The Original Rules of Rugby

Jeremy Harding writes:

The Original Rules of Rugby, edited by Jed Smith, curator of the Museum of Rugby at Twickenham, reprints the two key documents drawn up during the early years of the game, the first in 1845 at Rugby school, and the second in 1871 by the Rugby Football Union. In the interval, two things had happened. First, the game had spread beyond the public schools to local clubs (the most energetic probably Blackheath), who were calling loudly for a universal set of laws in a sport where matches were often played with one team’s rules in the first period and the other’s in the next (this, as much as the need for a breather or a change of ends, is the origin of half-time). Second, the Football Association had been formed and failed to reconcile the dribbling game and the handling game. Within a few weeks of its convening in 1863, the FA parted company with the minority of rugby devotees. ‘Running with the ball’ was an obvious source of contention but, as Smith suggests, ‘hacking’ was probably the harder issue to settle.

(LRB 18 October 2007)

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