Rugby World Cup: Now is the time to spare a thought for the origins of the game

The game was founded on the playing fields of the well-known independent school of the same name

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The Independent Online

Rugby fever is already gripping the nation in the first full week of the Rugby World Cup.

Perhaps, then, now is the time to spare a thought for the origins of the game, which was founded on the playing fields of the well-known independent school of the same name.

So what did the famous public school leave to the game – apart from, of course, inventing it in the first place? Well, for a start the concept of a try. The original rules, written at the school, stated that grounding the ball only gave the opportunity to "try" to score with a kick at goal. No points were given at the time for grounding the ball behind the opponent's goal line.

Then there's the question of why the England team have always played in white. The reason is that this was the colour of the Rugby school team's original unbleached cotton kit.

 

Incidentally, the founder of the school, Lawrence Sheriff, was presented with a coat of arms by Queen Elizabeth I, allowing him to use her red Lancaster rose. Hence the reason for the team donning the emblem of a northern county for what essentially has been a southern game.

The game came closer to the one we recognise today when, in 1823, a pupil called William Webb Ellis, with a fine disregard for the rules, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it. Up until then, players were only allowed to catch the ball and kick it out of their hands.

In addition, there were originally no limits on the number of players on either side. In 1839, when Queen Adelaide (consort to King William IV) visited the school, a team of 75 boys played a team of 225. Matches could last for up to five days – although why it should surprise cricket fans that a game could last that long, I don't know.

Matches won't be that long during this Rugby World Cup – but one reminder of Rugby School will still dominate it. The teams will still be battling for the Webb Ellis trophy.

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