rugby union

rugby union
   The Rugby Football Union was founded in 1871 with headquarters at Twickenham, England. There are currently a number of competitions. International championships were instituted in 1884 and are competed for by the five ‘home’ nations: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France. (The World Cup was instituted in 1987, and won by New Zealand in that year). The Pilkington Cup (formerly the John Player Special Cup) is the English Club knockout tournament, and was first held in 1971–2.
   The Rugby League was organized (in 1885) because players needed pay when taking time off work. (One club was fined because its players did not work on the morning of a Cup Final). Rugby union’s players, organizers and spectators, on the other hand, have always been quintessentially middle class. This fact is cited as an explanation of the ‘Troubles’ in Ireland, for example, where there are separate national soccer teams for the North and the South, but both parts of Ireland cooperate in a single national Irish rugby union team. Hence the North’s problems are claimed by some to be working class in origin. Spectators at Twickenham, Murrayfield, Cardiff Arms Park and Landsdowne Road (the national English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish grounds), which become the focus for nationalistic fervour during the annual Five Nations Championships, do indeed tend to be middle class, well-behaved and tolerant despite partisan national rivalries.
   UK rugby union is in a state of flux because of poor performance, professionalization and politics. Overseas tours in 1998 were particularly depressing. Wales suffered the worst defeat ever of any of the eight rugby playing nations, in South Africa, beaten 96–13 with Wales conceding fifteen tries. Meanwhile, England was celebrating the fact that it was defeated by the All Blacks in New Zealand by ‘only’ twenty points. England conceded fifty points or more in four out of five matches, and was beaten 76–0 by Australia, their worst defeat ever.
   In 1995, rugby union officially became a professional sport. This major change led to an undignified scramble by top clubs to sign up players, offering money they often did not have. The Rugby Football Union was criticized by international bodies for not controlling the clubs, who even signed up players from overseas, which had ramifications in other countries. A bitter and divisive row between the clubs and their ‘governing body’ was officially resolved in 1998 and was binding for seven years.
   See also: rugby league
   Further reading
    Rugby Football Union (1994) Rugby Union, London: Black.
   MIKE STORRY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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