Rugby union is a full contact team sport, originating in the early 19th century. One of the codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. It is played with an oval-shaped ball, outdoors on a level field, usually with a grass surface, 100 m long and 70 m wide. At each end of the field is an "H" shaped goal. It is one of the most popular sports in the world, being played in over a hundred countries, on every continent.
William Webb Ellis is often credited with the invention of running with the ball in hand when, in 1823, at Rugby School he caught the ball while playing football, and ran towards the opposition goal. Ellis was immortalised at the school with a plaque commemorating his innovation. 25 years later the first rules were written by pupils - this was one of recognized events in the early development of rugby; others include the Blackheath Club's decision to leave The Football Association in 1863, and in 1895, the split between rugby union and rugby league.
Rugby union has been governed by the International Rugby Board since its formation in 1886 and currently has a membership of 115 national unions. In 1995 the IRB removed restrictions on payments to players, making the famously amateur game professional at the highest levels.
The Rugby World Cup, first held in 1987, takes place every four years, with the winner of the tournament receiving the Webb Ellis Cup. The Six Nations in Europe and the Tri Nations in the southern hemisphere are major international competitions held annually. Major domestic competitions include the Top 14 in France, the Guinness Premiership in England, the Currie Cup in South Africa, and the Air New Zealand Cup in New Zealand. The Magners League is a transnational competition involving the three Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with Italian involvement planned starting in 2010–11.
Rugby union is played between two teams; each team starts the match with 15 players on the field and may make replacements (for injury) or substitutions (tactical changes). In international matches, up to seven replacements/substitutes are allowed; in domestic or cross-border tournaments, at the discretion of the responsible national union(s), the number may be increased to eight, of whom three must be sufficiently trained and experienced to provide cover for the three front row positions. Players in a team are divided into eight forwards (two more than in rugby league) and seven backs. Forwards are generally bigger and stronger, and take part in the scrum and lineout, while backs are generally smaller but faster, more agile and often the main points scorers for the team.
Points can be scored in several ways - a try, scored by grounding the ball in the in-goal area, is worth 5 points and a subsequent conversion kick scores 2 points. A successful penalty kick or a drop goal each score 3 points. The values of each of these scoring methods have been changed over the years. The team which scores more points wins the game.
At the beginning of the game, the captains and the referee toss a coin to decide which team will kick off first. Play then starts with a drop kick, with the players chasing the ball into the opposition's territory, and the other side trying to retrieve the ball and advance it back. If the player with the ball is tackled, frequently a ruck will result.
Forward passing (throwing the ball ahead to another player) is not allowed. The ball tends to be moved forward in three ways - by kicking, by a player running with it, or within a scrum or a ruck (formerly also a maul). Unlike in American football, "blocking" is not allowed, so only the player with the ball may be tackled or rucked. When a ball is knocked forward by a player with his/her arms, a "knock-on" is committed, and play is restarted with a scrum.
When the ball leaves the side of the field, a lineout is awarded against the team which last touched the ball. A number of players from both teams line up, at least 5m from the sideline, and the ball is thrown in by the hooker. Lineouts are one of the chief differences between the two rugby codes, as they do not occur in rugby league.
Games are divided into 40-minute halves, with a break in the middle. The sides exchange ends of the field after the half-time break. Stoppages for injury or to allow the referee to take disciplinary action, do not count as part of the playing time, so that the elapsed time is usually longer than 80 minutes. Unlike in many other sports, there are no "time outs". The referee is responsible for keeping time, even when—as in many professional tournaments—he is assisted by an official time-keeper; when time has expired, whether at the end of the first half, or at the end of the game, the referee will wait until the ball is 'dead' before blowing for half-time or full-time.
The field of play on a rugby pitch is as near as possible to a maximum of 100m long, and 70m wide. There are several lines crossing it, notably the half way line, the goal line/try line (on which the goal posts are located), the "twenty two", which is 22m from the goal, and the dead ball line, which is 10m behind the goal line. Tries are scored between the goal line, and the dead ball line. A ball over the dead ball line is out of play. Rugby goalposts are H-shaped, and consist of two poles, 5.6m apart, connected by a horizontal crossbar 3m above the ground. Unlike some other sports, there are no goalkeepers, and the section underneath the crossbar is not used. The original pitch dimensions were in imperial units, but have since been converted to the metric system.
There are generally three match officials - a referee, and two touch judges, who indicate that the ball is "in touch" and other decisions with their flags. In addition, for matches in high level competitions, there is often a television match offical (TMO; popularly called the "video referee"), to assist with certain decisions, linked up to the referee by radio. The referees have a system of hand signals to indicate their decisions.
Common offences include high tackles, collapsing the scrum, not releasing the ball when on the ground or being off-side. Penalties can be taken by the non-offending team in various ways - taking a short, tap kick then running with the ball, kicking the ball from hand (punting) for field position, place kicking (for goal) or choosing a scrum. Players may be sent off (signaled by a red card) or temporarily "sin-binned" for ten minutes (yellow card) for foul play, and may not be replaced.
Rugby league football (or, more commonly, simply rugby league) is a full-contact form of football, played with a prolate spheroid ball by two teams of thirteen players on a rectangular grass field. Rugby league is one of the two codes of rugby football, the other being rugby union. Over the decades following the 1895 birth of rugby league, the rules of both forms of rugby were gradually changed, with rugby league's deliberately resulting in a faster, more open spectator sport, and now it and rugby union are distinctly different games. Rugby league is frequently cited as the toughest and most physically demanding of any team sport in the world.
The primary aim is to carry or kick the ball towards the opponent's goal line where points can be scored by grounding the ball; this is called a try. After scoring a try, the team is allowed the chance to try at goal with a conversion - a kick for further points. The opposing team will attempt to stop the attacking side gaining points by preventing their progress up the field by tackling the player carrying the ball.
Rugby league is most prominent in Australia, England, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, being the national sport in the latter. France and Wales also have professional clubs. New Zealand are the current World Cup holders as of 2008.
The game is played at a semi-professional and amateur level in several other countries, such as Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Ireland, Scotland, Russia, Lebanon, Germany, Japan, United States, Malta and Jamaica.
The roots of rugby league can be traced to early football history, through the playing of ball games which bear little resemblance to modern sports. It is then important to acknowledge the development of the modern football codes and two separate schisms in football history.
In 19th century England, football was most prominently played in private schools. Each school had its own rules based on whatever playing field was available to them. The rules could be categorised as either handling or kicking forms of football. The kicking and handling forms were later codified by The Football Association and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) respectively. Rugby football had its origins at Rugby School, Warwickshire, England.
In 1895 Rugby football was beset with a schism that resulted in the formation of the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU). Although many factors played a part in the split, including the success of working class northern teams, the main division was caused by the RFU decision to enforce the amateur principle of the sport, preventing "broken time payments" to players who had taken time off work to play rugby. Northern teams typically had more working class players (coal miners, mill workers etc.) who could not afford to play without this compensation, in contrast to southern teams who had other sources of income to sustain the amateur principle. There were similar movements in other countries. In 1895 a decree by the RFU banning the playing of rugby at grounds where entrance fees were charged led to the famous meeting on 29 August 1895. Twenty-two clubs (plus Stockport who negotiated by telephone) met at The George Hotel in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and formed the "Northern Rugby Football Union". Within fifteen years of that first meeting in Huddersfield, more than 200 RFU clubs had left to join the rugby revolution.
A similar schism occurred in Sydney, Australia. There on the 8th August 1907 the New South Wales Rugby Football League was founded at Bateman's Hotel in George St. Rugby league then went on to displace rugby union as the primary football code in New South Wales.
In 1954 over 120,000 spectators watched the 1954 Challenge Cup final, setting a new record for attendance at a rugby football match of either code. Also in 1954 the Rugby League World Cup, the first for either code of rugby, was formed at the instigation of the French.
1967 saw the first professional Sunday matches of rugby league played.
Television would have an enormous impact on the sport of rugby league in the 1990s when Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation sought worldwide broadcasting rights and refused to take no for an answer. The media giant's "Super League" movement saw big changes for the traditional administrators of the game. In Europe it resulted in a move from a winter sport to a summer one as the new Super League competition tried to expand its market. In Australasia, the Super League war resulted: long and costly legal battles and changing loyalties, causing significant damage to the code in an extremely competitive sporting market. In 1997 two competitions were run alongside each other in Australia, after which a peace deal in the form of the National Rugby League was formed. The NRL has since become recognised the sport's flagship competition.
The rules of the sport have changed significantly over the decades since rugby football split into the league and union codes. The objective in rugby league is to score more points through tries, goals and field goals (also known as drop goals) than the opposition within the 80 minutes of play. The try is the most common form of scoring, and a team will usually attempt to score one by running and kicking the ball further upfield, or passing from player-to-player in order to manoeuvre around the opposition's defence and is worth four points. A goal is worth two points and may be gained from a conversion or a penalty. A field goal is only worth one point, and is gained by drop kicking the ball between the uprights in open play. If after two halves of play, each consisting of forty minutes, the two teams are drawing, a draw may be declared, or the game may enter extra time under the golden point rule, depending on the relevant competition's format.
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