Ever since the Middle Ages began in the fifth century of our Common Era (CE), there have been ball games that resemble rugby in some form or another. The earliest versions involved the inflated bladder of a pig, which players had to move to markers at opposite ends of the town. There were no formal rules and this became an incredibly rough game very quickly. Although it was popular amongst onlookers and players alike, the authorities tried to ban it many times for its dangerous nature. Similar games exist throughout England to this day, including Ashbourne (Derbyshire), Haxey (Lincolnshire) and Sedgefield (County Durham).
Vintage photograph from the late Victorian period showing a group of schoolboys playing rugby.
The formal game of rugby, as we know it today, evolved from these less civilised, formalised versions of football. It was in the 19th century that the Rugby Union and Rugby League were officially established to represent the sport, which was gaining increasing favourability amongst local spectators. The Rugby Union was set up in 1871 and the League followed in 1895. The latter was set up by local rugby clubs, who saw the value of their players’ skills and wanted them to be rewarded financially. The Rugby League represented the working classes who played in the industrial areas, while the Rugby Union was deemed to be of a higher status as it represented the middle classes of England. This led to some tension. This tension lasted right up until 1995 when it was finally solved by the International Rugby Board’s opening the Rugby Union to professional players.
Although England is part of the United Kingdom (which also comprises Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland), it competes as a separate entity. Its top level league is the Super League, which is made up of 14 teams. Of these, 11 are situated in the heartlands. Therefore, much of the support of the game also comes from these areas.
Major tournaments in which England plays include:
The Rugby World Cup (which England won in 2003)
Six Nations (England, France, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales)
European Rugby Cup
IRB Under-21 World Championship
IRB Under-19 World Championship
Dubai - Rugby Sevens
Rugby in England is administrated and managed by the Rugby Football Union. It is represented by a red rose as its emblem. By 2010, Jonny Wilkinson remained the top scorer for the team and Rory Underwood had scored the most tries (at a whopping 49).
Ever since rugby has been played professionally in England, the local clubs are far better supported. Club players may have done well in school rugby and opted to limit their skills to club rugby after school, or may just be enthusiasts looking for outdoor activities. Some clubs have risen amongst the ranks, winning major tournaments and gaining acclaim in their own rights. Because different clubs and organisations allow for every person, on every proficiency level, to play rugby, it is an incredibly popular sport in England. Indeed, rugby players are recognised as sports celebrities, often being used in advertising campaigns and for fundraisers.
The evolution of the sport, the support it has cultivated and the importance placed on players and teams demonstrates the power of sport within a nation like England.
For more information, please view: http://www.rfu.com/