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William Webb Ellis is credited with inventing rugby in 1823 by picking up the ball while playing football at Rugby School and running with it. The claim is disputed but there is little doubt that rugby developed at public schools out of a large‐scale, few‐rules, mauling scrum game. Definition of the code began in 1863 when the Football Association was formed and outlawed handling and hacking. Richmond, Blackheath, and some London clubs stayed with the handling code and in 1871 the Rugby Football Union was formed. As in soccer, the balance moved in favour of northern clubs and there were accusations of professionalism. In 1895 St Helens, Wigan, and a number of northern clubs formed a breakaway union, which became the Rugby Football League in 1922. The number of players was reduced from fifteen to thirteen and scrums restricted to produce a fast handling game.

The two codes, amateur and professional, treated each other with disdain for many years. But the advent of television after the Second World War led to a gradual thaw. Rugby union introduced a league system, with promotion and relegation, expenses became ever more substantial, and the ban on players returning after playing rugby league was lifted in 1995. Full professionalism followed, together with substantial restructuring of competitions. Place‐kicking has become so expert that most games are decided by infringement of the rules and the subsequent addition of points.

Subjects: British History.

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