Key moments in the history of Rugby Union in the UK


The early history of rugby begins a lot earlier than the 19th century when the sport was finally conceived and people started playing it in the form that we know today.

Rugby union today is played throughout the world, in more than 100 countries but the key moments in its history happened in the 19th century.


It should be mentioned that in a lot of countries where rugby union became popular and it is played today, similar sports have been played for centuries before the rugby union was developed. In Australia they had their marn grook, Kiwis played Ki-o-rahi and the Irish had their caid.

The first set of written rules was published in 1845, by three school boys who studied at Rugby School, hence the name rugby. The first club that played rugby by the rules used at Rugby School was established in London in 1943. That event is the key event and the starting point of the official history of rugby union. Many other clubs were formed soon after and by 1860 there were quite a few clubs, throughout Britain and Ireland.

The Two Schisms

The history of rugby union knows of two great schisms, the first one is the schism between rugby and association football. The Football Association was founded in 1863 in London and by then it was pretty clear that the two games will develop in different directions. In rugby union players are allowed to run holding the ball in their hands, whereas in association football, they are only allowed to kick it with their feet.

Rugby union, or just rugby as it was then known competed with other football codes that existed at the time. But the biggest challenge for its reputation and status was the schism that eventually caused the division of rugby and created another code – rugby league.

Rugby was regarded as an amateur sport and professionalism was not protected. However, many clubs from the north of England complained that their players often have to miss work in order to play and that they need to be compensated for that. They also complained that London clubs dominate the Rugby Football Union. So, they decided to form a new body – Rugby Football League.

What the Future Holds

That move didn’t diminish the popularity of rugby union. There are almost two million registered players, about 2100 clubs and about 180,000 watch rugby at least once a week in England alone. With the decision to professionalise the sport in 1995, the sport didn’t lose any of its former popularity or appeal, on the contrary, some reports suggest that it now attracts a greater audience compared to the past.

The popularity of rugby union is also indicated by the fact that a lot of punters place wagers on rugby matches. It could be said that the professionalisation of rugby union coincides with the growing popularity of online sports and gaming. Many operators nowadays offer special bonus codes to punters and players, check here if you want to know more.