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Rugby Has Influenced Many Football Codes

Rugby School football of the early 1800s is the parent of NFL, Rugby League, Rugby Union and even Australian rules.

gridironHave you ever thought how the terminology of football positions and scoring used in the football codes came about? In the world’s major footy games – American NFL, Rugby League and Rugby Union – the names of football postions and many other rules are common to all. This is because all of these sports came from rugby in the 1800s in England.

Let’s have a look back at football history and how some of the terms were derived.

As in soccer, early point scoring was limited to the kicking of goals. These could only be kicked from the field in normal play or from gaining a free kick at goal after a ‘touchdown’ behind the opponent’s goal-line.

Touching the ball down behind the opponents line did not itself earn a team any points. All it entitled the attacking side to do was attempt (try) to kick a goal from in line with they touched down. The spectators, in their enthusiasm, would take up the shout ‘‘Try, Try”, meaning an attempt should be made at kicking the goal.

The act of putting the ball down behind the goal-line came to be called a ‘try’ in rugby (union and league) and a ‘touchdown’ in American football. Points were introduced in the later part of the 1800s for scoring a try or touchdown – which changed the objective these games away from just scoring goals.

A try/touchdown is now worth twice as much as a goal from general play in both gridiron (6 points touchdown / 3 points field goal) and rugby league (4 points try / 2 points penalty goal). In both these games, it is rare for a team to win scoring more goals than tries/touchdowns.

In rugby union, the goal is worth slightly more in comparison to the try (5 points a try / 3 points a goal). There is a lot more ‘football’ (kicking of the ball) in this code than American football or rugby league. In rugby union matches where two teams are relatively even in skill, it is more common to see many more goals than tries being scored.

Can you see then how the above descriptions display attributes of gridiron, rugby union and rugby league?

It also shows that rugby shared many of its rules with early soccer – perhaps rugby and soccer had a shared football parent as well in the very early 1800s in England. Many of the football positions in all the related games are the same or variations.

In the late 1800s Australian rules was still being played on a rectangular field, featured place-kicks at goal, and matches began with a kick-off from centre field. In 1888 a touring British rugby union team had little difficulty in playing Australian rules matches in Victoria and South Australia.

In American football the scrum was replaced by a ‘line of scrimmage’. The ball is placed in the centre and ‘snapped back’ by the centre. The opposing side can’t strike for the ball until it has been snapped. In rugby league a similar principle has been adopted, though only one player from each team is involved. Rugby union has continued to use the original method of allowing players from either side to strike for the ball on the ground – although in recent seasons players have been allowed to place the ball behind themselves and thus shield the ball from their opponents.

The method used to continue with play once a player has been tackled has challenged rule makers in both the rugby codes and American football since the 1890s. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

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