A Brief History of Rugby

The history of rugby is a bit muddled, with different historians and rugby clubs believing different versions of the origination of rugby. Many historians believe that rugby and soccer came about at the same time and developed down different paths all along. Others believe that rugby came from soccer. To them, William Webb Ellis started rugby when he was a student at Rugby School in 1823. During a game of soccer, it is believed that he picked up the ball and ran with it. Although this was against the rules at the time, other players saw the appeal and it became more common during games. This tale is not substantiated, but  it is widely held to be true. In fact, the rugby world cup is known as the "William Webb Ellis Trophy."

Not everyone was pleased with this addition to soccer, and during a meeting at Freemason's Tavern in London, it was voted against. This caused a division in teams who were for running with the ball and those who weren't. Two separate sports evolved from this meeting.

It wasn't until 1845 that rugby got its first set of rules. Three rugby clubs sat down together and came up with a set of rules that they would follow. Not all clubs chose to follow these new regulations however, and rugby remained rather informal until 1870. This was when the Rugby Football Union was formed, tidying the game up a bit and cutting out some of the violence. A year later, the Rugby Football Union came up with the 59 Laws of the Game.

In 1871, Scottish rugby players challenged the English rugby players to a match (with Scotland eventually winning). By 1880 other countries had established rules for their rugby clubs.

Rugby became a paying sport in the 1890s. Though rugby players were not supposed to be paid, according to the rules of the Rugby Football Union, one club had been paying players who missed work to play "broken time" wages. The club was suspended, and a meeting ensued which led to twenty-two clubs to secede from the Rugby Football Union. They formed the Northern Union, which would eventually become the Rugby League. This new union changed the rules and number of players to draw more spectators, further separating the Rugby Football Union from the Rugby League.

Rugby was first played in the United States in 1874. The match pitted Harvard against McGill University. It remained well-liked in the US until 1924, when it was cut from the Olympics. In recent years it has started to become popular once again (though its popularity never really waned in the European countries). 

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