Rugby ori­gins still di­vide opin­ion

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

PARIS — The Duke of Welling­ton may have said that the Bat­tle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton Col­lege but more surely the game of rugby was founded on the fields of another Bri­tish board­ing school af­ter which it takes its name, Rugby.

And who was re­spon­si­ble for that?

An English­man called Wil­liam Webb El­lis, who hor­rors of hor­rors for the English is buried in the French town of Men­ton (‘jaw’ in English) in the south of France.

Rugby is renowned for its gen­er­ally good show of man­ners de­spite its ul­tra con­tact na­ture.

But young Webb El­lis showed no re­spect for those when at the age of 16 he de­cided it was best to pick up the ball while he and his school­mates were play­ing football in 1823 and run with it, touch­ing it down un­der the posts.

The Ir­ish - who were at the time un­der English rule - be­lieved Webb El­lis had been inspired by his time in Ire­land, when his fa­ther was sta­tioned as a Bri­tish Army of­fi­cer, and the game of ‘caid’, a pre­cur­sor of Gaelic Football.

Oth­ers, how­ever, dis­pute that Webb El­lis had any­thing to do with the in­ven­tion of the game, claim­ing that he had sim­ply been given the sta­tus of founder for want of a bet­ter name.

“He is very tal­ented with the po­ten­tial to be world class, but he’ll never get there be­cause of his men­tal­ity and the peo­ple around him.

“There is lit­tle ev­i­dence to sup­port the pop­u­lar belief that Wil­liam Webb El­lis cre­ated a new form of football,” Mal­colm Lee, master in charge of Rugby football in 1978,

— told for­mer Wales and Bri­tish Lions coach Car­wyn James.

“The point is that the rules of the game as it was played at the school at that time were made by the boys

them­selves and those rules were con­stantly re­vised.

“If you look at the notes of the Big­side Lev­ees - notes made by the boys them­selves - you will see that the rules were dis­cussed al­most ev­ery time the boys went out to play and that ad­just­ments were fre­quently made.”

Another au­thor­i­ta­tive source to join his ranks is none other than the au­thor of Tom Brown’s School Days, Thomas Hughes, who aside from cre­at­ing the in­spi­ra­tion for Gor­don Mac­don­ald Fraser’s clas­sic se­ries of Flash­man, clearly gives Webb El­lis short shrift as he was at the school from 1834.

“In my first year, 1834, run­ning with the ball to get a try by touch­ing down within goal was not ab­so­lutely for­bid­den, but a jury of Rugby boys of that day would al­most cer­tainly have found a ver­dict of ‘jus­ti­fi­able homi­cide’ if a boy had been killed in run­ning in.”

Jus­ti­fi­able homi­cide? Who­ever touches down, kicks the win­ning penalty or drop goal in this year’s World Cup which kicks off on Septem­ber 18, one can’t quite imag­ine that will be their fate.

And whether Mr Webb El­lis did cre­ate the game or not, his name will still be on the tro­phy the win­ners pick up at the end of the fi­nal of rugby union’s show­piece event. — AFP

Webb el­lis tro­phy and 2015 rugby World Cup match ball.

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