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The story of rugby that everyone knows is the supposed 1823 football match where 16 year-old student of Rugby School, William Webb Ellis, grabbed the ball in his hands and took off running with it down-field. Instead of his classmates becoming sore at him, they admired the move and copied it for themselves. Eventually, this caught on to so many other schools that an entirely new game had to be created.
Scholars on the subject tend to agree that the preceding story is too simple to be true and most definitely fabricated. However, a few of the facts do hold in that the sport, as it is known today, did originate at the Rugby School at around that same period of time. Historically speaking, rugby seems to have developed from ball sports of the ancient Greeks. Later, in Western Europe, unruly “mob” sports would develop in many villages where the entire townsfolk would get involved with throwing and running an inflated pig bladder and using any means necessary, not including murder, to get the ball to the goal. The result was massive human injuries and even more massive and widespread property destruction that led to the sport being banned during the 12th and 13th centuries.
In the early 1800s, a civilized version of this mob sport developed and became popular in England, leading to the meeting of 11 schools and clubs at the Freemason’s Tavern in London to discuss the rules of proper football. After much debate, all but one club, Blackheath, agreed that running with the ball was not allowed in football and the split into two distinct sports was made official. It is worth noting, though, that a set of written rules for rugby had previously been written in 1845 at Rugby School.
It was not until 1870 when Edwin Ash, secretary of the Richmond Rugby Club, called for a meeting of all clubs to pound out a set of standardized and official rules. After six full months, in June of 1871, the first official rules were finalized by 22 attending clubs. These first rules were called the 59 laws. In that same year, the first international game between England and Scotland would be played and by 1900, the sport gained fame and international teams sprang up all over the world. It was even included in the Olympics of 1900 with a match between France and Germany, with France taking the gold.