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Rugby History



While playing soccer at Rugby School of England in 1823, William Webb Ellis picked up the ball in his hands and ran with it. This sparked an interest, leading to the creation of rugby. Cambridge University immediately adopted the game, popularized it and made local rules. The game grew popular at area schools and in 1871, ten years after the common rules of soccer were set, the first Rugby Union was founded in London and firm rules of the game were established.

In 1895 rugby clubs in northern England called for compensation of lost wages for players. The Rugby Leauge was founded as a result and a 13-player game with altered rules were created for professionals.

Rugby spread across the globe and competition emerged between countries. In the United States, the game emerged primarily on the West Coast. The lack of precise rules, ambiguities in the game and complexity of the sport drew a lot of United States players away from the game and major changes were invoked. In 1880 the scrum was replaced by a line of scrimmage, drawing emphasis from the free-running characteristic of the game. The game continued to play with rugby rules until 1905 where the publication of photographs of a harsh game between Sarthmore and Pennsylvalia created a stir. President Theodore Roosevelt insisted on reform of the game to lower the brutality with threat of abolishing the game by edict. In 1906 the forward pass was introduced to the United States game. The rules of rugby died and the game of American football was born.

Rugby continued to flourish elsewhere, especially with regard to Britain, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Although a handful of clubs remained in the United States, rugby did not reemerge until the 1960's. College campuses turned to the sport because it was one where many could play and escape the rigid discipline and professionalism inherent in college football. Minimal costs, constant action and the opportunity for freqent play with a primary emphasis on fun also attracted many. The number of clubs grew from about 80 to over 1,000 between 1964 and 1980. The United States of America Rugby Football Union (USARFU) was formed in 1975, creating added recognition and a measure of organization.

The sport continues to grow and now played in over 80 countries worldwide. The rules of rugby continue to evolve and amateurism remains as dominant characteristic.