Rugby in Europe: The Noble's Sport

Rugby in Europe: The Noble's Sport
Reading time: 5 min

In a recent interview, Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne spoke of his experiences playing rugby in Europe's Eton College - a boys-only independent school attended by Britain's elite. Redmayne confessed that he wasn't the best player, but it was a fact that didn't matter much thanks to his classmate, Prince William. Not only because the prince was a far better player, but because he was the main focus of the opposition; they wanted to "go home and tell their families they tackled Prince William."

And it seems that his younger brother, Prince Harry, had a similar experience playing school rugby, as he shared in an interview with the Daily Mail.

A Dangerous Game

The young royal recalled that rugby games were often seized as an opportunity to "smash me up" by his Eton peers, particularly during inter-house games. While he said that there was mutual respect shown when his team played other schools, it seems the same courtesy was not extended to him by his own classmates, who would "put in a bigger tackle because it was me." Not one to be beaten easily though, the prince added "I like to think I managed to give a few [big knocks] back as well."

Rugby Europe - Prince Harry

Eton Innovation

The young Windsors' participation in rugby games was to be expected, particularly because the pair attended Eton College, where the sport is highly regarded. Another sport popularized by Prince Harry is the now legendary Eton Wall Game, which bears some resemblance to rugby in Europe.

Unique to Eton College, Eton Wall Game begins with a scrum and ends with each team aiming to touch down the ball on their opponent's side of the pitch. Its similarities to rugby lie not only in its rules of play but also in its history. 

The Start of the Game

Rugby, too, began at a school - the one from which it derives its name. Legend has it that the game first came about in 1823 during a game of football, when Rugby School pupil William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it. It was then popularized by the pupils who continued on to university, with the first official team supposedly formed at Cambridge University - perhaps explaining the sport's association with the elite.

From that first Cambridge team, rugby in Europe has grown into an international affair, with the first inter-country match being played by England and Scotland. Today, Scotland is one of the competing teams in the annual Six Nations tournament, alongside France, Ireland, Wales, Italy and, of course, England.

Rugby Europe

Anne, Princess & Patron

The sport's popularity in Scotland extends to its nobility, with Princess Anne frequently spotted in the stands. She is even a patron of the Scottish Rugby Union - a position she's held for almost 30 years. When Murrayfield Stadium, today known as the Scottish home of rugby, opened in 1983, Princess Anne performed the ceremony, and she has returned to watch matches on a regular basis ever since.

The princess' passion for the sport stems, in part, from her son Peter's participation in the Scotland Under-18s Rugby Team. Now an adult, Peter Phillips has sustained a continued interest in sports and even worked in sports sponsorship and management throughout his career. He attended the 2012 Rugby League Cup Final as a guest of honor.

Family Tradition

Peter Phillips is not the only child of Princess Anne with ties to rugby; her sporty daughter Zara Phillips is married to former English rugby player Mike Tindall. As well as taking the coveted position of team captain and playing as part of the World Cup winning national team in 2003, Tindall was even awarded an MBE for his achievements.

Rugby has been a shared passion of the pair throughout their relationship - they even met in a bar while attending the Sydney Rugby World Cup in 2003, upon introduction by Prince Harry. During Tindall's time on the pitch, Phillips could often be seen cheering him on from the stands, and today they often attend matches together as well as related events. The pair joined other club alumni at a 2015 dinner held to celebrate the Six Nations.

Rugby Europe - Mike Tindall

The Six Nations

While the name (and to some extent, nature) of the Six Nations has changed over the years - starting as Home Nations Championship in 1883, transitioning to Five Nations in 1910 before finally becoming the Six Nations with the addition of Italy in 2000 - its place in the sporting calendar has not.

The event is perhaps second only to the World Cup in terms of highly anticipated events, and as such draws an impressive guest list to its events. Prince William and Prince Harry have often joined the crowds in cheering on their national team.

From its birth at Eton College to its standing in the sports world today, it seems rugby in Europe has always been a sport highly favored by Britain's elite. All that remains to be seen is which nation will be crowned king in the next Rugby World Cup in 2019.