29 Oct 2012

Evolution of Rugby - A look at the quirky history of the game.

Dumptackle Rugby Blog brings you its' take on the evolution of rugby, spanning almost 200 years rich in sporting history, with the odd quirky fact thrown in you may not have known before!


1823: Running with the ball is allegedly introduced into the game of football at Rugby School, England. Here begins the myth of the invention of rugby by William Webb Ellis, later concocted by Rugbeians in 1895.

1839: Arthur Pell establishes the first team at Cambridge and draws up the 'Cambridge Rules'.

1841: Running with the ball is officially allowed in Rugby School's rules (provided the ball is taken on the bounce). Passing however is specifically forbidden.*

*Acclaimed author, Spiros Zavos amusingly mentioned in his book ('how to watch a game of rugby') that many rugby commentators from the Southern Hemisphere believe that British rugby continues to maintain this rule! Steady on Spiros....

1862: The indiarubber bladder for the rugby ball is invented. The original pigskin bladders were apparantly so disgusting to blow up, that boys at Rugby School left the odious task to Mr Gilbert (a nearby bootmaker who would later develop a world reknowned brand of top class rugby balls of the same name). At least he ended up having the last laugh!

The new balls, encased in tough leather solved many of the problems associated with the old pigskin bladder model, which had some rather revolting results when subjected to a combination of relentless kicking and the elements of british weather. I'll leave that up to your imaginiation.

Importantly though, the new mass prouced ball gave a wider community of young men, both in England and in the colonies, a chance to express themselves in the oddly shaped ball game. The sport significantly was no longer solely aligned with the English public school system. This was an important step in growing the popularity of rugby around the world.

1863: The Rugby Football Union is formed and a standard set of laws are drawn up in London. Goals (successful kicks over a post, rather than under the post as in football), are taken after a team scores a try. The try enables the side to 'try' and kick a goal, hence the origin of the name. Rugby is seen as predominantly a dribbling game with the ball on the floor, rather than a handling/running/ kicking game as it is seen now.

1865: The first game of rugby in the southern hemisphere is played between Sydney University and Sydney Club. According the the Sydney Morning Herald, despite an 'exciting struggle', the match was drawn, 'owing to a misunderstanding regarding the rules'. No goals were scored as the game ended 0-0.

1871: The first International test match is battled out between England and Scotland as Scotland win by one try and one goal to one goal. There are a whopping 20 players a side on the pitch, consisting of 13 forwards, 3 halfbacks, one three-quarter and 3 fullbacks! Later, Oxford and Cambridge set a trend by reducing the number of players in their teams to 15 a side.

1877: 'Hacking' is abolished but 'the Bulletin' still nicknames the sport 'the undertaker's friend', despite the reform. Many in the USA, wary of the dangerous nature of the sport, alter the rules of rugby to form a new Game, later  to become known as American Football. A line of scrimmage is made, to avoid the peculairities of the scrum, while the ball can be passed forward so as to avoid big pile-ups of men. Little did they know just how dangerous their sport would become....

Player numbers in international rugby follow the trend set by Oxbridge Universities a few years earlier, reducing from 20 to 15.

1883: The first Home Nations tournament is played out, with England winning the 'Triple Crown' by beating Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

1886: A points system is adopted by the RFU, whereby 3 tries are equal to one goal. This reform uses the scoring system at Cheltenham College, which gives a points value to a try, unlike the Rugby School scoring system which astoundingly.... did not. Makes you wonder if Jonah Lomu would have quite as big a superstar in the 19th century.

1890: The International Rugby Board (IRB) is formed and is dominated by the Home Unions. Of the 12 board members, 6 represented England, with two each for Scotland, Ireland and Wales. New Zealand ands Australia would not be admitted until 1948, such was the exclusionist ethic of the Home Nations.

1893: Cardiff creates a formation of 8 forwards and 7 backs. So successful is this tactic that it is universally adopted and still remains today. One could say that it is Rugby Union's version of football's 4-4-2. The reality is that it is more fundamental than that though, as no other team in the modern era has tried a different approach.

1905: Bouncing the ball into the lineout is abolished: the ball now has to be thrown in. While this was initially done by the scrumhalf and then the winger, it became tradition soon after that the hooker threw into the line-out to allow for greater attacking threat outwide. The first team to do so was the All Blacks in 1905. It didn't catch on at the time, despite explanation of the All Blacks’ Dave Gallaher and Billy Stead in their 1906 book, 'The Complete Rugby Footballer':

“In England the scrum half is usually delegated to do the throwing in. This is a mistake. Nobody is or should be better able to institute an attack of any kind than this individual, and it is a waste of his valuable time and services to put him to the task of throwing in.

Our plan is to give the ball to one of our short hookers as some kind of a short rest for him from his very arduous labours in the front row of the scrum.”
A change to the points system was also made that year. 3 points are now awarded for a try, with 5 for a converted try. 3 points meanwhile are given for a successful penalty goal.

1910: France are admitted into the Five Nations, with the first tournament won by England.

1924/5: The 'Invincibles' New Zealand team wins ever single match of it's tour of Great Britain. This depsite having to train on their long haul trip by boat with fruit as a ball. George Nepia becomes rugby's first global superstar. They remain arguably the best side to have ever played the game.

1926: The IRB decides that each of the two halves in an international match should be 40 minutes long. (An unwritten law is also explained, that any number of minutes can be added on at the end of a maych to allow for a heart-breaking, John Eales, last gasp winner).

1932: The Fédération Internationale de Rugby Amateur (FIRA) was founded - a positive force in spreading the sport beyond the Anglosphere.

1958: A significant change is made in the tackle ball law: players after regaining their feet, are permitted to play the ball after a tackle in any lawful way (rather than only with their feet).

1968: Replacements for injured players are allowed in tests. Despite this addition, legendary All Black skipper would still go on to play a full 80 minutes against France at 'the Battle of Nantes' in 1986 after suffering a ripped scrotum. That's leadership. It's no surprise people have been calling 'Bring back Buck' ever since.

1971: Revolutionary law changes are introduced to devalue the kicking game: players are required to stand behind the hindmost foot in the scrum; backs, except the halfback are to stand 10 metres from the line-out; no kicks directly into touch are allowed from outside the 22-metre line; a try is upgraded to four points too.

1987: The first RWC is held despite many of the home unions voting against its' inception as an act of defiance against the growing power of foreign unions. David Kirk leads his side to glory at home, as an inspired All Black team defeats France at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. John Kirwan becomes the golden boy of New Zealand rugby with some scintillating performances on the wing.

1991: Australia defeat England at Twickenham in the second RWC final. Towards the end of the final, with the Wallaby backs reluctant to kick the ball downfield, Aussie coach Bob Dwyer shouts out 'Kick it to the Shit house'. The Queen, sitting two rows in front is presumably not amused!

1993: The five point try is introduced; a decisive change in the scoring system. For the first time, two tries are worth more than three penalties or drop goals. Rugby is now in essence a game about tires rather than goals.

1995: The Springboks, hosting and playing in their first ever RWC (after missing the previous 2 tournaments because of apartheid) defeat New Zealand at Ellis Park. Nelson Mandela appears before the crowd with a Springbok jersey on (Pienaar, Number 6) in one of the most dramatic sporting occasions of all time. Jonah Lomu, the undisputed star of the tournament is larlgely subdued by a suffocating South African defence.

Following the tournament, under mounting pressure from the threat of Rugby League's Super League, Rugby becomes professional. The reform comes 100 years after the fateful decision to outlaw professionalism.

1996: The inaugural Tri Nations and Super 12 tournaments kick off with the backing of wealthy media mogul, Rupert Murdoch.

1999: Australia become the first nation to win two RWCs as they beat France at a canter at Twickenham. In the Semi-final, the inspired French had knocked out tournament favourites, New Zealand, with a tremendous come from behind victory. It is still to this day regarded by many as the best game of rugby union the world has seen.

2000: Five Nations become Six, as Italy are allowed into Europe's showpiece competition.

2003: The RWC came home to the 'Mother Country' as Jonny Wilkinson inspired England to victory over Australiam in Australia with a dead eye boot. Cue a number of youngsters taking on his 'i'm about to let one go' kicking stance.

2007: South Africa win the Wrld Cup for a second time in France as they defeat England in a dire game in the final. The tryless encounter leads IRB officials to look up ways of evolving the game to be more spectacular in attack.

2008: The Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) are introduced to the rugby public to much fanfare. IRB Chairman, Millar said that the game needed to be sped up a bit, to make it easier to play, easier to referee, easier to understand and to produce more options for the players. The amendments concentrate on rucks and mauls, but include other aspects which help keep the ball in play and reduce stoppages for infringements and penalties. Some work well and others are a complete disaster. One game in the then Super 14, sees the Chiefs defeat the Lions 72-65. Many of the changes are dropped.

2009: The International Olympic Committee vote to return a form of rugby to the Olympics, with rugby sevens to be contested in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, opening the door to increased exposure of the sport in sleeping giants such as the USA, Canada and Russia.

2011: New Zealand win the RWC for the second time following 24 years of national hurt. An 8-7 victory over France (the French's third defeat in a final) sees them regain their RWC confidence. As if the rest of the world needed that...

2012: Argentina are admitted into the newly named 'Rugby Championship' following years of hard work and fare well as they draw against South Africa and come perilously close to beating Australia.


  1. BIG event missing from that history lesson circa 1895....

    You cannot deny the rift that created the fine game of rugby league chump!

  2. What are you doing on this site Gan Eden?!!

    This is evolution of rugby...not league!

  3. No advent of professionalism in the 90's?

    1. I think you'll find it was in the same sub heading as the 1995 RWC.

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  5. This depsite having to practice on their lengthy term journey by vessel with fruits as a football. Henry Nepia becomes rugby's first international celebrity. Watch Defiance Online

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