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Rugby, England, hosted the tournament for the global game that got its start at a school in the small town. Writer Amar Mistry shares the excitement from a resident’s point of view.
Text by: Amar Mistry
Country: England

he Rugby World Cup, played every four years, returned to its birthplace in Rugby, England in 2015, turning the town into a mecca for rugby pilgrims across the world. As a result the sleepy town was energized, and the residents thrilled to welcome people from across the world.

“It’s transformed the town, given it a real energy and buzz! I’m going to be disappointed when it’s all over,” says Simon, who lives in Rugby.

The excitement ended with the All Blacks of New Zealand defeating the Wallabies of Australia 34-17 at Twickenham Stadium in London on October 31. The victory is the third championship for the All Blacks.

The official name for the more popular of two versions of the sport is ‘Rugby Union’ which consists of two teams of 15 players who aim to touch down an oval-shaped leather ball on the other side of the field, past the opposing team. Players can kick and throw the ball backward, and teams can also score by kicking the ball through an H-shaped set of posts. The players need no more protection than shin pads and a gum shield. Referees enforce the game’s many rules and they are coached from a young age.

As an old saying goes, “Football is a gentleman’s game played by ruffians, and rugby is a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen.”

Over 4 million people play the sport all over the world.

Along with the ‘home nations’ (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), the sport spread loosely in line with the old British Empire (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada). Some European countries (Italy and France) also have a strong history in the game.

The World Cup itself began in 1987 and rotates between countries. The next tournament will be held in Japan, a first for Asia, in 2019. Sixteen teams compete in two groups, being eliminated in rounds until only two are left for the final round. This year, England failed to progress past the group stages, greatly disappointing the country.

The champion All Blacks are famous for their ‘Haka’, a pre-match Maori dance used to intimidate their opponents. In 2011 New Zealand hosted the tournament, with over 1.5 million attendees. The All Blacks won the championship and the William Webb Ellis Cup.

Other forms of the game include Rugby League, Rugby Sevens, and Women’s Rugby, and as in other sports, there are university teams, tours and a strong fan following.

The game was invented in 1823 by William Webb Ellis, who famously picked up a football on the Rugby School playground one day and began running with it. Ellis, the head teacher and the other pupils wrote the game’s rules, and it turned into the global game it is now. Rugby the town has seen a lot of change too.

Rugby was a sleepy town that has grown to a city of about 70,000 as of 2011. The famous Rugby School was set up in 1567. Real growth started after 1840, when a railway junction close by began attracting workers. The jet engine was invented in the town, and industrial engineering remains a big business there. Rugby is also a great logistics hub; the fantastic road and rail links help companies get their goods across the country.

The town has a small centre with a high concentration of pubs that range from independent to chain. Drinking culture in the town is a mix of community-based family pubs and a burgeoning nightlife on Thursday and Saturday nights. A number of curry houses have opened, and a new retail park offers customers chain restaurants, too.

Immigration has played its part, with big Indian and Pakistani communities, as well as more recent Eastern European migrants, settling in the area. Kay, a factory worker living in Rugby since the 1980s, has worked with a mixed demographic during her time, she explains:

“It used to be just Indian and English ladies I worked with—we were all packing together. After I switched jobs I work with Polish, Portuguese, Brazilian, Jamaican and most recently Romanian. I’m losing count of the languages I can say ‘hello’ in.”

More professional commuters are traveling daily into nearby cities such as Birmingham, Leicester and Coventry. Many also take the train into the capital every day. With a route directly into London Euston, as many as four trains per hour during peak times stop in Rugby; times can range from 50 minutes to 1 hour, 45 minutes. The former is comparable to commutes within London, and house prices in Rugby are much cheaper.

Rugby has several attractions for visitors. The museum and Rugby School itself showcase contrasting architecture, the modern and the historical almost side by side. Slightly further out is a reservoir called Draycote Water, which offers a variety of activities, including fishing, sailing, and windsurfing. The reservoir is almost 5 miles around, which makes it a popular route for cyclists and runners alike. Nearby is an alpaca farm offering handmade and local goods against a backdrop of rolling countryside and green fields.

As the birthplace of the sport, the town has been keen to capitalize on the tourism and interest that the World Cup brings. With a countdown in the main shopping centre and a huge fan zone just around the corner, ‘Rugby Fever’ has taken over.

Pubs have been refurbished, bunting has been hung up and most importantly the people seem enthused. It was extremely disappointing when England and the rest of the home nations did not make it through, but the fan zone remained busy as ever, and drinks flowed whenever a match was on.

Rebecca, from London, visited Rugby for the first time:

“What a pretty place. [I’m] hearing about the history of not just the sport, but the school and the town too. People smile a lot and seem very welcoming; a couple of times I’ve been asked if I’m lost and needed any help—so nice! I definitely hope to visit again.”

Dave, originally from Rugby, comments on his experience of the fan zone:

“I was surprised at how busy it was. There was barely space to see the big screen, but the atmosphere was electric. Entering the fan zone was just like a mini village, stalls and shops everywhere, and more importantly lots of beer on tap! Watching a game with the crowd was the best bit though—I’m not a huge Rugby fan myself, but I must admit—even I got sucked into the drama of it all.”

As a resident, I’m proud of my hometown and welcome visitors to the area. The World Cup has offered a spotlight on the town, and we enjoyed our temporary fame.

INFO BOX

Population of Rugby: 70,000
Registered Players of Rugby: 4,504,188
Most points scored in a World Cup: Jonny Wilkinson (England) 277
International Team with most World Cups won: Australia & New Zealand (2)
Estimated Attendance for games across 2015 tournament: 2.35 million



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Rugby returns home for World Cup

Rugby, England is a sleepy town that is famous because it is the place where the game of Rugby originated. The game was invented in 1823 by William Webb Ellis when he picked up a football on the Rugby School playground and ran with it. Ellis, the head teacher and the other pupils wrote down the rules of the game.

There are many versions of the game, but the most popular one is 'Rugby Union' teams of 15 players each aim to touch down an oval shaped leather ball on the other side of the field.

The Rugby World Cup began in 1987 and rotates between countries. It is played every four years, and in 2015 it returned to Rugby, England. This year the cup was won by the All Blacks of New Zealand who defeated the Australian Wallabies. It is the third championship victory for the All Blacks.

The small town of Rugby was transformed and energized as residents welcomed people from across the world for the tournament.

It is a pretty town with very friendly people and it has many attractions for visitors, including a museum, the Rugby School, and a reservoir where people can fish, sail, and windsurf.

During the cup fan zones were set up for people to watch the games, shop, eat, and drink beer. Dave, a resident of Rugby, was surprised at how busy and exciting it was, and was also very proud of welcoming visitors to the area as the World Cup put a spotlight on his town.

 

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