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History of Rugby in the UK

Seguramente not very objective, indeed, I am a tremendous radical on this issue. I will talk about a sport that is much more than a sport, and about a tournament that, in addition to being one of the oldest in the world, leaves symbols of conciliation in every corner it reaches with its tentacles.I speak of rugby, and I speak of the Six Nations Tournament.

This tournament is not just an old sporting event, loaded with history and tradition, which, of course, has. This sporting event is fully immersed in the 20th-century history of the British Isles and France. So that a person who does not understand rugby understands us, when Real Madrid, Barcelona, or any other Spanish football club was created, the tournament we talked about had been playing for more than twenty-five years.

The history of rugby begins in 1823, when, playing a rudimentary football match, a theology student from the English town of Rugby takes the ball in his hands and runs with him, to the surprise of his teammates.

The idyllic and peculiar history of rugby begins in 1823, when, playing a rudimentary football match – a football that has nothing to do with what we know today -, a theology student at a school in the English town of Rugby, tired of the rules of football, take the ball in his hands and run with him, to the surprise of his teammates. The name of that boy was William Webb Ellis, a name that is called the cup that is delivered to the team that has won the rugby world championships since 1987.

Rugby ends up developing like this, and already in 1870, there are several federations of this sport in England, Scotland, or Wales.

In 1871 the federations of Scotland and England, decide to make an annual match in which both nations, within the British Empire, meet in a rugby match. The success was greater than expected, and in the first two editions, thousands of fans went to watch the game; He also had a great editorial follow-up in the great newspapers of the moment, especially in Scotland. The historic rivalry between the two nations, already united under the Union Jack, was channeled out of violence this time: now it would be the sport who spoke.

As we have already said, in Ireland and Wales, federations were also created, although with a little less follow-up. Wales was, and is, the smallest nation within the United Kingdom and therefore its federation had some more difficulty in the early years, while Ireland was too involved in politics – specifically in its process of unfinished independence – and therefore the follow-up. It was a bit smaller.

Despite these difficulties, both federations manage to settle and organize in the image and likeness of their English and Scottish “sisters.” Twelve years after that first match between Scotland and England, in 1883, Wales and Ireland officially enter the tournament. A tournament without a return match, all against all, where each year the venues of the matches will be invested so that the sporting confrontations reach every corner of the islands. A tournament with the four nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The first years of the tournament were dominated by Scotland and England, the largest and most supported federations until in 1893 Wales enters the scene and revolutionizes the rugby of the moment by changing tactically to a game of faster and more dynamic rugby. At that time, the smallest nation enters the rugby scene, and rugby becomes a national sport of the “dragon country.” Ireland, for its part, was also improving, and already in 1894, he won his first tournament.

Thus enters the Four Nations in the twentieth century, with four stable and established federations. Rugby began to follow more. As I mentioned at the beginning, when speaking in the case of Scotland, these parties between nations were a good way to channel historical rivalries peacefully. Ireland was the exception in this regard because, with the entry of the twentieth century, the problem of independence sentiment increased more and more.

In 1910 a new stage opened in the history of the tournament: France enters the competition.

Something new, no doubt, because the first nation that does not belong to the islands enters. The reason was the great diffusion that, despite being a little later, had rugby in the Gallic country. France, without a doubt, had great potential to develop a great national rugby team. From the beginning of the 20th century, the Parisian derby between the teams of the Racing Metro 92 and the Stade Française promoted its expansion among the fans. France suffers a little more to win the tournament and does not do so until 1954 in a shared way and in 1959 alone. Of course, once France enters the elite, it becomes a European rugby classic and, today, only Wales and England have more medal winners than les bleus.

There were also black pages in the history of the tournament […] during the First World War, more than one hundred rugby players die among the Welsh, Scottish, English, and French

There were also black pages in the history of the tournament. During the two world wars the tournament was dissolved. Therefore the editions of 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, and 1919 in the First World War and those of 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, and 1946 in the Second World War are not disputed. In fact, during the first world conflict, more than one hundred rugby players between Welsh, Scots, English, and French die on the battlefield.

Ireland’s independence was another controversial issue. In 1916, after tremendously bloody years, the Catholic area of the island of Ireland became independent, while the northern area, around the Ulster region – of Anglican Protestant majority – remains as part of the United Kingdom. Because of this, independence, so desired by the southern Catholic Irish, does not completely eradicate the problem. The tension between the United Kingdom and Ireland was terrible.

Ireland’s rugby team, despite the separation and conflict, would play together.

But rugby, once again, decided to lead the way. The Irish federation, based in Dublin and part of the Republic of Ireland, reaches an agreement with the authorities of Northern Ireland: the selection of Irish rugby, despite the separation and conflict, would play together. The federation does not represent either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland – part of the United Kingdom – but is the selection of the island of Ireland. The flag, therefore, is not the tricolor, but it is the flag of the four historical provinces.

After World War II, the tournament stabilizes almost to the present day, with some caveat in the seventies due to the activity of the IRA.

Each of the members had their golden ages. That of Wales was at the beginning of the century – it was unbeaten from 1910 to 1913 – and between 1969 and 1979. France dominates in the second half of the 50s. Scotland was clearly a heavyweight at the beginning of the tournament and around the 80s. Ireland, on the other hand, had a more regular development dividing its titles in a more heterogeneous way. And finally England, which has never stopped being among the best.

In 2000 the last page of this beautiful story arrived: Italy joins. Italy, a country very passionate about sports, joins this select rugby club. The reason is simple: the Italians dominated when they played against other European teams of the moment, and with the intention of wanting to expand rugby to more corners of Europe, it was decided to include the transalpine country. The challenge was difficult because Italy still has not won any edition of the tournament, but the improvement begins to be noticed, since Italian victories over Scotland or France are more common, for example. From this moment on, the tournament is called Six Nations, as we know it today.

The Six Nations is the only sports tournament in the world in which there is a somewhat dishonorable prize for the loser: the Wooden Spoon.

Finally, we must not forget one more thing that makes this sports competition unique. The Six Nations is the only sports tournament in the world in which there is a somewhat dishonorable prize for the loser: the “Wooden Spoon. “The wooden spoon is delivered to the team that during a delivery of the Six Nations loses all its matches. It is, therefore, an “honor” that Italy has obtained on a few occasions in recent years.

Without a doubt I could continue writing lines and lines about curiosities of this peculiar tournament – seven years ago that I discovered rugby – but, although they can tell you what it means to be a “rugbier” and what it feels like to be, more correct is that everyone discovers it for himself.

This is the history of rugby in Europe, a story with lights and shadows, with pages and facts for pride and other somewhat dark pages. But after all, a very peculiar story. If some year you don’t know what to do on a weekend of the end of February or the beginning of March, turn on the television or the computer, tune in to the British ITV or the France2 channel and enjoy the best sporting event on the planet: the Six Nations Tournament of Rugby.