The distinctive features of a rugby game are the egg-shaped ball and the fact that it is only allowed to pass the ball backwards, so that ground can be gained only by running with the ball or kicking it. Set pieces of the game include the scrum, where packs of opposing players push against each other for posession, and the line out where lines of players attempt to catch the ball thrown from the sidelines. Scoring is by either grounding the ball at the opponents' end of the field, or kicking it between upright posts.
The legendary origin of Rugby football, whereby a young man named William Webb Ellis 'picked up the ball and ran', while playing football at Rugby School is almost certainly a complete fiction. There were no standard rules for football during Webb Ellis's time at Rugby (1816-1825) and most varieties involved carrying the ball and the story first appeared in 1876 some four years after his death. However, the trophy for the Rugby Union World Cup is named Webb Ellis in his honour and a plaque at the school 'commemorates' the 'achievement'.
In October of 1863, The Football Association was formed with the intention of standardising the various forms of football that were being played at the time. During a series of six meetings, held at the Freemason's Tavern in London, representatives of the public schools and Universities along with a number of prominent independent clubs met to establish a single code of football. The first draft included rules that allowed features that are now part of Rugby football such as running forward with the ball to be charged, held, tripped etc. These rules were gradually dropped and a variety of the "Cambridge Rules" were adopted. In the final meeting the representative from Blackheath withdrew his club from the association over the removal of a rule allowing hacking (kicking an opponent in the shins). Blackheath and a number of other clubs continued to play their own individual varieties of football. On January 26 1871, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) was formed, leading to the standardisation of the rules for all clubs that played a variety of the Rugby School laws. The 1890s saw a clash of cultures within the game between Northern working men's rugby club and the southern clubs of gentleman and the nature of professionalism within the game. On 29 August 1895 twenty-one clubs split from the RFU and met at the George Hotel in Huddersfield to form the Northern Rugby Union with their own codes of rules. The two separate codes still exist today as Rugby League (as the Northern Rugby Union became) and Rugby Union.
The high level of contact and lack of protective padding make Rugby an extremely physical game. Touch Rugby offers a variation on the same theme without injury or some of the complications of traditional rugby.
An alternative, "posh" name for the sport (though not often heard nowadays) is "rugger". Those heavily into the rugby lifestyle (heavy drinking, etc.) are sometimes referred to as "alickadoos", or less kindly, "rugger buggers".