Rugby union

Rugby union
New Zealand vs South Africa 2006 Tri Nations Line Out.JPG
South African Victor Matfield takes a line-out against New Zealand in 2006
Highest governing bodyWorld Rugby
NicknamesRugby, Rugger, Rugby XV, Union,[1] Football
First played19th century
Registered players3,560,000[2][nb 1]
ContactFull contact
Team members15 (with up to 8 substitutes)
Mixed genderSeparate competitions
TypeTeam sport, Outdoor
EquipmentRugby ball
OlympicPart of the Summer Olympic programme in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924
Rugby sevens included in 2016

Rugby union, widely known simply as rugby, is a contact team sport that originated in England in the first half of the 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. In its most common form, a game is played between two teams of 15 players using an oval-shaped ball on a rectangular field with H-shaped goalposts at either end.

Rugby union is a popular sport around the world, played by male and female players of all ages. In 2014, there were more than 6 million people playing worldwide, of whom 2.36 million were registered players. World Rugby, previously called the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) and the International Rugby Board (IRB), has been the governing body for rugby union since 1886, and currently has 101 countries as full members and 18 associate members.

In 1845, the first football laws were written by pupils at Rugby School; other significant events in the early development of rugby include the decision by Blackheath F.C. to leave the Football Association in 1863 and the split between rugby union and rugby league in 1895. Historically an amateur sport, in 1995 restrictions on payments to players were removed, making the game openly professional at the highest level for the first time.[3]

Rugby union spread from the Home Nations of Great Britain and Ireland and was embraced by many of the countries associated with the British Empire. Early exponents of the sport included Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France. Countries that have adopted rugby union as their de facto national sport include Fiji, Georgia, Madagascar,[4] New Zealand, Samoa, and Tonga.

International matches have taken place since 1871 when the first game was played between Scotland and England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh. The Rugby World Cup, first held in 1987, is contested every four years. The Six Nations Championship in Europe and The Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere are other major international competitions that are held annually.

National club and provincial competitions include the Premiership in England, the Top 14 in France, the Mitre 10 Cup in New Zealand, the National Rugby Championship in Australia, and the Currie Cup in South Africa. Other transnational club competitions include the European Rugby Champions Cup, the Pro14 in Europe and South Africa, and Super Rugby in the Southern Hemisphere and Japan.


A wide shot of an old English school with a central tower, a sports pitch is seen in the foreground.
Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire, with a rugby football pitch in the foreground

The origin of rugby football is reputed to be an incident during a game of English school football at Rugby School in Warwickshire in 1823, when William Webb Ellis is said to have picked up the ball and run with it.[5] Although the story may be apocryphal, it was immortalised at the school with a commemorative plaque that was unveiled in 1895,[6][7] and the Rugby World Cup trophy is named after Webb Ellis. Rugby football stems from the form of the game played at Rugby School, which former pupils then introduced to their universities.

Former Rugby School student Albert Pell is credited with having formed the first "football" team while a student at Cambridge University.[8] The schools used different rules during this early period, with former pupils from Rugby and Eton attempting to carry their preferred rules through to their universities.[9] A significant event in the early development of rugby football was the production of a written set of rules at Rugby School in 1845,[10][11] followed by the Cambridge Rules that were drawn up in 1848.[12]

Formed in 1863, The Football Association (FA) began codifying a set of football rules. These rules did not allow players to run with the ball in hand and also banned hacking (kicking players in the shins). In protest of these two rules, the Blackheath Club left the FA[13][14] followed by several other clubs that also favoured the "Rugby Rules". Although these clubs decided to ban hacking soon afterwards, the split was permanent and the FA's codified rules became "association football". Clubs that favoured the Rugby Rules formed the Rugby Football Union in 1871,[13] and their code became known as "rugby football".

In 1895, there was a schism in England in which clubs from Northern England left the RFU over the issue of paying players. This led to the creation of the separate code of "rugby league". The existing sport took on the name "rugby union" to differentiate it from rugby league,[15] but both versions of the sport are known simply as "rugby" throughout most of the world.[16]

First internationals

The first rugby football international was played on 27 March 1871 between Scotland and England in Edinburgh. Scotland won the game 1-0.[13][17] By 1881 both Ireland and Wales had representative teams and in 1883 the first international competition, the Home Nations Championship had begun. 1883 is also the year of the first rugby sevens tournament, the Melrose Sevens,[18] which is still held annually.

Two important overseas tours took place in 1888: a British Isles team visited Australia and New Zealand—although a private venture, it laid the foundations for future British and Irish Lions tours;[19] and the 1888–89 New Zealand Native football team brought the first overseas team to British spectators.[20]

A black and white photo of a rugby field in which three men in military uniform, one of whom is King George, present a silver trophy to a rugby player dressed in black kit. Behind in a line are the rest of the team.
James Ryan, captain of the New Zealand Army team, receiving the Kings Cup from George V.

During the early history of rugby union, a time before commercial air travel, teams from different continents rarely met. The first two notable tours both took place in 1888—the British Isles team touring New Zealand and Australia,[21] followed by the New Zealand team touring Europe.[22] Traditionally the most prestigious tours were the Southern Hemisphere countries of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa making a tour of a Northern Hemisphere, and the return tours made by a joint British and Irish team.[23] Tours would last for months, due to long traveling times and the number of games undertaken; the 1888 New Zealand team began their tour in Hawkes Bay in June and did not complete their schedule until August 1889, having played 107 rugby matches.[24] Touring international sides would play Test matches against international opponents, including national, club and county sides in the case of Northern Hemisphere rugby, or provincial/state sides in the case of Southern Hemisphere rugby.[21][25]

Between 1905 and 1908, all three major Southern Hemisphere rugby countries sent their first touring teams to the Northern Hemisphere: New Zealand in 1905, followed by South Africa in 1906 and Australia in 1908. All three teams brought new styles of play, fitness levels and tactics,[26] and were far more successful than critics had expected.[27]

The New Zealand 1905 touring team performed a haka before each match, leading Welsh Rugby Union administrator Tom Williams to suggest that Wales player Teddy Morgan lead the crowd in singing the Welsh National Anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, as a response. After Morgan began singing, the crowd joined in: the first time a national anthem was sung at the start of a sporting event.[28][nb 2] In 1905 France played England in its first international match.[26]

Rugby union was included as an event in the Olympic Games four times during the early 20th century. No international rugby games and union-sponsored club matches were played during the First World War, but competitions continued through service teams such as the New Zealand Army team.[30] During the Second World War no international matches were played by most countries, though Italy, Germany and Romania played a limited number of games,[31][32][33] and Cambridge and Oxford continued their annual University Match.[34]

The first officially sanctioned international rugby sevens tournament took place in 1973 at Murrayfield, one of Scotland's biggest stadiums, as part of the Scottish Rugby Union centenary celebrations.[35]

World Cup and professionalism

In 1987 the first Rugby World Cup was held in Australia and New Zealand, and the inaugural winners were New Zealand. The first World Cup Sevens tournament was held at Murrayfield in 1993. Rugby Sevens was introduced into the Commonwealth Games in 1998 and was added to the Olympic Games of 2016.[36] Both men and women's Sevens will again take place at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.[37]

Rugby union was an amateur sport until the IRB declared the game "open" in August 1995 (shortly after the completion of the 1995 World Cup), removing restrictions on payments to players.[38][39] However, the pre-1995 period of rugby union was marked by frequent accusations of "shamateurism",[40] including an investigation in Britain by a House of Commons Select committee in early 1995.[41][42] Following the introduction of professionalism trans-national club competitions were started, with the Heineken Cup in the Northern Hemisphere and Super Rugby in the Southern Hemisphere.[43][44]

The Tri Nations, an annual international tournament involving Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, kicked off in 1996.[44] In 2012, this competition was extended to include Argentina, a country whose impressive performances in international games (especially finishing in third place in the 2007 Rugby World Cup) was deemed to merit inclusion in the competition. As a result of the expansion to four teams, the tournament was renamed The Rugby Championship.[45]

Other Languages
العربية: اتحاد الرغبي
Bân-lâm-gú: La-gú-bih liân-ha̍p
català: Rugbi a 15
čeština: Rugby union
Cymraeg: Rygbi'r undeb
Deutsch: Rugby Union
Esperanto: Rugbeo 15
Fiji Hindi: Rugby union
français: Rugby à XV
Frysk: Unyrugby
Gàidhlig: Aonadh Rugbaidh
한국어: 럭비 유니언
հայերեն: Ռեգբի 15
hrvatski: Rugby union
Bahasa Indonesia: Uni rugbi
interlingua: Rugby a 15
italiano: Rugby a 15
Latina: Harpastum XV
Lëtzebuergesch: Rugby Union
Limburgs: Rugby union
Nederlands: Rugby union
occitan: Rugbi de XV
polski: Rugby union
Qaraqalpaqsha: Regbıy
русский: Регби
Simple English: Rugby union
slovenčina: Ragby (Rugby Union)
српски / srpski: Рагби јунион
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Rugby union
svenska: Rugby union
тоҷикӣ: Регби
Türkçe: Ragbi birliği
українська: Регбі-15
vèneto: Rugby a 15
Tiếng Việt: Rugby union
吴语: 橄榄球
中文: 橄欖球