Who actually invented rugby?

There is a lot of confusion around the invention of rugby. The game’s roots can be difficult to track but there is one story which is generally accepted as to how rugby was invented. 

Who actually invented rugby? Legend has it that William Webb Ellis, a pupil of Rugby school in Warwickshire invented rugby when he picked up a football during a game and ran with it in his arms. Whether the legend about Ellis providing the initial spark is true or not, there is no doubt that the game of Rugby was invented and initially coded by Rugby school in Warwickshire.

The traditional story about how rugby was invented centres around William Webb Ellis. Born in Salford, he attended Rugby School in Warwickshire after his father had died in the Peninsula War. 

While he was at the school, it is said that during a game of football, William Webb Ellis caught the ball in his hands and began running with it. Obviously, this is against the rules of football and so running with the ball in your hands is how rugby developed. Webb Ellis ran towards the opposition’s goal. 

At the time this was reported by a former pupil of the school Matthew Bloxam. From there the Rugby school developed the early rules of the game and this is seen as how rugby was first invented. However, there is some contention as to whether this is actually how the game was invented. 

For one thing, the report about William Webb Ellis running with the ball only came about in 1876. In the report, Bloxham said that Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it back in 1823. The man himself also could not comment on that report because William Webb Ellis had died in 1872. 

Other than this report there is not a huge amount of first-hand evidence of William Webb Ellis carrying a football. Despite that, he has gone down in rugby folklore as the man who invented rugby, even if there is not a huge amount of evidence for it.

However, there is evidence that the game was invented by Rugby school in Warwickshire. This is where the name of the sport comes from. 

How old is rugby UK?

The exact formation date of rugby is difficult to accurately find so therefore it is difficult to know exactly how old the game is. There is some belief that rugby could be 200 years old in 2023. 

That is because William Webb Ellis supposedly picked up a football and began running with it during a football game while he was a pupil of Rugby School in Warwickshire. Later reports said this happened in 1823. If these reports are true then rugby would be 200 years old at the time of writing. 

However, there has been a lot of controversy about the truthfulness of the reports. That is mainly because the reports came out long after William Webb Ellis had left Rugby School and when the game was much more developed. It wasn’t until 1871 that rugby had an official set of rules thanks to the formation of the RFU. 

In terms of the official time when rugby became a recognised sport with one single rulebook, that would be 1871. So this would make rugby 152 years old at the time of writing. It is difficult to put an exact date on when rugby was created so it is also difficult to say how old rugby really is. 

Where is rugby most popular? 

Rugby certainly is not as international a sport as something like football, but there are still countries and regions where the sport is incredibly popular. 

Rugby is most popular in countries like New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and the UK. Rugby was founded in England, at the same time that England were invading different regions to create the commonwealth. That is why quite a few of the countries where rugby is most popular are also Commonwealth countries. 

New Zealand is probably where rugby is the most popular in terms of density. While there are other countries that have more registered rugby players or fans, New Zealand are a rugby-mad country, thanks in part to being one of the best countries in the world at the sport. 

As well as the commonwealth countries, rugby is also incredibly popular in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. These four nations have been playing international rugby for over a century and so the sport has grown massively in the UK and Ireland. 

Is rugby Scottish or English? 

Rugby is a very popular sport in both Scotland and England, with the two international teams holding the oldest rugby in international rugby history. 

Rugby is technically English because it was created in England. Rugby was created at a school in Warwickshire which is in the Midlands of England. The school itself is called Rugby School and while the exact creation of the game is uncertain, rugby is certainly English. 

What also helps the case that the game is English is that the first official laws of the game were created in England. The Rugby Football Union are the oldest Rugby federation in the world and they drew up the very first laws of the game. The Scottish RFU was founded after the RFU, only by a couple of years. 

Did rugby come from Scotland? 

Despite the sport being incredibly popular in Scotland, rugby did not come from Scotland. Rugby was invented at a school in England, with the Scottish picking up the game not long after it was first invented. 

Scotland was the birthplace of international rugby. Scotland hosted England in the very first international rugby game, so Scotland could be seen as the home of international rugby. 

Is rugby as big as football in England? 

Rugby is certainly a popular sport in England, partly because the game was invented in England. 

But rugby is not as popular as football in England. Football still has much higher viewing and participation numbers than rugby. Rugby’s numbers in England are going down at the moment while football is only getting more popular. 

There are still millions of rugby fans in England, but the sport is just not as big as football, particularly at the domestic level. The Premier League is far bigger than the Gallagher Premiership, a clear sign of football’s popularity over rugby. 

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