Although teams from the Southern Hemisphere have long dominated the sport, rugby was invented in England. So thie 8th Rugby World Cup, from 18 September to 1 November in England and Wales, is particularly symbolic, since it represents rugby’s return to the land of its birth.
Today’s rugby developed from a form of football that was played at Rugby School, one of England’s oldest ‘public schools’. Legend says that in 1823, a boy called William Webb Ellis picked up a football in his hands and ran with it. The trophy for the World Cup is named in his honour.
It took almost another 50 years before the Rugby Union was formed in England, in 1871, and the first international match was played. The game spread quickly in British colonies. Despite having started on the fields of a public school, it seemed to suit rural, farming regions particularly well.
In America, a match between a Canadian school playing rugby and Harvard, which played a game closer to soccer led to American football, a sort of hybrid of the two sports. But nowhere did it catch on like in New Zealand, where the game not only appealed to the descendants of British immigrants, but was also quite similar to a native Maori game. The All-Blacks are a fearsome team, known for the haka, a traditional dance meant to inspire fear in one’s enemies, which they perform before each game.
After winning at home in 2011, New Zealand would love to become the first country to win two consecutive Rugby World Cups. Of course, England have the home-team advantage, and France is often surprisingly good in the World Cup. So according to sports journalist Peter Berlin, what makes this Cup so exciting is how open it is. At least five different teams have a shot at winning it.
Click here for some teaching tools about the Rugby World Cup, including a downloadable interview.