Rugby Union and Rugby League – how did it happen?

Rugby union, in the late 1800s believed strongly in keeping the game’s amateur status. Despite this commitment, in 1893 reports of some players in the north of England receiving payments for playing reached the RFU, and it decided to try to find evidence. The Union set up an inquiry but was warned that if the club involved was punished, all the chief clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire would withdraw from the Rugby Football Union.

The inquiry went ahead and the club concerned was suspended. Two general meetings followed at which the Northern Unions lobbied for the right to pay player “broken time” wages to help cover any wages lost by players when they “skipped” work to play in matches. Many of the Northern Union clubs had a strong mining and blue collar membership and understandably lost pay was a serious concern for them. The Northern Union’s request was denied and in August 1895 twenty two of the northern clubs resigned from the Rugby Football Union and formed the Northern Union, later to become known as the Rugby League.

The Rugby League quickly adopted rules to make the game more attractive to spectators in order to draw crowds to help pay the men’s “broken time wages.” This is where the reduction of players to 13 came into effect as well as the move to a multiple downs style of play. As a result, Rugby League is very distinctive from Rugby Union in both appearance and the strategies employed.

As the years wore on, the IRB and the Rugby Football Union clung to their amateur roots and traditions tightly, but there were growing cries from around the globe to turn professional. Ironically many of these reasons were exactly why the Northern Union split away in the first place, namely, increased demands on player’s time as well as increased media attention on the sport and revenues generated as a result. Rugby Union stadia like ours at Kingsholm realised that in the “off season” there was a great opportunity to give the fans and general public a chance to see behind the scenes at the club and Kingsholm Venues is now known to have the finest meeting room facilities in Gloucester. Perfect for corporate dinners, weddings or exhibitions.

Realizing that the sport needed to move to a professional model if it was to remain intact, the IRB and RFU accepted professionals in Rugby Union in August 1995.