Rugby Football Was Invented in Wales; and Guess Who Says So - a Welshman!

Coventry Evening Telegraph (England), June 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

Rugby Football Was Invented in Wales; and Guess Who Says So - a Welshman!


Byline: By JAMES McCARTHY james.mccarthy@mrn.co.uk

A WELSHMAN is trying to put a drop kick through one of Coventry and Warwickshire's biggest claims to fame.

A historian claims he has proof that Rugby was first played in Wales - and had nothing to do with William Webb Ellis or the town that gave the game its name.

Just weeks after the Welsh victory in the Six Nations, Dr Russell Rhys, aged 80, from near Newport in South Wales, is trying to rewrite the history books.

The ex-GP, from Caerleon, believes he has found a 2ft by 2ft medieval sandstone sculpture that shows a ball about to be drop-kicked.

Dr Rhys said: "Anyone who has played rugby knows this position, going for a try with hands fully stretched out or going for a drop kick.

"In many ecclesiastical buildings the stained glass and statuary show normal activities as well as extraordinary things.

"I believe this statue shows a progenitor of the Welsh game of cnapan, played between villages with a bladder kicked or thrown.

"The story of Rugby School is so utterly inapposite. Utterly bogus.

"Public school boys are pedestrian and would never do anything out of place. The idea they would do such an 'ungentlemanly' act as picking up the ball is impossible to believe."

Dr Rhys made his discovery while sifting through debris near Llantarnam Abbey, near Newport, 30 years ago.

It languished unseen for years, until he founded the Ffwrwm sculpture park in Caerleon, with a sign boasting 'Rugby was played here in the 12th century'.

But Rugby School spokesman Jonathan Smith was still adamant the game was created at the historic faculty.

He said: "William Webb Ellis's act transformed the game, eventually, because it introduced running with the ball in hand.

"Prior to William Webb Ellis, when the ball was caught the player had to stop, as did the opposition, and could then take a kick towards the opposition's goal.

"The Romans and some medieval villages had a handling game. Of the numerous variations on the Roman game, only Rugby School created the relatively stable codified game, which eventually spread throughout the world. …

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