Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Rugby Union

Supposedly invented during a football game by William Webb Ellis at Rugby School, the game of Rugby Union is a team sport contested with an ovoid ball by two teams of 15 players, the object being to outscore the opposing team. The ball is carried in the hand and may be passed backwards or laterally across the pitch or kicked in any direction. The opposing players attempt to halt the ball-carrier by tackling him or her with their arms and bodies. On being tackled, the ball carrier must release the ball, at which time a contest for posession of the ball commences (either a ruck or a maul).

The sport is governed by the International Rugby Board, founded in 1886, who also publish the game's laws.

Table of contents
1 History
2 How points are scored
3 Team positions
4 Teams
5 Tournaments
6 See also


Rugby originated in England and is played throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. As a result of the British Empire, it has also become popular in many former colonies such as Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, where it helped to build a sense of community amongst colonial men.

In fact, in these isolated and rugged outposts, the popularity of the sport developed to a much greater extent than on continental Europe; where it was largely viewed as a violent and uncultured game. These European countries have therefore always tended to prefer football. However it is often said that "Football is a gentlemen's game played and enjoyed by louts, rugby is a game for louts played and enjoyed by gentlemen".

Nowadays, rugby is played in most European mainland countries, most notably in France and Italy who now both compete in the Six Nations Rugby Tournament. It is also popular in the Pacific Islands of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, as well as Japan, and is gaining ground in South America, with Argentina regularly defeating European teams, and Uruguay having won a game at the two most recent World Cups. There are 94 members (October 2003) of the International Rugby Board. The rugby playing world is often divided between the Northern hemisphere and the Southern hemisphere teams, and the latter have often dominated international tournaments.

After decades of domination by New Zealand, South Africa, and most recently Australia, England is as of 2003 regarded as the best team in world rugby with a dominant 2002 and 2003 culminating in a nailbiting extra-time win against Australia in the final of the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup. New Zealand and France were the other semi-finalists and the only other teams close to the strength of the English.

Six Nations Rugby Tournament

The first steps towards the modern day Six Nations tournament took place in 1871 when England played Scotland. In the 1880s, both Wales and Ireland joined and the Home International Championships was born. France joined the tournament in the 1900s and in 1910 the term Five Nations was first coined. However, France had such a dismal run of games that in 1931 they were excluded by the Home Nations (England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland). France then rejoined in 1939-1940, though the Second World War halted proceedings for a further eight years. Very recently (2000), Italy also joined the tournament, leading to the modern day Six Nations competition that is run annually. If a team wins all five of their games this is termed a Grand Slam.

Rugby Union at the Olympic Games

Rugby Union has been a sport four times at the modern
Olympic Games.

1900 Paris, France - Three teams entered - France, Germany and Britain. France won the gold, winning 27-17 against Germany, who were awarded the silver medal. Britain lost 27-8 to France in the only other match, and were awarded the bronze.

1908 London, United Kingdom - Two teams entered - Britain, the hosts, and Australia. Just one match was played, a straight final, won by Australia, 32-3.

1920 Antwerp, Belgium - Two teams entered - USA and France. The USA caused a shock by winning the only match 8-0 to take the gold medal.

1924 Paris, France - Three teams entered - France, USA and Romania. Each country played two games. Both France and USA beat Romania, who were awarded the bronze medal. France won 59-3, scoring 13 tries including four by the fine Stade Francais winger Adolphe Jaureguy. The USA then defeated Romania 39-0. The final was played at Colombes stadium, Paris on 18 May 1924 and the USA took the gold with a 17-3 victory before 30,000. The Americans, from Stanford University, scored five tries, (Farrish(2), Patrick, Rogers and Manelli), with a conversion by Doe. Gallau scored the lone French try. The match finished in uproar, when Gideon Nelson, one of the French reserves, was flattened by a walking stick. The American anthem was jeered, and rugby ceased at the Olympics.

There has been talk of reinstating rugby at the Summer Olympics, either as the full 15 a side game or as the 7 a side game. Currently no firm plans have been made.

The schism

A group of Northern English clubs separated from Rugby Union in the 1890s to form (the game of) Rugby League, which though similar has a very different flow of play to Rugby Union. The split was largely between the industrial north of England and the more white-collar south and was initiated by charges that the northern teams were becoming professional (i.e. playing as a career, rather than as a game). One of the major changes from rugby union was the reduction of the number of players from 15 to 13.

How points are scored

There are several methods of scoring points in the game:

Team positions

The following is a diagram explaining the various positions in the 15-man team. The first eight players are known as forwards and play in the
scrum. The remaining seven players are known as the backs and are responsible for a considerable amount of the attacking play.

Loosehead Prop HookerTighthead Prop
Second Row Second Row
Blindside Flanker Number 8 Openside Flanker
Scrum Half
  Fly Half
Inside Centre
Left WingOutside Centre
Right Wing
Full Back

Some positions have alternative names, in New Zealand in particular:


Notable teams include:
See also English Rugby Union teams.


See also