A walk down memory lane with international rugby


On Saturday October 28, South Africa rugby team, better known as Springboks, beat arch-rivals New Zealand to win the 2023 world title in Paris, France. Rugby is not as popular globally as football which it originated from. Here is a down-memory-lane look at international rugby.

The Rugby World Cup is a tournament for men Rugby Union tournament. Rugby Union simply means that it is the first version of the game involving 15 players in each team. There is the fast Seven-a-Side that played at the Olympics and Ten-a-Side that is not so common. It is played every four years and winners are recognised as the world champions of the game. World Rugby is the global governing body of the game.

World Rugby was first formed as the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) in 1886 by Scotland, Wales and Ireland as inaugural members. England despite inventing the game joined in 1890 while Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were admitted as full members in 1949. France joined in 1978 then 1987 to 1999 membership grew by 80 countries. The body was renamed the International Rugby Board (IRB) in 1998 and became World Rugby in 2014.

The first international rugby tournament was a Great Britain affair called Home Nations Championships. England who invented the game played Scotland, Ireland and Wales from 1883. There was dispute on some rule for a try which made England throw a tantrum as the other three nations formed an international union to standardise the rules. It became Five Nation Tournament in 1910 when France joined and became The Six Nation Tournament in 2000 when Italy joined.

Rugby union was first played at the 1900 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. France won the first gold medal, then Australia, with the last two until 1924 being won by the US. Rugby Union featured in the Olympics for the last time in 1924. Sevens Rugby can as well be called the “Butchers Game” as it was conceived by two butchers, Ned Haig and David Sanderson, as a fund-raising event in Melrose, Scotland in 1883. It was the version reintroduced in the Summer Olympics in 2016.

In the 1960s two Australians, Harold Tolhurst and Jock Kellaher proposed an International Rugby Championship to be held in Australia which was rejected by IRFB. In 1983 Australia put in a proposal to host the tournament and New Zealand did it in 1984 but nothing came of them. The following year the IRFB committed to look into the idea and in 1986, in a meeting in Paris, the proposed tournament was approved by a vote. The first tournament in 1987 was co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand won the inaugural tournament.

The Tri-Nation Series is another annual Union Rugby tournament that began in 1996 featuring Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In 2012, Argentina was admitted which makes the teams four and the name changed to Rugby Championship. The Bledisloe trophy is awarded to the winner. 

The Six Nations Tournament and the “Four Nation Tournament” have split the rugby world into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Fiji and Samoa who are above the Equator are viewed as Southern Hemisphere countries. The use of global north and south brings other dimensions that do not fit countries like Australia and New Zealand.

South Africa featured for the first time in the 1995 tournament which they hosted and won. Since then they have reached four finals and have never lost a final. France and England have lost three finals each but at least England won the 2003 title against Australia.


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