Who is credited with inventing Rugby Union?

Who is credited with inventing Rugby Union? 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.