Rugby is a football game in which two teams of 15 players (in rugby union) or 13 players (in rugby league) compete with an oval ball (in rugby league play). Rugby union and rugby league are both derived from a football game played at Rugby School in England. According to legend, in 1823, William Webb Ellis, a student at Rugby School, defied the conventions of the time (that the ball could only be kicked forward) by picking up the ball and running with it in a game, thereby establishing rugby football as a distinct handling activity.
By the early 1900s, the game’s “historical” foundation had been well-founded, at the same time as foundation theories for baseball and Australian rules football had been invented. Although Webb Ellis was a student at Rugby School at the time, there is no clear proof that the actual event occurred, despite the fact that the Old Rugbeian Society quoted it in an 1897 article on the game’s origins. Nonetheless, Rugby School, whose name has been given to the sport, was pivotal in the creation of rugby football, and it was there in 1845 that the first rules of the game that would become rugby union football were created.
Rugby is now a common sport in many countries around the world, with clubs and national teams in Japan, Côte d’Ivoire, Georgia, Uruguay, and Spain, among others. Women’s rugby is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. The International Rugby Board (IRB; established in 1886 as the International Rugby Football Board), headquartered in Dublin, had over 100 affiliated national unions at the turn of the twenty-first century, though the sport was still dominated at the top level by the traditional rugby forces of Australia, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and Wales.
Football has existed in various forms for decades. Football games may have been played in Britain as early as the 1st century BCE, during the Roman conquest. Shrove Tuesday football matches became annual fixtures in local communities during the 14th and 15th centuries CE, and many of these games were played well into the 19th century. Localized variants of folk football (a violent sport distinguished by large teams and a lack of rules) gradually gained popularity in English public (independent) schools, where they were transformed and adapted into one of two forms: a dribbling game played predominantly with the feet, which was promoted at Eton and Harrow, and a handling game, which was common at Rugby, Marlborough, and Cheltenham.
Influential headmaster Thomas Arnold (1828–42) promoted game playing, especially football, at Rugby School, and many boys educated at the time were instrumental in the game’s expansion. Rugby football quickly rose to prominence as one of the most important sports for promoting English and later British imperial manliness. Books like Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days (1857).