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  • There are two codes in the game of rugby: the amateur 15-a-side rugby union and the professional 13-a-side rugby league.

  • Rugby union, or rugger, was started at Rugby school in Warwikshire during a game of football in November 1823, when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it. The sport progressed to Cambridge University in 1839. The governing body, the rugby football union which is now based at Twickenham rugby ground, was formed in 1871.

  • Rugby league came into being in August 1895 when 21 northern based clubs became exasperated by the RFU’s refusal to allow players to be compensated for wages they lost when playing rugby matches. At first they called themselves the Northern Union, but in 1922 they took the name Rugby Football League. Most of the clubs of those days have survived, like St. Helens and Wigan. But in the spring of 1995 a total restructure of the league, in backing from News International’s Rupert Murdoch. The summer-playing 14-club superleague resulted in five mergers involving thirteen clubs.


  • A rugby pitrch is usually 100 metres long. there are goalposts at each end with a cross-bar 3 metres above the ground, and the posts measuring this and more above. The cross bar is 5.6 metres wide. Behind the goal is a marked-out area 22 metres long and 69 metres wide.


  • The same oval ball is used in union and league. Players wear special rugby shirts, which are stronger than those used in association football, because they are often pulled about, plus shorts and socks with studded boots.

  • A certain amount of protective padding is beginning to be worn, as are gumshields to protect teeth from being broken and scrum caps to protect ears.


  • The rules of rugby union and rugby league are continually being changed to keep the game flowing. Rugby union rules are far more complex than the league, which is all about ‘running’ the ball which makes it a more popular and accessible game than rugby union. In the heavily televised rugby league, players are paid professionals.

  • The rules of rugby union and rugby league are continually being changed to keep the game flowing. Rugby union rules are far more complex than the league, which is all about ‘running’ the ball which makes it a more popular and accessible game than rugby union. In the heavily televised rugby league, players are paid professionals.

  • Each game lasts 80 minutes with a 10-minute interval. In rugby union the referee times the game on the pitch. A scrum is awarded for certain offences, which do not merit a direct penalty kick at goal and is used to restart the game. The side which has been offended against puts the ball into the scrum, which is made up of the forwards of each side. There are eight forwards on each side and they make a 3-2-3 formation, leaning down to ‘lock’ against each other. They attempt to push each other off the ball as it is put into the scrum by the scrum half. Once ground is gained, the ball can be heeled back to the scrum half who will either run with the ball or throw it out to another player.

  • In rugby league, the game is timed from off the field and a hooter is sounded at the end of the game. Each time there is an interruption or ‘stoppage’ the clock is stopped. Each side can only keep the ball for six tackles; after that a scrum is formed and the sequence starts again. Each time a man in possession is tackled but retains the ball he stands up and back heels it to a colleague. League players are not encouraged to gain ground by kicking the ball into touch: they can only kick the ball out of play if it bounces before going out. And a scrum is awarded.


  • Rugby union throws up new heroes every decade but the name of J.P.R. Williams stays for ever to remind us how great the Welsh nation was at their national game of rugby, before the regular raids on their young talent by the professional rugby league clubs began. J.P.R. is now a surgeon. Born in Cardiff in 1949, he was a full back and first played for Wales in 1969. He was a member of the team that won the triple Crown six times and also played for the British Lions. He played for Wales 55 times.

  • One of the rugby league’s greatest wingers, Martun Offiah, was signed by Widnes from the rugby union club Rosslyn Park. He set a Great Britain try record when he scored five tries against France in 1991. The result was 60—4! Offiah is a regular in the British team and in 1992 was transferred from Widnes to Wigan for a record transfer fee of £400,000. He was born in Hackney—ironically, a strong association football area of East London.


  • During the winter of 1978/79, many of the rugby league matches in Holland were hit by severe snowstorms giving the organizers a potential headache over future fixtures. Officials, however, came up with a naval solution — they transferred all the matches to the nearest beach!

  • He was nothing if consistent. In 1953 Welsh rugby union flanker Billy Boston deserted the amateur game for professional rugby league, playing for Wigan. In 487 appearances, he scored 478 tries up to his retirement in 1968.

  • Prodigal sons do exit. In September 1994, Australian Garrick Morgan, whose father played rugby league from rugby union for huge fee. He’d left rugby league for the union game aged 17 in 1987. Morgan, standing 6 feet 6 inches and weighing 17 stone, joined an appropriately named team — the south Queensland Crushers!

  • In the first round of the rugby union Natal Cup in South Africa in 1983, the Tenku team travelled to Transei to play the Ciscei team. When they arrived, the Tenku team found that they were minus three pairs of shorts. The referee refused to allow the three players short of shorts to play in their underpants and the unfortunate players saw their team go down to a 24—96 points defeat.

  • Three players of a rugby union club, from Nancy, France, on a tour of Germany, were arrested after being taken to hospital pretending to be ill. The three missed their next match as a result — against the Heidelburg Police XV!

  • What was termed the world’s most beautiful rugby union match took place in 1974 at the London Irish ground when, in women’s match, 15 leading models played a team of 15 actresses. The actresses won 10—8, although the models may have been handicapped, since they were allowed to wear hats.

  • In 1924, Gideon Nelson was the only player in the Stanford University XV not to collect a winner’s medal for the last US rugby union championships. Before the ceremony he was accidentally hit on the head with a walking stick and remained in a daze until after the medals had been given out.

  • In 1940 the rugby football union ordered Tongan players to wear boots if they wished to continue playing.

  • Among the four rugby union clubs in Indonesia in 1983 was one from a US naval vessel, which insisted that all home matches should be played on board the ship!

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