Scrum descends on Rugby before cup kicks off

The Times, 25.08.15, thousands of rugby fans are getting ready to besiege Twickenham, the Millennium Stadium and Murrayfield for the World Cup. Yet even before the tournament starts next month, devotees and camera crews from six continents are jostling to pay homage at the birthplace of the game, Rugby School in Warwickshire. HMC Head Peter Green, headmaster of leading independent Rugby School is quoted.

The public school has been inundated by requests to visit the place where, according to legend, it all began in 1823. The throng includes players who want to kiss the hallowed turf where it is believed that William Webb Ellis, a schoolboy, first ran with the ball during a football match and created the game of rugby.

Visitors from France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Canada, Brazil, South Africa, the United States, Argentina, New Zealand and three TV crews from Japan have been at the school in recent weeks. Some have knelt on the pitch, and one professional player from France asked to cut a few blades of grass to post to his family.

Boys from the school have dressed up for the cameras in old-fashioned kits belonging to the school’s museum, to re-enact the birth of the game.

Peter Green, the headmaster, said: “It’s been quite extraordinary. In my second week as head, Jonny Wilkinson and Prince Harry visited to mark one year before the opening ceremony of the World Cup. Since then, we’ve had numerous visits from film crews around the world.

“Fans want to see the bit of grass where William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it — it’s a bit like the Old Testament or mythological history.”

The school, and its 19th-century headmaster Thomas Arnold, were made famous in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, the novel by Thomas Hughes that inspired Baron Pierre de Coubertin to establish the modern Olympic Games in 1896. Dr Arnold arrived at Rugby while Webb Ellis was a pupil. The school’s version of football was already called rugby: players were allowed to catch the ball and kick it out of their hands. Teams of 50 or 60 were not uncommon until the 1850s and games could last up to five days.

Mr Green said: “Once the World Cup starts, a lot of foreign tours will be arriving. The number of people arriving will be into the thousands as we have about 100 tours.”

The winners of the final at Twickenham on October 31 will be awarded the Webb Ellis Cup.

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