Rugby football

Rugby football originated at the English school of Rugby in the 19th century. There are two main varieties: rugby union and rugby league. The two varieties have different rules and different numbers of players; rugby union has 15 players a side (with a 7-a-side variant), and rugby league has 13 players a side (with 7-a-side and 9-a-side variants). Vestiges of the split can still be seen in England today, where the majority of rugby league teams are based in the north, and the majority of rugby union teams are based in the south.

These sports are mostly played and popular in countries that have been under strong British influence, but some other countries (notably France, Argentina and Italy) have also taken to one or both of them. While the sports are growing and there are leagues in many non-traditional rugby nations, the best players, national sides and leagues are still found in the countries discussed below.

Keen fans travel the world to watch Test matches (two national teams playing each other). Very keen fans travel even just to visit famous rugby stadiums when no games are being played.

Rugby union

The New Zealand All Blacks perform a haka before kickoff against France.

In the 15-a-side version of rugby union, the New Zealand All Blacks have been the dominant national team for more than 100 years. Since 1987, England, the South African Springboks and Australian Wallabies have increasingly challenged their supremacy. The worldwide governing body for rugby union is World Rugby (WR), known as the International Rugby Board (IRB) between 1998 and November 2014.

It is customary for the national teams of New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to issue a challenge to the opposing team by performing a traditional tribal war dance at the beginning of every match.

Rules

Rugby union is generally played by 15 players a side, with two 40-minute halves. The goal is to advance the ball towards the in-goal area to score a try. Players may run with or kick the ball in any direction, but may only pass the ball backwards or horizontally.

A try is scored when a player enters the in-goal area with the ball and places it on the ground, or when a player catches the ball in the in-goal area and places it on the ground, and is worth five points. Unlike in American football, the ball must be placed on the ground in order for a try to be scored (dropping the ball does not count). The team that scored the try may then attempt to kick the ball through the goal posts for a conversion, which is worth an additional two points. Alternatively, players may kick the ball through the goal posts during open play, which is known as a drop goal, or from a penalty, which is known as a penalty goal, both of which are worth 3 points.

Major events

The Six Nations Championship participants

Argentina

Argentina does not have a dedicated national stadium; the Pumas play at venues around the country. Several stadiums, all built for soccer, see frequent use:

Australia

Australia does not have a dedicated national stadium; the Wallabies play at venues around the country. The most frequently used stadiums include the following:

One less frequently used stadium of note is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, located just east of the city centre. It's the country's largest stadium, the country's cricket mecca, and the spiritual home of Australian rules football.

Australia has five franchises in Super Rugby:

The main domestic competition is the National Rugby Championship, with nine teams in all. Sydney hosts three teams, and Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Canberra each host single teams. The ninth team is branded as "New South Wales Country", representing NSW outside Sydney, and takes its home matches to several venues around the state.

England

France

Ireland

Italy

New Zealand

New Zealand does not have a dedicated national stadium; the All Blacks play at venues around the country.

Other regularly used stadiums include:

New Zealand has five franchises in Super Rugby:

The main domestic competition is the Mitre 10 Cup, which is split into the top-level Premier Division and second-level Championship Division.

Scotland

South Africa

Like most Southern Hemisphere countries, South Africa has no national rugby stadium. The Springboks play home matches, both in The Rugby Championship and against other touring national teams, at several stadiums around the country. The most frequently used stadiums include:

As of the current 2016 Super Rugby season, South Africa has six franchises in that competition.

The major domestic competition is the Currie Cup, which is split into two divisions. The top level is known as the Premier Division.

Wales

Rugby league

Rugby league enjoys less popularity worldwide than rugby union, but is a popular code (rule variant) in some countries:

Rules

The rules for rugby league are, for the most part, very similar to those of rugby union. However, there are several significant differences, which makes it much faster paced and arguably more exciting to watch than rugby union. Each team consists of 13 players on the field, and each game is divided into two 40-minute halves. Each team is allowed to be tackled up to five times before they are required to score, failing which the ball is turned over to the opposing team on the sixth tackle. In this, it is arguably somewhat similar to American football, but unlike that sport, Rugby League disallows any forward passes and has less specialized positions.

Where rugby league truly differs from rugby union, though, is in its scoring system. In rugby league, a try is worth four points, a conversion is worth two points, a penalty goal is worth two points, and a drop goal is only worth one point.

Australia

Australia is probably the only major country in which rugby league is more popular than rugby union. After Aussie rules football and cricket, this is probably the game that's most attended by crowds of spectators, and it is the most popular spectator sport in the states of Queensland and New South Wales. The National Rugby League (NRL) administers the most popular annual competition, the Telstra Premiership. For the past few years, there have been 15 Australian teams and a sole New Zealand team, the Warriors, based in Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, competing for this cup. After a league season of 26 rounds, with each team playing 24 matches, the top eight teams advance to a playoff (known locally as a "finals series") that culminates in the NRL Grand Final at Stadium Australia in Sydney. The World Club Challenge is an annual match played between the champion club of the Australian National Rugby League and the top club of the European Super League competitions, where it usually ends up with an English side battling the Aussies.

However, arguably the biggest event in Australian rugby league is the State of Origin series, an annual series of three matches between teams representing rugby league's two leading states of New South Wales and Queensland. Player eligibility depends mainly on the state in which each player first played senior rugby league, with the state of birth being a secondary factor. Additionally, State of Origin players must be eligible to represent Australia internationally. Matches are usually held in Sydney and Brisbane, and sometimes in Melbourne; sellouts are a virtual certainty, and the series draws some of the biggest TV ratings for any Australian sporting event. Many observers consider State of Origin matches even more competitive than international matches.

The Australian Women's Rugby League is quite successful internationally where they're known as the Jillaroos.

England

Most support tends to be concentrated in Northern England with some of the most successful teams concentrated within the old boundaries of the ancient counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire and coming from Castleford, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds, Salford, St Helens, Wakefield, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan.

The top competition is Super League, consisting of 12 teams. Currently, 11 of the teams are in the English game's heartland of Northern England; the other is from Perpignan in France. The league's championship match, the Super League Grand Final, is held at Old Trafford in Manchester, better known as the home of the storied association football club Manchester United.

Papua New Guinea

Here it's the national game and attracts highly partisan crowds with fierce fights sometimes erupting amongst spectators. The death and injury rate has dissuaded overseas clubs from playing here despite the obvious local enthusiasm.

Tonga

Rugby league was only introduced into Tonga in 1986 with the staging of the Pacific Cup in Rarotonga. In 1988 the national side played its first Test match against Western Samoa in Apia. Since then Tonga has played regularly against Pacific Islands nations and, on a less regular basis, against top nations such as England, France and New Zealand.

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