Traditionally, the person credited with inventing Rugby Union is William Webb Ellis, although there is little or no direct evidence to support this view, however popular and widely accepted it may be. Legend has that, in 1832, Webb Ellis, a student at Rugby School in Warwick, sought to gain an advantage in a game of ‘football’ by picking up the ball and running with it in his hands. Of course, that was in direct contravention of the rules of the game, such that they were, but by introducing a handling element Webb Ellis sowed the seeds for what would become the modern game of Rugby Union.
This possibly apocryphal account, which has been called into question more than once, was cited in ‘The Origins of Rugby Football’, published by the Old Rugbeian Society in 1897 and, by the early twentieth century, was well established, regardless of its veracity. What we do know for certain, though, is that Rugby School was instrumental in the development of Rugby Union, including the adoption of the first written code of rules in 1845. Rightly or wrongly, William Webb Ellis is commemorated by the ‘Webb Ellis Trophy’, which is presented to the winners of the Rugby World Cup.
According to Guinness World Records, the fastest recorded try in a rugby union match is credited to Doncaster Knights’ winger Tyson Lewis, who scored after just 7.24 seconds against Old Albanians in a National Clubs Association (NCA) Rugby match in St. Albans in 2013. At professional level, the same source credits Leeds Carnegie winger Lee Blackett, who scored after 8.26 seconds against Newcastle Falcons in a Premiership match at Headingley in 2008, with the fastest recorded try.
That said, in a World Rugby Junior World Championship match in Pukekohe, New Zealand in 2014 Wales’ wing Dafydd Howells chased down the kick-off and scored after 7 seconds against Fiji; although his effort was not ‘officially’ recognised, it was one of the fastest, if not the fastest, try ever scored in international rugby union.
As records stand, at senior international, or ‘Test’, level, Scottish centre John Leslie, who scored direct from kick-off against Wales in the last ever Five Nations match at Murrayfield in 1999, in less than 10 seconds, is credited with the fastest try ever. At the Rugby World Cup, Australian fly-half Elton Flatley crossed the line just 18 seconds after kick-off against Romania at Lang Park, Brisbane in 2003 and holds the record for fastest try in that sphere.
The player who holds the record for the most appearances for the British & Irish Lions, formerly the British Lions, is Irish lock Willie John McBride. All told, Mcbride toured with the Lions five times, to South Africa in 1962, to Australia and New Zealand in 1966, to South Africa again in 1968, to New Zealand again in 1971 and, finally, to South Africa yet again in 1974. His Lions’ career yielded 17 Test caps, four more than his nearest pursuer, legendary scrum-half Richard ‘Dickie’ Jeeps and culminated in the captaincy of the most successful Lions side in history.
Subsequently dubbed ‘The Invincibles’, the Lions squad that toured South Africa in 1974 included such luminaries as Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and John Peter Rhys ‘JPR’ Williams. Under the leadership of McBride, the Lions won 21 of 22 matches and drew the other, but only after the referee controversially disallowed a ‘winning’ try by Irish flanker Fergus Slattery in the final minutes of the fourth and final Test at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. Nevertheless, the British Lions had won a Test series in South Africa for the first time.
In the face of deliberate, often violent, foul play on the part of the home players, McBride instigated a policy of simultaneous, collaborative retaliation, summoned by the call of ’99’ or, originally, ‘999’. The idea was that the referee could not single out any one Lions’ player for disciplinary action, so essentially had the option of sending off the whole team or no-one at all.
Not to be confused with American stand-up comedian Gary Owen, ‘Garryowen’ is a rugby union term used to describe a high, tactical kick, otherwise known as an ‘up-and-under’. Garryowen is Gaelic for ‘Eóin’s Garden’, but its use to describe a rugby manoeuvre derives from the name of Garryowen Football Club, or Garryowen, for short, in Limerick, Ireland. Historically, one of the most successful clubs in Irish rugby union, Garryowen FC won the Munster Senior Cup three years running between 1924 and 1926, executing the tactic on each occasion.
Although there are risks involved, the Garryowen is an attacking tactic. The aim is to kick underneath the ball, so that it travels as high in the air as possible, rotating end over end, without covering any great distance. Correctly executed, the Garryowen allows attacking players enough time to chase down the kick, arrive in numbers and compete for the ball as it descends from the heavens.
Of course, it is entirely possible that a defending player can safely win back possession, but catching a high ball is often touch-and-go, especially in the face of opposing players, in potentially wet and/or windy conditions. Consequently, the risk of losing possession is mitigated by putting the defending team under pressure, which can lead to handling errors, infringements and scoring opportunities for the attacking team.