10 Facts You Might Not Know About the Game of Rugby

By Spencer Hart on at

Every four years the Rugby World Cup comes around, making the lives of rugby fans that little bit sweeter, not only because they have the chance to watch some quality international games, but mainly because it's the only time it is talked about more than football.

If you want to learn more about the beastly game played by gentlemen, here are 10 facts you might not know about the sport.

1.) The origins of Rugby are sketchy, but everyone has agreed on a nice little story anyway

General consensus is that the sport is named after Rugby School where the game was first played. It’s said to have originated in 1823, when William Webb Ellis caught the ball while playing a game of football, and ran to the opponents goal with it.

Maybe this happened, maybe it didn’t, who knows, but the trophy presented for winning the Rugby World Cup is named the ‘William Webb Ellis Cup’, after that rebellious schoolboy.

[Image Credit: Immortals of British Sport]

2.) The first rugby balls were made from pig bladders

Initially rugby balls were plum-shaped and made of pigs’ bladders. As rubber inner tubes became more prevalent at the end of the 19th century, Rugby School requested that their balls remain asymmetric to distinguish them from footballs. Over time, the oval shape has become even more pronounced, making them easier to catch, hold and run with.

[Image Credit: Pixabay]

3.) Someone died from blowing up too many diseased pig bladders

Richard Lindon was instrumental in the design of the modern-day rugby ball, but his poor old wife paid the ultimate price after breathing in the air from one too many diseased urine sacks. She fell ill with lung disease, and subsequently passed away.

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]

4.) The US Olympic rugby team is the most successful

Who’d have guessed the current reigning Olympic rugby champions are the Yanks? Certainly not us. The sport has only featured in the Olympics four times – 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924 – but of those few appearances the US is also the most successful, winning in both 1920 and 1924.

Is that about to change? A seven-a-side version of rugger will make an appearance in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

[Image Credit: Wikipedia]

5.) The notion of singing a national anthem before a sporting event originated at a rugby match

Everyone knows the New Zealand All Blacks dance the haka before the start of a match. But on the 16th November 1905 in Cardiff, the Welsh responded to the traditional war-dance by breaking into song.

They sang ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, the country’s national anthem, in a stirring first. Nowadays, of course, it’s done at the beginning of most international sporting events, as well on receiving medals and prizes.

Although, if you ask Americans why we sing the national anthem, they'll tell you it originated at a World Series baseball game in 1918.

[Image Credit: Wikimedia]

6.) Originally no points were awarded for a try

At first, crossing the touchline with a ball earned you the opportunity to try and score a goal, get it? Goals were scored by placing the ball on the ground and kicking it through the goal posts.

Now, a try is worth 5 points in rugby union, and 4 in rugby league. Players then get a chance to earn an extra two points by scoring a conversion (kicking it through the goal posts).

[Image Credit: Wikimedia]

7.) Japan suffered a mighty whopping at the hands of New Zealand in 1995

The All Blacks beat Japan 145 points to 17 in a World Cup game played on 4th June 1995. This is current the record for the highest-scoring game, ever!

That’s not the largest winning margin though, oh no, that accolade goes to an Australia / Namibia game held in 2003, with the Aussies winning 142-0 (ouch). Who knew Namibia were so ropey at rugger? In fact, who knew Namibia played the game at all?

[Image Credit: Wikimedia]

8. The same whistle has been used for the first opening Rugby World Cup game since 1905

It turns out rugby players are a sentimental bunch, using the same whistle to open the first game of the World Cup since 1905. It’s known as the Gil Evans whistle, named after the Welsh ref to first use it.

[Image Credit: ESPN]

9. Rugby influenced the invention of basketball

To keep his players in peak physical condition in the off-season, James Naismith invented basketball as the perfect indoor activity. Naismith was a versatile athlete, and used his experience in football, lacrosse, hockey, baseball, and of course rugby, to develop the new sport of basketball.

[Image Credit: Wikipedia]

10.) It’s a sport the English are actually (quite) good at!

England won the World Cup in 2003, and former England player Jonny Wilkinson has scored the most Rugby World Cup points (277). He’s also played the most matches, clocking up an impressive 19.

[Image Credit: Wikipedia]

Top image credit: Paolo Bona / Shutterstock.com