Rugby union, widely known simply as rugby, is a full-contact team sport that originated in England in the first half of the 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. In its most common form, a game is played between two teams of 15 players each, using an oval-shaped ball on a rectangular field called a pitch. The field has H-shaped goalposts at both ends.
South African Victor Matfield takes a line-out
against New Zealand in 2006
|Highest governing body||World Rugby|
|Nicknames||Rugby, Rugger, Rugby XV, Union, Football, Footy|
|First played||19th century, England, United Kingdom|
|Team members||15 (with up to 8 substitutes)|
|Mixed gender||Separate competitions|
|Type||Team sport, outdoor|
|Equipment||Rugby ball, Scrum cap (optional), Rugby boots|
|Country or region||Worldwide (most popular in certain European and Commonwealth countries)|
|Olympic||Part of the Summer Olympic programme in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924|
Rugby sevens included in 2016
Rugby union is a popular sport around the world, played by male and female players of all ages. In 2014, there were more than 6 million people playing worldwide, of whom 2.36 million were registered players. World Rugby, previously called the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) and the International Rugby Board (IRB), has been the governing body for rugby union since 1886, and currently has 101 countries as full members and 18 associate members.
In 1845, the first laws were written by pupils at Rugby School; other significant events in the early development of rugby include the decision by Blackheath F.C. to leave the Football Association in 1863 and, in 1895, the split between rugby union and rugby league. Historically rugby union was an amateur sport, but in 1995 formal restrictions on payments to players were removed, making the game openly professional at the highest level for the first time.
Rugby union spread from the Home Nations of Great Britain and Ireland, with other early exponents of the sport including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France. The sport is followed primarily in the British Isles, France, Australasia, Southern Africa, Argentina and to a lesser extent Italy, Uruguay, Canada and Japan, its growth occurring during the expansion of the British Empire and through French proponents (Rugby Europe) in Europe. Countries that have adopted rugby union as their de facto national sport include Fiji, Georgia, Madagascar, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Wales.
International matches have taken place since 1871 when the first game was played between Scotland and England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh. The Rugby World Cup, first held in 1987, is contested every four years. The Six Nations Championship in Europe and The Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere are other major international competitions that are held annually.
National club and provincial competitions include the Premiership in England, the Top 14 in France, the Mitre 10 Cup in New Zealand, the Top League in Japan, the Currie Cup in South Africa and the National Rugby Championship in Australia. Other transnational club competitions include the European Rugby Champions Cup, the Pro14 in Europe and South Africa, and Super Rugby and Global Rapid Rugby in the Southern Hemisphere.