Rugby Union originated at Rugby School, evolving from early forms of folk football. Initially, the rules were informal and agreed upon before each match. However, significant milestones have shaped the modern game, including:

  • 1863: The Football Association was formed, excluding rules for “running with the ball” and “hacking,” leading to the divergence of rugby from soccer.
  • 1870: Standardization of rugby laws began.
  • 1886: Formation of the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB), now known as World Rugby.

First Rugby Rules and Their Creators

The earliest rules of rugby were created at Rugby School in England. These rules were developed by the students themselves. The first formal set of rules, known as the “Laws of Football as Played at Rugby School,” was written in 1845 by three Rugby School pupils: William Delafield Arnold, W. W. Shirley, and Frederick Hutchins. These rules included provisions for handling the ball and tackling, which set rugby apart from other forms of football.

The 1845 Laws

The students submitted 37 rules to the Sixth Levee, which were immediately approved and printed in a rule book. These rules were regularly updated in the subsequent years. For instance, in 1846-47, a large committee met to review and revise the rules, resulting in minor changes. In 1862, an attempt was made to “codify the customs.”

Key Developments at Trinity College Dublin

Charles Burton Barrington, who had been introduced to football at St Columba’s College, found Trinity College’s football club lacking rules and uniform when he entered in January 1867. He and the club secretary, R.M. Wall, worked to introduce the Rugby rules. In 1868, Barrington and Wall formalized these rules in the secretary’s rooms at Botany Bay, emphasizing the traditions of Rugby School.

Laws of Football by D.U., 1868

  1. The kick-off from the middle must be a place-kick.
  2. Kick-out must be from 25 yards out of goal, not a place-kick.
  3. Charging is fair in case of a place-kick, as soon as the ball has touched the ground.
  4. If a player makes a fair catch, he is entitled to a free kick.
  5. A fair catch cannot be made from touch.
  6. A player is offside when the ball is kicked, thrown, or knocked on by his own team behind him.
  7. An offside player may impede the game but cannot touch the ball.
  8. A player is onside when the ball is kicked or thrown by the opposition.
  9. It is not lawful to pick up the ball when not in touch.
  10. Running is allowed for any player onside.
  11. In a run-in, the ball cannot be taken from the runner by another player of the same team.
  12. A player can call on another to put down the ball in a maul.
  13. A player must enter a maul onside.
  14. No player out of a maul may be held or pulled over unless holding the ball.
  15. Hacking is prohibited.
  16. A ball touched between the goal posts can be brought to either post.
  17. After a try, the ball must be placed at 25 yards and kicked.
  18. A goal is scored if the ball is drop-kicked but not if punted or thrown.
  19. No goal can be kicked from touch.
  20. A ball in touch is dead.
  21. Holding and throttling are disallowed.
  22. Sneaking in the opponent’s goal is discouraged.
  23. The captains or their deputies are the sole arbiters of disputes.

Evolution of the 1871 Laws

On January 26, 1871, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) was founded in London to standardize the rules, eliminating some violent aspects of the Rugby School game. Three ex-Rugby School pupils, Algernon Rutter, E.C. Holmes, and L.J. Maton, were invited to formulate a set of rules. Maton, who was recovering from a leg injury, did most of the drafting. These laws were accepted on June 22, 1871, and outlawed practices like hacking and tripping.

Formation of the Rugby International Board (IB)

In 1884, a disagreement during a match between England and Scotland led to the proposal of forming a body to resolve international disputes. The Irish Union recommended a meeting of the four home unions, which resulted in the inauguration of the International Board in 1886. Although the RFU initially resisted, a formal arbitration in 1890 recognized the rights of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales to share in law-making, establishing the IB as the authority for international matches.

Key Changes Over Time

  • Point Values: Initially, tries had no point value. Later, tries were valued at five points, penalties at two points, and drop goals at four.
  • Ball Evolution: The ball transitioned from a pig’s bladder to a rubber bladder within a leather casing, eventually becoming more oval-shaped and now made with a plastic casing.
  • Team Size: The number of players per side was initially 20, reduced to 15 in 1877.

Field and Game Duration

Rugby Union is played on a grass field approximately 70 meters by 100 meters. The game lasts 80 minutes, divided into two 40-minute halves. Each team defends one end, attempting to score through tries and goals. After the kick-off, play continues with the ball being passed, kicked, caught, or grounded by any player. Passing must be backwards, and tackling is used to stop the opposition’s progress.

Introduction of Red and Yellow Cards

The use of yellow and red cards, indicating temporary suspension and sending-off respectively, was invented by football referee Ken Aston in 1966. In rugby, a yellow card results in a 10-minute suspension, while a red card results in an expulsion. The first yellow card in an international rugby match was shown to Mark Cooksley in 1995. The first “official” yellow card in a Test match was shown to Ben Clarke in a match between England and Ireland.

Replacements and Substitutions

The replacement of injured players was included in the laws in 1968-69. Mike Gibson replaced Barry John in the Lion’s first test against South Africa in 1968, marking the first official replacement in a test match. Tactical substitutions were introduced in 1996, allowing for strategic player changes during the game.

Contributions and Anecdotes

Charles Burton Barrington provided detailed accounts of the early days of rugby at Trinity College, including the adoption of Rugby School rules and the introduction of uniforms. He also mentioned the early methods of playing, including the brutal practice of hacking, which was later abolished. Barrington and R.M. Wall were instrumental in setting the foundation for organized rugby at Trinity College.

In summary, the comprehensive history of rugby laws illustrates the sport’s evolution and formalization over time. Influential figures like William Delafield Arnold, W.W. Shirley, Frederick Hutchins, Charles Burton Barrington, R.M. Wall, Algernon Rutter, E.C. Holmes, L.J. Maton, Ken Aston, Mark Cooksley, Ben Clarke, and Mike Gibson have all played pivotal roles in shaping the game into its current form, ensuring fair play and safety for all participants.

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