A breakdown of the history of rugby

Whether it’s the edge-of-your-seat matches that live on or the ongoing debate over who invented the sport way back when, there’s a lot to recall from the history of rugby. And there’s a lot to teach your students about.

So if you’ve got a rugby team you want to teach rugby history to, Sport Experiences have popped together a brief rugby history timeline covering key moments from the UK favourite sport for you to take them through.

And if you think your rugby team could go down in rugby history too, chat to a member of our team about enrolling them in our International Junior Rugby Festival at Disneyland® Paris. They’re on hand to answer all your post-Brexit travelling FAQs.


3 things you should know about the history of rugby

When was rugby invented? Way back in 1823

Who invented rugby? A 16-year-old William Webb Ellis

Where was rugby invented? At Rugby School in Warwickshire, England

Do we really owe the origin of rugby to William Webb Ellis?

Some say it’s sports folklore, whereas some swear we have William Webb Ellis to thank for the origin of rugby. The story goes that a 16-year-old William Webb Ellis picked up a ball during a school football match in 1823 and began running across the pitch with it. As any sports fan will know, that’s a red card in football. But in this instance, instead a whole new ball game (quite literally) was invented: rugby.

Although there’s still a lot of scepticism around whether Webb Ellis is responsible for the invention of rugby, you can find him in statue form within the grounds of Rugby School in Warwickshire.

The rugby history timeline: key moments every team should know

There’s been a fair share of memorable moments and standout wins through the history of rugby. From its invention in 1823, all the way through to a victorious turn of events in 2019, we’ve covered the most memorable:

1823: Rugby is invented by William Webb Ellis when he bends the rules of a school football match and runs with the ball.

1839: Rugby School’s team make rugby history and wear the first ever team uniform, fit with red velvet caps.

1845: The first set of rugby rules are set and drafted by a group of English students.

1862: On 23rd August, South Africa play their first game of rugby on the Green Point Common in Cape Town. Each team is made up of military and civilian players, who learnt to play in England.

1871: Rugby Football Union is formed in London. And on 27th March, the first rugby union match between Scotland and England takes place at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh, bringing in over 4,000 spectators.

1877: England beat Ireland on 5th February at the first ever 15-a-side international match, once again at Raeburn Place.

1882- 1883: Between 16th December 1882 and 3rd March 1883, England, Wales, Ireland Scotland play the first international tournament: the Home Nations Championship. England win, becoming the first winners of what’s now known as the Triple Crown.

1892: In New Zealand, the first Rugby Football Union club is formed.

1900: The summer Olympics in Paris take place, where rugby made its debut. The title is taken home by France.

1987-2015: Rugby grows in popularity throughout the 1900s and becomes a worldwide favourite, whilst New Zealand reign as champions between 1987 and 2015, winning three World Cups.

2019: South Africa take the crown from New Zealand at the World Cup hosted in Japan.


Think your team could go down in rugby history?

Enrol your budding team in our International Junior Rugby Festival at Disneyland® Paris taking place in April 2023. Request a quote today.