USA—Home of Olympic Champions
Across the pond from the birthplace of rugby, the game was first played in 1874 when Harvard and McGill University of Canada competed in a football-type game. Rugby was a popular sport in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. James Naismith, who created basketball, was a rugby player. Actor Boris Karloff had been an exceptional rugby player in Hungary and founded a rugby league in Southern California after he moved to Hollywood. The US, believe it or not, owns two of the four Olympic gold medals ever awarded in Rugby (1920 and 1924).
When rugby was dropped from the Olympics after 1924, interest in the game among US participants waned. Since the 1960s, interest in the sport (beyond just wearing rugby shirts) has been growing and the USA Rugby Football Union was established in 1975. Today, more than 50,000 rugby players belong to the union. The men’s US national team has qualified for four Rugby World Cups. The women’s national team won the first-ever awarded women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991.
The Rugby World Cup and Beyond
In 1987, the first Rugby World Cup tournament was won by New Zealand. In addition to the RWC, several other prestigious soccer competitions are played among the world’s best teams. In 1910, the first Five Nations Championship was held between England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and France. In 2000, Italy joined this annual competition and it became known as Six Nations.
Other international competitions include the Super 12 which pits clubs from the Southern hemisphere against each other in season-long competition, and the Tri-Series between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Today, 97 nations have rugby unions and more than 3.8 billion people watched the 2003 Rugby World Cup on television. That’s a lot of people who understand and appreciate the nuances of a scrum and the strategy of a lineout.
Rugby World Cup Winners (Men’s)
|1995||South Africa||New Zealand|
Rugby World Cup Winners (Women’s)
|1998||New Zealand||United States|
*Tournaments not sanctioned by Intenternational Rugby Football Board