Rugby in the UK

Rugby was founded in 1823 in England

Rugby is a popular sport in the UK where it originated. The story holds that a young player named William Webb Ellis took matters into his hands during one football game. Instead of directing the ball with his foot, he took the ball by hand and ran with it to make his touchdown. Thus, the game of rugby was born in Rugby School back in 1823. While this story may or may not be true, it has served as a fitting explanation of this popular game’s invention.

In the UK, rugby falls under two tiers: the rugby league and the rugby union. We will look at what both entail:

Rugby League

This game is played in Scotland, Wales, England, and Ireland. It is most popular in the north of England, which hosts most professional clubs. This sport was not always around, and it resulted when 22 clubs split from the rugby football union in 1895. In so doing, they created the northern rugby football union. The purpose of this change was to make the game more professional. Since then, the league has hosted many games and marked its 125th anniversary in August 2020. This event took place at the George Hotel in Huddersfield, where players first met to form the northern rugby football union. In those 125 years, the game has made history, having had 74,468 people watching a league world cup final in 2013. That was the biggest attendance of an international rugby league game, which showed how popular the game had become.

The National Team

Instead of playing as individual teams, the countries played as one national team for a long while. Doing so awarded them many successes, walking away as winners in 1954, 1960, and 1970 world cups. The team also emerged runners-up on several occasions, pointing to the power in their unity. In 1995, the team decided to go at it separately, with each nation sending its team. This unity continued up until 2007, when the countries decided to separate and forge their paths.

In 2019, the team made news by reuniting to play in the tour of the Pacific. The unity shown during past games ignited hopes among fans and players alike that the team could reunite and play as one again. Even so, the team did not do so well and ended up losing all matches, leading people to question whether the team was the best option.

The Women’s Side

The women have also played as a team, with members from each country taking a team role. This team played consistently without taking a break, unlike the men’s side. It was not until 2007 when the team disbanded, with each country going its way. Their last major competition was the 2005 league world cup.


The men’s team fell under the Rugby Football League before the formation of the Rugby League Ireland, Scotland Rugby League, and the Wales Rugby League, which saw a power shift. The Rugby Football League now has control over the Rugby League England, with the other bodies having control over the games in their countries.

The women’s team falls under the Women’s Amateur Rugby League Association which operates under the Rugby Football League association.

Rugby Union

This sport is quite popular and is more common than the rugby league. The first rugby football union was the English Rugby Football Union which was formed in 1871. Each country in the UK organizes itself differently.

National Teams


Men National Team

The team competes in regular tours, which take place every four years. The first of its kind took place in 1888 when the sport was new and slowly gaining traction. The team played in a tour to Australia and New Zealand and has continued taking part in the series to date. It also participates in one-off matches. When it comes to Home Nations’ competitions, the countries represent themselves individually, with each bringing its strongest players to the field.


Women National Team

As is the case with the men’s side, the women also join forces and play as a team. They have been doing so for quite a while, and the women’s teams seem to be increasing and growing stronger by the day. For Home Nations matches, the women play in their country teams.

Rugby Sevens

The rugby union has fifteen players on each side, which is the most standard form of play. However, the game has a variation that sees seven players on each side. For this popular variation, each country sends a team to the match. The UK has some of the best teams globally, and it was not a surprise that their teams took center stage in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Two of the teams united to take part in the game, and the men’s team made it to the finals while women came up fourth.

With the UK serving as the birthplace of rugby, this sport is quite popular in the region. More growth is expected to be seen in the sport as it continues to get closer to its peak. Want to know more about rugby?