The RFU is the oldest rugby union in the world and it has been crucial to the success of the sport. The RFU being the oldest rugby union in the world means a lot of people want to know exactly how old it is and when it was founded.
When was RFU founded? The RFU was founded on January 26th 1871, more than 152 years ago. The idea for a union was first proposed two months prior to when it was formed.
The RFU was first put forward as an idea on the 4th of December 1870. Before that, there had been no official code of practice for rugby and there were many different rules for the game. It is why 21 different teams wanted to get together and form a code of practices for the game.
This meeting happened on the 26th of January 1871 when 21 different teams got together to form the first code of rules for the game. At this meeting, the laws of rugby football were formed which also led to the Rugby Football Union being formed. Having a set of rules meant that they also wanted a union to represent the sport.
This is how the Rugby Football Union was formed and the laws were approved in June 1871. Since then the RFU has been the biggest union in the world.
Why was the RFU founded?
The main reason that the RFU was founded was that there were no set rules for the game of rugby. Rugby was developed from football, with the game designed to be similar to football but with the ability to carry the ball.
Due to its origin being difficult to find, there were lots of different rules for rugby when the sport was first created. So different clubs around the country wanted to have a single set of rules that they could all play to. This is why 21 different teams met up in January 1871 to form a code of practices.
These clubs played to different rules and so there was no way that the sport could get more popular. These clubs included teams like Harlequins, Richmond and Guy’s Hospital. As well as these clubs forming a set of rules that they would all play to, they also wanted to form a union to orchestrate these rules and become the sports governing body.
Not only did they want this to become the governing body of the game in England, but the world. Rugby was formed in the UK and so there was no rules set around the world. The RFU was formed to be the governing body of rugby. This was the case for over a decade until World Rugby was formed in 1886.
Forming a union for the sport also meant that the players could be represented by a single governing body. At the time this gave thousands of rugby players a future for rugby to become incredibly popular around the world.
How was the RFU founded?
In December 1870, two rugby players published a letter in The Times which said that there should be a single set of laws and codes for the game of rugby. At the time, the rules varied around the country and teams would have to agree on the rules whenever they played against each other.
So 21 rugby clubs met at the Pall Mall Restaurant on Regent Street to form a single set of laws and codes that could help to grow the game. The clubs at the meeting featured teams who are still playing at a very high-level today, with Premiership side Harlequins and Championship side Richmond both at the meeting.
The meeting was supposed to be 23 clubs, but the representatives for Wasps and Ealing both failed to show up for the meeting, with different stories about how they got lost on the way.
It was at this meeting that the clubs came together to form the Rugby Football Union (RFU). The RFU would act as the sports governing body as this was something agreed upon by all of the teams who attended the meeting. They began to discuss who would lead the Union and drew up the official laws of the game.
Who were the original RFU clubs?
The original RFU clubs are the 21 clubs that attended the meeting on the 26th of January 1871 that founded the RFU. There were 23 teams invited to this meeting, with 21 of them having a representative present at the meeting when the RFU was formed.
The original RFU clubs were: Blackheath, Richmond, Ravenscourt Park, West Kent, Marlborough Nomads, Wimbledon Hornets, Gypsies, Civil Service, The Law Club, Wellington College, Guy’s Hospital, Flamingoes, Clapham Rovers, Harlequin F.C., King’s College Hospital, St Paul’s, Queen’s House, Lausanne, Addison, Mohicans and Belsize Park.
The two teams who were supposed to be part of this group were actually teams who will be playing against each other in The Championship in the 2023/24 season. Wasps and Ealing were both invited to attend the meeting and sent representatives to attend. But there are differing stories about why these representatives did not show up at the meeting.
Some of the teams who were part of this group are still playing rugby today. Harlequins are certainly the most successful of the clubs who attended the meeting, winning the Premiership twice as well as three European trophies. Richmond are another of the teams still playing today, currently competing in the Championship.
King’s College Hospital is one of the teams still playing today, making it one of the oldest rugby clubs in the world. Civil Service and Wimbledon are both still playing rugby today. However, the majority of the founding clubs were short-lived and failed to make it past the 19th century.
Teams like Ravenscourt Park, Gipsies, Flamingoes and Lausanne did not make it to the 20th century despite being one of the founding teams of the RFU. Often these clubs disbanded and became part of bigger clubs within the area as the game grew under the RFU.