Growing Abroad, Strife at Home
Rugby quickly began to spread to other countries. By the end of the decade, Scotland, Ireland and Wales had also formed Rugby Unions. The first international fixture, or match) was played between Scotland and England in 1871. Before the turn of the century, countries around the globe from Argentina to Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) were playing rugby. In 1900, Rugby made the first of its four Olympic appearances. France and Germany were the only entrants and France won the Gold medal.

Even as the game grew in popularity among players and spectators in other countries, rifts were developing at home. The first rift arose between Scotland and England in 1884. The clubs had a dispute and England took the position that since the Laws of the Game had been developed in its country, its decision on the dispute was final. Scotland thought otherwise and refused to play against England in 1885.

This dispute led to the formation in 1886 of the International Rugby Football Board. The Board was comprised of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. England declined to join until 1890.

Pay for Play?
The second dispute arose over the issue of player pay. Some teams wanted to compensate players for “broken time”—time that they had to take away from work to travel or play with their rugby team. The Rugby Union had strict rules against paying players in any form. In 1896, two clubs left the English Union over this issue and formed the Northern Union. This Union grew into what became know as the Rugby League in 1922.

The balance of this post is dedicated to the Rugby Union. Rugby League’s rules, scoring and field dimensions can be quite different than Rugby Union. Both organizations play an important role in promoting the sport glabally.

(By the way, the debate about whether rugby should be a professional or amateur sport was officially resolved 100 years after the Northern League teams broke away from the Union. In 1996, the IRFB decided that rugby players could be paid.)

A Game of Action and Stamina
In spite of all of the debate off the field, rugby continued to develop into a fast-paced physical game that requires tremendous endurance and teamwork. Teams of 15 players compete in two, 40-minute halves. Play is virtually continuous. The referee stops the clock only for injuries.

All of the action takes place on the field. The coach often sits up in the stands since he would have very little to do on the sidelines. Only six substitutions are permitted and a player may not re-enter the game once he leaves.

A team can score in four ways:

  • Try-5 points: A try is scored when the ball is carried across the goal line and grounded in full view of the referee.
  • Conversion-2 points: A conversion kick follows a try. The kicker attempts to kick the ball between the goalposts.
  • Penalty-3 points: When a penalty is called, the other team may elect to attempt a penalty kick from the spot of the foul.
  • Drop Goal-3 points: At anytime during a match any player can attempt a drop quick from anywhere on the field. If the ball goes through the goalposts, the team is awarded three points. Many games have been won by last-second drop goals.