If you’re a regular around these parts then you’ll know that my first love is Rugby. Rugby Union to be precise.
So, with the fact that it is the 6 Nations Tournament at the moment and I’m concious that some of the visitors here might not have a Scooby of what I’m on about here is a Dummies Guide.
England has always played Football. Association Football to be precise, or Soccer. Indeed so popular was Soccer with the masses that Henry the 8th famously tried to make it illegal as it was interfereing with compulsory Archery practice!
So that was England’s most popular ball game, it still is by a long way, but then a famous bit of illegal play in a game of Soccer is said to have been the start of the game called “Rugby Football.”
This has in fact gone down in Legend and nobody has been able to substantiate the claim, but it’s a wonderful tale and I will take it as fact because it is so emotive.
In 1823 a boy called William Webb Ellis was playing Soccer and instead of using his feet he picked up the ball and ran with it. He was a pupil at Rugby School hence the name of my beloved game, Rugby Football. It is said that this was the origin of the game.
Whatever the truth it is now the foundation of the Worlds 3rd largest sporting event behind the Olympics and the Football World Cup. That of the Rugby World Cup. Where the protagonists play for the William Webb Ellis Trophy.
The photo above is taken on the happiest day of my life, when England won the World Cup with Martin Johnson lifting the William Webb Ellis Trophy in Sydney Australia in 2003.
The game progressed slowly with local clubs forming in the regions. To save the detail it was played in England by mainly Southern Middle Class ex public school boys and working class Northern Men.
The famous split in the game came when the Northerners were beating the soft southerners hands down all over the place, but as the game was resolutely amateur they were losing wages by actually playing game. This wasn’t good enough and quite clearly unsustainable for the working class lads so they asked to be paid reasonable expenses.
The mainly southern influenced Rugby Union steadfastly refused their request. So the Northern Clubs from Yorkshire and Lancashire stuck their two fingers up at the Wealthy Southern Clubs and the Rugby Union and formed their own Professional League. They called it Rugby League and it became a very different game from the Amateur Rugby Union.
The main differences are as follows.
League has 13 players, Union has 15 players.
League has 6 separate goes with possession to score, Union can carry on until they lose the ball.
League Scrums are non-combative, Union Scrums are competitive.
When tackled in League you keep the ball (for 6 tackles as above), when tackled in Union the opposition can fight for the ball.
Both games have their good and bad points, but since Rugby Union went professional in 1995 after the Rugby World Cup in South Africa, Rugby Union has become a much faster game, mainly due to the fitness of the athletes taking part.
Both Union and League are international sports, but Union is by far the bigger game. League is played seriously in the North of England and mainly in Australia. I will get called out on that statement (I am generalising to make a point!) but that’s pretty much the truth, I know League is played in most of the Union playing countires, but not in as many numbers and not at such a high level which attracts spectators or sponsors.
I played Soccer at Junior School, then I passed my 11 plus exam and was selected to go to Grammar School. Imagine my shock when in 1975 I arrived there to find no Football goals only weird H shaped posts on the playing fields!
So they played something called Rugby Union and I was immediatley plonked in the front row of the scrum. The selection of playing positions went like this.
“Chapman – stand in between the other 2 fat bastards!” So spoke our games master John Shakespeare on a wet September Monday morning. And that was me at the age of 11 years put in a place where I would stay for the rest of my rugby playing life playing a position called Hooker. Basically it means I had to “Hook” the ball back with my feet in a scrum.
I immediately took to the game, I soon forgot Soccer and it was the main thing I took from my time at School and it has shaped my life to what it is now. I have so much to thank the game for and it is one of the reasons I coach now, just to stay involved and give something back.