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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
rugby football

(also known colloquially as rugger)
Game in which an oval ball may be handled as well as kicked. Various rival forms of *football were competing with each other for predominance in the mid-19C; Rugby School was strongly associated with the handling game, which therefore became known by its name. The Rugby Football Union was formed in 1871 after the Football Association had officially banned the handling of the ball. Many local and traditional forms of football had allowed the use of hands, and it was not till the 1890s that Rugby School claimed to have actually invented such a game.

An intrinsically improbable story surfaced at that time, for which there was no contemporary evidence; but it was cast in stone in 1923 in the famous inscription at the school commemorating 'William Webb Ellis, who, with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game. AD 1823.'

Rugby football itself soon suffered a schism, as a result of the obsession of the Rugby Union with amateur status. The game had rapidly became popular in the north of England, where many of the players were from the working class. They could not afford to travel or take time off work without compensation, but the southern clubs, whose members were more likely to come from the public schools, refused to yield on this point. As a result 22 clubs formed their own breakaway Northern Union in 1895 (the name was changed to the Northern Rugby League in 1922 and in 1980 was reduced simply to the Rugby League).

By 1898 there were full-time professionals in the northern game. The professional teams introduced several changes to the rules of their game, but the most noticeable difference is that a rugby league team consists (since 1906) of only 13 players instead of the 15 in rugby union (there are six rather than eight in the scrum).

There have been international contests in rugby union since early days, with England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales later joined by France to make a *Five Nations tournament. Since 1888 teams representing the four home countries (known in recent times as the *Lions) have played regular series abroad or at home against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The spread of rugby union round the world during the 20C is evident in the World Cup series, launched in 1987. The 16 teams competing in the second contest, in 1991, included countries as far-flung as Argentina, Italy, Zimbabwe, Japan and Western Samoa. Since 1954 there have also been rugby league international competitions (called at different periods the World Cup and the International Championship), with Great Britain, France, New Zealand, Australia and recently Papua New Guinea as the competing teams.

In the domestic game, the oldest rugby union contest is the English County Championship, introduced in 1889. One of the most popular rugby union events in England, played in a fast and loose version of the game with only seven on each side instead of 15, is the Middlesex Sevens tournament. The Rugby League Championship was first competed for in the 1895–6 season. The Challenge Cup, Rugby League's chief knockout tournament, had its first final at Leeds in 1897 (since 1933 the event has been held at *Wembley).

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