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1910-Perrins-Burke-Zug.jpg (192867 bytes)Hunslet (white) v Liversedge at Halifax 1892In 1823, during a game of soccer at Rugby School in England, 16 year old William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it towards his opponents' goal line. The reaction of his fellow players or any officials is not recorded; but the advantages of playing the game in this natural fashion were obvious to Ellis's schoolmates who followed his example. And so the game of rugby was born.

The origin of Rugby in England goes back long into the 19th century and even earlier. In 1800's formalities were introduced to football rules in the seven major public schools of England. Six of the seven schools were largely playing the same game (including Eton, Harrow and Winchester) - while the seventh, Rugby School (founded in 1567) at Warwickshire, was playing a markedly different version of football.

evolution of rugby ball

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Therefore in the 1860s, it came as great relief when the inflatable rubber bladder was invented by Richard Lindon to replace the pigs'. Indeed, with the ease of handling rubber as opposed to the stiffly circular bladders of pigs, this led to a change in shape of the rugby ball from a sphere to an egg. Interestingly though, the rugby football never came to be termed footegg. Susceptible to water-logging even with the use of preservative cod oil and tallow rubs, the leather casing at the end of the ball was possibly too long, and it was only during the 1980s that modern weather-proof synthetics were introduced. In 1892, the RFU set oval dimensions for the ball and the ball was progressively flattened over time.
In 1892, the dimensions and features of the ball were fixed at:
  • Length: 11 to 11 ¼ in
  • Circumference (end to end): 30 to 31 in
  • Circumference (in width): 25 ½ to 26 in
  • Weight: 12 to 13 oz
  • Hand-sewn with 8 or more stitches to the inch.
In 1893, the weight of the ball was decreased to 13 to 14 ½ oz, and in 1931, the circumference in width was decreased to 24 to 25 ½ in and the weight was raised to 13 ½ to 15 oz.
Nowadays, the modern ball is a hybrid of polyurethane, synthetic leather, foiled polyester, latex and adhesive, effective in keeping the ball intact and durable.
At present, the 2004 IRB (International Rugby Board) officiates:
  • Structure of the ball: oval and constitutes 4 panels
  • Length in line: 280 to 300 mm
  • Circumference (end to end): 740 to 770 mm
  • Circumference (in width): 580 to 620 mm
  • Material: Leather or appropriate synthetic material (allowed to be conditioned for better grip and to make the ball water-resistant)
  • Weight: 410 to 460 g
  • Internal air pressure at start of game: 65.71 to 68.75 kPa (or 0.67 to 0.70 kgcm -2)


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