Rugby union is a full contact team sport which originated in England in the early 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. It is played with an oval-shaped ball on a field up to 100 metres (330 ft) long and 70 metres (230 ft) wide with H-shaped goal posts on each goal line.
William Webb Ellis is often credited with the invention of running with the ball in hand in 1823 at Rugby School when he allegedly caught the ball while playing football and ran towards the opposition goal. Although the evidence to support the Ellis story is doubtful (the story did not appear until three years after Ellis's death, and records show rugby's inception precedes that of football), it was immortalised at the school with a plaque unveiled in 1895. In 1848, the first laws were written by pupils; other significant events in the early development of rugby include the Blackheath Club's decision to leave the Football Association in 1863 and the split between rugby union and rugby league in 1895.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) has been the governing body for rugby union since its formation in 1886. Currently, 115 national unions are members of the IRB. In 1995, the IRB removed restrictions on payments to players, making the game openly professional at the highest level for the first time.
The Rugby World Cup, first held in 1987, takes place every four years, with the winner of the tournament receiving the Webb Ellis Cup. The Six Nations in Europe and the Tri Nations in the southern hemisphere are major international competitions held annually. Major domestic competitions include the Top 14 in France, the Aviva Premiership in England, the Currie Cup in South Africa, and the ITM Cup in New Zealand. Other transnational competitions include the Magners League, originally involving Irish, Scottish and Welsh teams and now Italian teams as well; Super Rugby (previously Super 12 and Super 14), involving South African, Australian and New Zealand teams; and the Heineken Cup, involving the top European teams from their respective domestic competitions.