Rugby Union (often simply Rugby) refers to a team sport popular in England, Wales, Scotland, France, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, Argentina, the New England States of the US and throughout the South Pacific region. American Football is derived from it and shares a few similarities. Rugby League and Australian Rules Football are also related sports.
Manner of play
Two teams of fifteen players (8 forwards and 7 backs) carry, pass, (only backwards or laterally) and kick the ball down the field with the goal of touching the ball down over the opposition's try-line (the equivalent of the end zone in America football). Players may push or tackle an opposition player who is carrying the ball. Once a player carrying the ball is tackled, that player must release the ball and all players who are on their feet may attempt to collect it. The game is played with an oval shaped ball, similar to an American Football, but rounder and slightly larger. The pitch is 100metres (109.36 yards) by 50m (54.64 yards) with an in-goal of between 10 and 20m (Between 10.93 and 21.87 yards).
When minor infringements, such as dropping the ball and propelling it forward (a "knock on") or a forward pass occur, the game is restarted with a "scrum". A scrum consists of the 8 forwards from each team binding onto one another and pushing whilst another, the halfback, puts the ball in the middle and both teams attempt to kick the ball back to their side. When the ball goes out of play, or "into touch", the game is restarted with a lineout, or depending where it went out, a dropkick (where the ball must be dropped onto the ground before it is kicked, all be it briefly)). A lineout consists of a number of players from each team forming two straight lines a metre apart and a player throwing the ball down the middle. When more serious infringements such as foul play and offsides occur, a penalty is awarded which allows the non-offending team to have a free kick of the ball or to have a shot at goal.
Standards of discipline in both codes of rugby is high and infringements so serious as to deserve a player leaving the field of play are much rarer than in football. A yellow card means the offending player is suspended for 10 minutes while a red card, awarded for very dangerous play, means the player is sent off for the remainder of the match and is usually suspended from one or more future matches.
When the ball is touched down by a ball carrier in his opponents in-goal a "try" is scored. Scoring a try awards 5 points and enables the team to attempt a "conversion." A conversion is taken by kicking the ball from a stationary position on the ground (usually with the help of a kicking tee or a small mound of dirt) over the "crossbar" of the H-shaped posts which awards the team an additional 2 points. A successful penalty kick is worth 3 points. A drop-goal (also worth 3 points) can be taken at any time during the game by dropping the ball on the ground and kicking it over the crossbar. The term 'try' relates to the scoring team being entitled to have a 'try at goal'. In fact, under the original rules when the sport was in its infancy, no points were awarded for the try itself.
The game is said to have originated in the 1820s at Rugby School in England. A plaque in the Close of the school marks the spot where William Webb Ellis, according to legend, "picked up the ball and ran with it". Rugby quickly spread to all of the United Kingdom and France and by the 1880s to the colonies of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The game was popular in California around the turn of the century. The game split in 1895 over professionalism. The Rugby Union demanded (with varying degrees of effectiveness) complete amateurism for the game; the newly-formed Rugby League allowed players to be paid. Rugby Union remained amateur until 1995. Rugby featured at the Olympics until 1924, with the United States winning the last Olympic medal. A modified version of rugby played with seven players per team (rugby sevens) will feature at the Olympics from 2016 onwards.
In common with several other sports, including cricket but not football (soccer), there is a single Ireland rugby union team covering both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In Ireland as a whole, rugby is the third most popular sport after Gaelic football and football. Famous Irish players have come from both north (such as Willie John McBride, perhaps Ireland's greatest ever player) and south (such as Brian O'Driscoll, perhaps Ireland's most famous sportsman for the last decade).
Every 4 years, the IRB holds a World Cup, in which all the best countries throughout the world participate in. The winners of this competition is crowned world champions for the next four years. Here is a list of previous World Cup winners:
- 1987: New Zealand
- 1991: Australia
- 1995: South Africa
- 1999: Australia (2)
- 2003: England
- 2007: South Africa (2)
- 2011: New Zealand (2)
New Zealand (also commonly known as the All Blacks due to their black playing kit) has won the World Cup twice, and have by far the best overall test record, winning 318 of their 429 test matches to date (74%) and are widely regarded by many as the best team in the world. South Africa is second with a winning percentage of 63%. The All Blacks has also spent the most time at the top of the IRB world rankings, since it was introduced in 2003.
In addition to the World Cup, international competitions are played each year, one for the major northern hemisphere teams (called the Six Nations), and one for the southern hemisphere teams (called the Tri-Nations). In 2012 the Tri-Nations will be changed to the Four Nations with the inclusion of Argentina. The current champions of the Six Nations are France, and the Tri Nations champions are South Africa.
Two international provincial competitions are held annually, the Super 14 in the Southern Hemisphere and the Heiniken Cup in Europe. The Super 14 is contested between teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and the European Competition between teams from Ireland, Great Britain, Italy and France.