Rugby World Cup 2023 France
Rugby World Cup 2023 France

The 200th anniversary of rugby union

Rugby World Cup 2023 will not only be a momentous sporting event watched by millions, but a milestone for the game itself. If you’re wondering, “how old is the sport of rugby union?”, Rugby World Cup France 2023, tenth edition of RWC’s will be played whilst celebrating the 200th anniversary of the invention of the sport of rugby.

The history of rugby stretches back to 1823, where it was believed to have been accidentally invented by William Webb Ellis, who during a football match, ran with the ball instead of kicking it.

The sport of rugby union has seen many evolutions – the composition of the teams, scoring attribution, and advances in the officiating including the use of television match officials to ensure the officiating was as accurate as possible.

Over that 200 years, rugby union has seen several exciting milestones, here are a few which have coloured the game to what it is today.

Rugby goes international

On the 27th March, 1871, England and Scotland played the first international game of rugby. The match was contested as a 20-a-side game over two 50 minute halves with Scotland the eventual victors.

The international flavour of rugby union continues today, not just with test matches, but through other tournaments which bring together players from different countries and cultures.

First international game of rugby 1871 England v Scotland
Source: Wikimedia Commons. First international game of rugby 1871 England v Scotland

“The Game of the Century”

In their first tour outside of Oceania, New Zealand headed to Europe to play five tests and 30 tour matches across the span of nearly five months. International tours are commonplace today, but were more of a rarity at the beginning of the 20th century. Nicknamed “The Originals”, the New Zealand side were dominant, winning all bar one match – most of those were in a decisive and dominant manner.

Their match against Wales didn’t go to script, with Wales beating New Zealand 3 – 0 in Cardiff. The tactics used by Wales, particularly at scrum time, were key to their upset victory, hampering some of New Zealand’s attacking prowess and gaining the nickname of “The Game of the Century.”  

The story a centrepiece of the Rugby World Cup 2015, recreated as a short film and coming to life on the pitch before England and Fiji squared off in the first match.

The 1905 All Blacks 'The Originals' in the loss to Wales
Source: Wikimedia Commons. The 1905 All Blacks 'The Originals' in the loss to Wales

The Bledisloe Cup

The rivalry between Australia and New Zealand had existed before, but in 1932 the two sides took their duel to the next level, as the Bledisloe Cup was instituted.

Whilst the regularity and number of fixtures has changed, the significance of the Bledisloe Cup has only built over time. International intrigue of the stoush has even seen the contest played at neutral venues in Japan, Hong Kong, and the United States.

The first Rugby World Cup

The great game of rugby had earned its centre-piece. In 1987 the first edition of Rugby World Cup brought together 16 teams to compete for the Webb Ellis Cup. Co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, the inaugural RWC was eventually won by New Zealand, who defeated France in the final.

Held every four years, Rugby World Cup has become one of the world’s most iconic sporting tournaments, showcasing the skill of players and the passion of their nations and supporters.

Rugby Sevens makes it to the Commonwealth Games

The shortened format of the game had been around since the late 1800s, however, it finally made it to the world stage when Rugby Sevens was included as a sport at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. Since then, a Men’s and Women’s Rugby Sevens Series has commenced, and the variant was re-introduced at Olympic Games in Rio 2016 – putting in the view of new audiences and future fans.

With Rugby World Cup and the 200th anniversary of the game only two years away, excitement is building for what will be a true spectacle of rugby union. One of the 20 qualifying teams will take out the 10th edition of RWC and etch their name in the history books.


Rugby World Cup France 2023 River Cruise

River Cruise

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Escorted Tours

Choose from a range of expertly crafted ticket-inclusive travel packages that follow Australia, New Zealand, and the finals across France's most desirable holiday regions and experiences.

Pool Games

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Be there to witness history and experience every thrilling minute of Rugby World Cup Finals with our ticket and accommodation travel packages. Be quick though, packages are limited!