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a game played by two teams of players with a ball shaped like an egg. Goals are scored by kicking the ball over a high bar, and points called tries are scored by putting the ball behind the goal line.

Origin and usage

Rugby is an eponym, as it is named after Rugby School, a public (that is, private) school located in the town of the same name in central England where the game developed. The term was first used in the mid 19th century and continued to be spelled with a capital ‘r’ well into the 20th century. It is sometimes called rubgy football, and the informal term rugger, first recorded in 1889, is also used.


The game of rugby is said to have appeared in the early 19th century when a student at the school of that name picked up the ball during a game of football and ran with it. The rules of the sport were first written up at the school in the mid 19th century. Various forms of rugby are currently played around the world by both men and women. Rugby Union is the original form of the game and is played with 15 players, while Rugby League, which split from the parent sport at the end of the 19th century, has teams of 13 and is played predominantly in the north of England, as well as in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. While for many years a principal difference between the two forms was that the League game allowed players to be paid while Rugby Union did not, both forms are are now played by professionals.


“I tried to play rugby but was never very good.”
(Ralph Fiennes)

“If there is no blood on the line, it is not rugby league.”
(Russell Crowe)

Related words

Australian Rules Football, Rugby League, Rugby Union

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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