Photos by Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography


Think you know a lot about rugby football? Ann Evans has unearthed some fascinating facts about the game.


Pic Rugby School and its statue of William Webb Ellis

Rugby School and its statue of William Webb Ellis


If you’re enjoying the Guinness Six Nations and think you know everything there is to know about the game, read on…



The story of Rugby School pupil William Webb Ellis picking up the ball and running with it in 1823, was not recorded until 1876. Matthew Bloxham, a noted antiquarian and old Rugbeian wrote about this in a letter to Rugby School’s magazine, The Meteor, establishing Webb Ellis as the inventor of the running element of the sport. He elaborated on the story in 1880, and later, in 1895 the Old Rugbeian Society investigated the claim and concluded it to be true.



Pic Statue of William Webb Ellis outside Rugby School

Statue of William Webb Ellis outside Rugby School


William Webb Ellis went on to Brasenose College Oxford. As a keen cricketer he played in the first Oxford v Cambridge match. He took Holy Orders and became a church minister. He died in Menton, France in 1872. His grave is cared for by the French RFU.



Pic The grave of William Webb Ellis

The grave of William Webb Ellis


The first rules of rugby union football were established at Rugby School in 1845.


A former Rugbeian introduced the game to Cambridge University. When first played, some passers-by ran onto the pitch thinking they were breaking up a brawl.


The virtues of the game, and Rugby’s most famous headmaster, Thomas Arnold, were immortalised in Thomas Hughes’ classic novel of 1857, Tom Brown’s School Days.


The origin of half time originated at the Rugby School. After some 40 minutes the school captain stopped the game and announced it was hardly fair as his team was playing with a strong following wind. He offered the opposition the chance of playing the rest of the match with the breeze. They changed ends and half time was born. Forty minutes each way was first mentioned in the 1926 rules.



Pic Early rule books

Early rule books


The death of a Richmond player during a practice match in 1871 prompted leading clubs to respond to Richmond and Blackheath’s call for an organisational meeting. In that same year, members of leading rugby clubs met to form the Rugby Football Union (RFU).


The first five Rugby Football Union Presidents were Old Rugbeians, as well as the first England captain.


The Calcutta Cup which is presented to the winner of the England v Scotland rugby match during the annual Six Nations Championship, is made from 270 silver rupees that were melted down when the Calcutta (Rugby) Football Club disbanded in 1878. The club was established in 1873 by former Rugby School students but disbanded when the local British Army regiment left the area. Members wanted to keep the memory of the club alive. The trophy was presented to the RFU to be used as, “the best means of doing some lasting good for the cause of Rugby Football.”


Due to the influence of Old Rugbeians who had played in white at Rugby School, the England international rugby team also played in white – which continues today.



Pic Cap as displayed in the Webb Ellis Museum

Cap as displayed in the Webb Ellis Museum


The International cap originates from Rugby. Boys considered good enough to play for the main teams were given ‘following up’ caps, which later developed into the international cap awarded to the country’s top players. It has been adopted into sporting terminology around the world.



Pic Rugby How it used to be Courtesy of RugbySchool

Pic Rugby How it used to be Courtesy of RugbySchool


The distinctive posts developed in the early pre-rule days when it was near impossible to kick the ball between the posts due to the number of players who packed into the goal mouth. Hence the kickers began to kick over the crossbar.