Rugby Union football

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A fifteen-a-side game based on handling, passing, and kicking an oval ball, and aiming to accumulate points by kicking goals or scoring tries (these latter being the placing of the ball by hand in the space behind the opposition's goalposts). With origins in the football played at Rugby School, England, the game was one of two evolving codes or forms of play in the mid 19th century: the dribbling code, and the handling code. This latter was favoured by the pupils and old boys (alumni) of Rugby, Marlborough, and Cheltenham, while the dribblers came from Eton, Harrow, Westminster, and Charterhouse. At the University of Cambridge, a football club had been founded by Old Rugbeians as early as 1839, and undergraduates who had come from Eton were infuriated when the Rugbeians picked up the ball in the middle of play. At a meeting in 1846 (in the same year that a set of rules was published at Rugby School), the Old Etonians formulated the Cambridge Rules that were the basis of the code adopted by the Football Association on its formation in 1863: the code of association football, or soccer. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) organization was founded in 1871, and codified the rugby game in the context of an extended debate about hacking (the kicking of opponents). A meeting at Cambridge in 1863 had banned hacking, but those clubs that continued to accept hacking played the game that the 1871 governing body then oversaw. Games at Rugby School might sometimes have involved three hundred boys, and teams of twenty-five and more often took the field up to the last quarter of the 19th century. Fifteen-a-side teams were introduced in the fourth Oxford versus Cambridge match of 1875, and at international level when England played Ireland in 1877.

The RFU's membership rose from 31 clubs in 1872 to 481 in 1893, but this growth also spread and popularized the game among non-traditionalists in working-class, industrial areas in the country, where a competitive sport played for money had much appeal. The breakaway that led to Rugby League occurred in 1895. The RFU had reaffirmed its naming rights in 1893, when specifying that its membership be ‘composed entirely of amateurs…and its headquarters…in London where all general meetings shall be held’. Within a decade, the RFU lost 237 member clubs to the rival codes of Rugby League and association football, and its avowed amateur stance consolidated Rugby Union's status in England as a recreation of the established classes. The Rugby game was established in Scotland and in Ireland, in Edinburgh and Dublin respectively, in the mid 1850s. The game came later to Wales, introduced in its codified form by Oxford and Cambridge graduates, and enthusiastically embraced by male players of both the professional and the working classes. In the first decade of the 20th century, Wales was the dominant international side in Great Britain, also inflicting the only defeat on the touring New Zealand side (the All Blacks) at Cardiff in 1905.

Rugby had been adopted in the British Commonwealth in New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia in the 1870s, and in Canada in the 1880s. Cambridge graduates introduced the game in Japan in 1899, and, encouraged by New Zealand's support, it took hold in Tonga and Fiji in the early 20th century. In South America, British railway engineers and builders working in Buenos Aires introduced the game to Argentina, where the national Rugby Union was founded in 1899. In France, the game was introduced into the northern regions and Paris by British businessmen and residents, and prospered in Bordeaux in the first decade of the 20th century, while in the south-east a Welsh immigrant established a strong institutional club base for the game in Perpignan in 1912.


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