 Things You Never Knew About Rugby

Ethel Gonzales

  • Rugby and football were essentially the same game until 1863. The split occurred when attempts were made to formalise the rules of football, whereupon the Blackheath club quit the new Football Association, wishing to protect players’ right to kick one another on the shins.
  • Initially, the game of rugby was played by teams comprising 20 players.
  • Rugby is the oldest international team sport, with the first rugby test predating both the first cricket and football tests.
  • The International Rugby Board was created as the result of a disputed try, in a match between England and Scotland.
  • The 1895 split between rugby league and rugby union occurred along both class and geographic lines. Clubs in the working class North embraced a professional game, while the wealthier clubs in the South adhered to the ethic of amateur rugby.
  • The United States is the reigning Olympic rugby gold medallist, having won the last rugby event played at the Olympics, in 1924.
  • Japan boasts the largest playing pool of any rugby-playing nation, with 125,000 registered players.
  • Pope John Paul II played rugby for the Polish national team.
  • The first Gilbert rugby ball was manufactured in the late 1700s by William Gilbert, a cobbler whose business was positioned next to the Rugby school at which the modern game was first played.
  • The shape of the modern rugby ball is derived from the use of inflated pigs bladders, which were used during the early years of the game.
  • During the early days of the game only a single point was awarded for a try. A drop goal, however, earned 3 points.
  • The first test between Western Samoa and Fiji was played at 7am in the morning, on a pitch with a large tree growing in its centre.
  • The South African rugby team didn’t lose a single test series between 1896 and 1956.
  • World War One had a significant impact on the game of rugby. 133 international players were killed in battles, which resulted in the development of the sport being set back by decades, and also gave football the opportunity to become the most popular game in the United Kingdom.
  • If Germany had not occupied France during World War Two, rugby league would have been the dominant convention in that country. During the Nazi occupation all the assets of the massive French Rugby League were handed over to the French Rugby Union, and for decades after the war rugby league clubs were not permitted to describe their game as ‘rugby’.
  • The grave of William Webb Ellis, the man credited with inventing rugby, was only located in 1959.
  • Stellenbosch Rugby Club in South Africa is the largest rugby club in the world with over 7,000 registered players.
  • Rugby Union is an extremely popular spectator sport in Georgia and Madagascar.
  • Since turning professional, the popularity of rugby has soared around the globe, with the 2007 Rugby World Cup attracting a cumulative audience of 4 billion. The sport is currently considered the second most popular on the planet, the first being football.
  • Rugby union is gaining in popularity more rapidly than any other sport in the United States, and the country already boasts a player pool larger than any of the Celtic teams participating in the Six Nations Championship.

Well, there you have it – 20 things you didn’t perhaps now about rugby!

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