Rugby union is a full contact team sport, a form of football which originated in England in the early 19th century. One of the codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. It is played with an oval-shaped ball, outdoors on a level field, usually with a grass surface, up to 100 metres (330 ft) long and 70 metres (230 ft) wide. At each end of the field is an H-shaped goal.
William Webb Ellis is often credited with the invention of running with the ball in hand in 1823 at Rugby School when he allegedly caught the ball while playing football and ran towards the opposition goal. Although the evidence to support it is doubtful, the Ellis story was immortalised at the school with a plaque unveiled in 1895. In 1848, the first rules were written by pupils; other significant events in the early development of rugby include the Blackheath Club's decision to leave the Football Association in 1863 and the split between rugby union and rugby league in 1895.
Rugby union has been governed by the International Rugby Board since its formation in 1886 and currently has a membership of 115 national unions. In 1995, the IRB removed restrictions on payments to players, making the game openly professional at the highest level for the first time.
The Rugby World Cup, first held in 1987, takes place every four years, with the winner of the tournament receiving the Webb Ellis Cup. The Six Nations in Europe and the Tri Nations in the southern hemisphere are major international competitions held annually. Major domestic competitions include the Top 14 in France, the Guinness Premiership in England, the Currie Cup in South Africa, and the Air New Zealand Cup in New Zealand. Other transnational competitions include the Magners League, involving Irish, Scottish and Welsh teams; the Super 14, involving South African, Australian and New Zealand teams; and the Heineken Cup, involving the top European teams from their respective domestic competitions.
Wikipedia [accessed 10 May 2010] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugby_union