6 Important Dates in Rugby History

For Americans, there’s nothing quite as intense as watching a game of American football. It’s rough, it’s violent, and it’s fast, all the elements that make for an exciting game.

But Rugby is even rougher, faster, and more violent than American football. Not only that, but it’s been around longer as well, acting as a sort of ancestor for other sports. If you’re unfamiliar with Rugby, or even if you know the sport inside and out, here are a few noteworthy dates that made Rugby the sport that it is today.

1823 – Rugby is Born

Though some would dispute the accuracy of the founding of Rugby, many historians believe that the first instance of the sport was in 1823 by William Webb Ellis who, according to legend: “with a fine disregard for the rules of football…first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game.” The first claim to Ellis’ invention of Rugby was made by Matthew Bloxam in 1876, who went to school with Ellis and claims he saw the incident first hand. Ellis died in 1872, so he wasn’t around to argue with Bloxam regardless.

1845 – Rugby’s Rules are Recorded

Up until this point, Rugby was played more or less through a loose set of rules. That all changed in 1845, when Isaac Gregory Smith, who was the captain of the football team, asked three other students to record the rules and send them to other schools in hopes of creating a cohesive sport. The official ball would not be designed until the 1860’s, but this event marks the beginning of an official Rugby league.

1866 – Drop Goal is Created

Before South Africa’s Joel Stransky (1995) and England’s Jonny Wilkinson (2003) won their respective Rugby championships with the drop goal, it was viewed by 19th-century participants as the “supreme skill” for Rugby players everywhere. In a world where the field could be clogged up by nearly 40 players at a time, kicking was more sophisticated and required more talent than simply running the ball across the field.

1885 – Referees are Introduced

It can be hard to believe now, but there was a time when Rugby was played without any referees at all officiating the match. In case of a dispute, the two sides simply got together and decided the outcome for themselves. By 1885, however, that had all changed. Now, “In all matches, 2 umpires shall be appointed and one referee,” as per the rules specified that year. In modern times, a team of officials and touch judges controls the action, with an optional Television Match Official (TMO) to help out in case the game is televised.

1968 – Replacements are Allowed

To illustrate just how brutal Rugby can be, up until the second half of the twentieth century, if a player broke an arm, shattered a kneecap, or got their eye poked out, they played on despite the pain. Though Australia and New Zealand had allowed for replacements on an unofficial basis starting decades earlier, replacements became officially allowed in 1968. Even still, a casual viewing of a modern-day game will show players playing with bloody faces and hurt limbs, indicating the desire of many of them to play on through the pain and giving homage to their brutal roots.

1987 – First World Cup

Nearly 150 years after Rugby had been invented, the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) created the Rugby World Cup (RWC) and invited 16 teams to participate. The trophy was named the William Webb Ellis cup and was chosen by John Carpenter, the then-chairman of the IRFB. The first official winner of the RWC was New Zealand when captain David Kirk hoisted the Webb cup – designed as a replica of a cup designed by Paul de Lamerie, a Huguenot silversmith who took refuge in England in the 1740s. Today, the RWC is held every four years, most recently won in 2015 and again by New Zealand.

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