Rugby World Cup: three years to go

By | Category: Travel news, Travel tips & opinions

As the excitement of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games begins to subside, the thoughts of the country’s sports enthusiasts turn towards 2015, when the country will host the Rugby World Cup.

The Rugby World Cup is the third largest global sports event and, in 2015, is anticipated to attract 400,000 visitors to England and a TV audience of four billion worldwide. Venues around the country are now being considered for this truly national event.

The tournament, which starts three years from today, will see a sport played and followed around the world brought back to its birthplace. Here, the national tourist board looks back over the history of rugby in England as it anticipates England 2015.

The origins of rugby in England
This glorious, if rather muddy, sport all came about thanks to one unruly schoolboy, or so legend has it. In 1823, during a school football match at Rugby School in Warwickshire, William Webb Ellis snatched up the ball, “with a fine disregard for the rules”, and ran. Legend or not, Rugby School thought enough of the story to place a stone plaque in its grounds:

This stone commemorates the exploit of 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.”

And this explains why the Rugby World Cup trophy is known as the Webb Ellis Cup.

In 1997, the town of Rugby unveiled a bronze statue of a boy running with a rugby ball, claiming the sport for itself once and for all. It stands at the corner of Lawrence Sheriff Street and Dunchurch Road, beside the school and opposite the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum, both of them well worth a visit.

Rugby School

The birth of rugby as we know it today
By the 1840s, running with the ball was common but rugby was played to different rules by different teams. It wasn’t until January 1871 that the disagreements and consequent black eyes became too numerous and representatives of various teams got together in a London restaurant to establish the Rugby Football Union (RFU). An official committee was formed and three lawyers, all ex-pupils of Rugby School, were invited to write the rulebook.

The sport took off rapidly and the first international rugby match was played in March 1981, between England and Scotland. Scotland won, so let’s move on…

A history of amateurism
We’re not talking an amateur level of playing here. Simply that until August 1995 RFU players were not paid for their efforts. Or not officially, as David Campese hinted in 1991: “I’m still an amateur, of course, but I became rugby’s first millionaire five years ago.”

Incidentally, it was a disagreement over paying players that led to 22 northern clubs leaving the RFU in 1895 to form the Northern Union, which later became Rugby League.

It wasn’t until as recently as 1995 that a new era of professionalism was ushered in and RFU players could afford to dedicate their working days to the sport, and raise standards to those we enjoy today. And although nowadays bleeding players are retired to the blood-bin and head gear protects against cauliflower ears, the sport is still as deliciously rambunctious as it ever was!

Take a rugby-inspired break in England
Whether you’re watching a local club game of an international test, rugby promises a great day out – and where better to get into the spirit of the Rugby World Cup than in England, the game’s birthplace.

Get back to rugby’s roots with a trip to its birthplace
Get into the spirit of rugby with a trip to its birthplace in Warwickshire. The Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum in Warwickshire is located in the very building where James Gilbert sewed together the world’s first rugby balls with leather and pigs bladders in 1842.  Spend the whole weekend in the town and combine the Webb Ellis Football Museum with a look at Rugby School, where it all began, and the bronze rugby statue that stands opposite the museum.

Head to the capital and catch a live match…
Combine a trip to the capital with a chance to experience Twickenham’s super-charged atmosphere. England’s opening QBE International fixture against Fiji takes place on Saturday 10th November.

… or just soak up the atmosphere
On non-match days you can take a guided tour of Twickenham stadium – an essential pilgrimage for any true rugby enthusiast. Also on site is the World Rugby Museum, where you can while away an afternoon soaking up the rugby history and memorabilia including jerseys, medals and match programmes dating back to 1871.


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