Rugby: invented by an Oxford man…

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Date of Publication: 30 August 2015

The pubs of Oxford were filled with cheers last night as England stormed to a 35-11 victory against Fiji in the first match of the Rugby World Cup. The current competition is the 8th of its kind, and matches will be held in stadiums all over England, from St James’ Park in the northern city of Newcastle, to Sandy Park in the southern climes of sunny Exeter, via London’s famous Twickenham Stadium and our own Course Director’s beloved Villa Park.

This year’s tournament is especially exciting, as it sees the World Cup return home to the country where Rugby Union was first invented and played. In 1823 William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School, notoriously caught the ball whilst playing football, and began to run with it. A new sport was born. This moment was dramatized in a short film which began yesterday’s opening ceremony, in which a smiling gardener (played by Prince Harry) reassures his bewildered friend (played by former England fly-half and international superstar Jonny Wilkinson): “Don’t worry…that’ll never take off.”

Rugby is now one of the most popular sports in England – and Oxford is no exception. Oxford University Rugby Football club was founded in 1869, and since 1872 Oxford has played Cambridge University in an annual showdown, The Varsity Match, at Twickenham (although we don’t mention that Cambridge are currently in the lead of total wins by 61-58).

William Webb Ellis went on from Rugby School to study at Brasenose College here in Oxford, where he was also a successful cricketer. The Webb Ellis trophy is awarded to the victors of the World Cup to honour this great sporting pioneer – and Oxford man.

At Oxford Summer Courses, we keep Web Ellis’s sporting tradition alive, playing in the University Parks where the man himself would have competed in college sports competitions. This year saw the inauguration of a tournament of our very own, the Oxford Summer Courses Sports Day, where teams vied for glory in events as diverse as football and the three-legged race. Our William would have been proud.

Want to learn more about Oxford’s history? Have a read of this article: Is history really around every corner in Oxford?

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