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Few sports are capable of matching the fan experience than rugby. Action packed on the pitch, great atmosphere in the stands and an all-round friendly vibe.

This goes for both codes of the game - Rugby Union and Rugby League. Although similar, these are technically different sports, filled with their own rich traditions and histories. 

But what is it that makes rugby such an engaging sport overall? It comes down to the match-day atmosphere and the strong community spirit that brings fans together. Both must be experienced to be fully understood! 

Fans often enjoy socialising together before and after games - even if they support opposing teams. Even in the stadiums, there’s often no segregation between supporters who can mingle together. This unique and positive aspect of rugby has become the envy of many other team sports.

Here at Zenseats we cover all the best and most exciting rugby games around, whether your preference is union or league. Our tickets aim to help fans avoid the last-minute scrum of trying to gain entry to the biggest events and competitions on the day. We have plenty of options available to suit every budget and preference, ranging from individual and group tickets, to amazing hospitality packages. 

Now, let’s take a closer look at the history and origins of both rugby codes, along with highlighting some of the most popular competitions we cover with tickets at Zenseats. 

The Origins of Rugby Union

Unknown to many, the history of rugby has close origins with football. This is why you might see the name ‘rugby football’ being used. A variation of both sports was played at public schools in the early 19th century where some early rugby rules were published in 1845. But it was the founding of the Football Association (FA) in 1863 that led to the split of one sport into two. Some sports teams went to the football path with the FA, whereas others stuck to their own rugby football rules. This eventually resulted in the formation of a new organisation in 1871, the Rugby Football Union (RFU). 

The first official rugby international was also played in 1871, with Scotland beating England in Edinburgh. Then in 1881, both Wales and Ireland had established national teams, paving the way for the first international tournament in 1883 with the inaugural Home Nations Championship. This would later become the Six Nations Championship loved and enjoyed by millions of sports fans today. 

By 1888, the international game was beginning to flourish. This was thanks to two key tours taking place across both hemispheres. The first saw a combined British Isles team head south to Australia and New Zealand. This laid the foundations for what would become the highly anticipated British and Irish Lions tours. Over the course of 1888 and 1889, a New Zealand Native team, formed mostly by players of Māori ancestry, toured Britain and Ireland. The truly international game of rugby was here. 

The Formation of Rugby League

As the popularity of rugby continued to grow throughout Britain, there was a split between the north and south of England. This led to what became known as a schism in the game. 

Under leadership of the RFU, the sport remained an amateur game. Whilst that wasn’t a problem in the wealthier south, players representing most of the northern teams were from the working classes who had to work over the weekend when games were played. To avoid losing income, northern teams began paying players for their time. To cover the cost of paying players, most of these northern clubs would also charge entrance fees to spectators at their grounds.

When the RFU decided to ban payments to players and entry fees to grounds, 22 northern teams revolted in protest, forming the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU) in Huddersfield in 1895. As the RFU continued with the same rules, the NRFU began to go down a different path to create a faster and more entertaining game. 

By 1896 the famous Challenge Cup was formed, quickly followed by the introduction of professionalism in 1898. We’d also see various rule changes over the next several years. The new code of rugby was embraced by Australia and New Zealand in 1908, as they and Great Britain formed international teams. Eventually, the NRFU was renamed as the Rugby Football League in 1922. 

Two Great Codes of Rugby Entertainment

Ever since the great schism in rugby, fans have been left with two fantastic codes of rugby to follow. Let’s take a look at the competitions involved in rugby union and rugby league. 

Rugby Union competitions

Despite its popularity, rugby union remained an amateur game until 1995 when World Rugby announced the game would turn professional. Since then, the sport hasn’t looked back and we’ve seen various leagues and tournaments form around the globe. 

Internationally, these include the Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere, featuring Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have the Six Nations Championship, featuring England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy. 

We also have the Rugby World Cup, which first took place in 1987. It now occurs every four years between the world’s best international teams. It’s been won by New Zealand and South Africa three times, Australia twice and England just once in 2003. 

Finally on the international side, we have the unmissable British and Irish Lions tour. This amazing spectacle of rugby is still going strong well over 100 years after it started.

With domestic club competitions, the main leagues are the English Premiership, Top 14 in France and the United Rugby Championship involving professional teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and South Africa. There’s also the European Rugby Champions Cup, also known as the Heineken Cup, which is where the best of the best play it out to be named Europe’s top club. 

Rugby League competitions 

In rugby league, the Challenge Cup remains the code’s oldest competition. This knock-out competition has been held every year, with the exception of some war years, since 1896. The Challenge Cup final is broadcast around the world and the game is always accompanied beforehand by the singing of ‘Abide With Me’, which has become a rugby league anthem. Wigan have won the competition the most times. 

The Super League is the weekly competition involving the top sides in Britain and Europe. This competition ends with the Grand Final played at Old Trafford, Manchester, to decide title winners. St Helens are the most successful team of the Super League era. 

In Australia, the National Rugby League (NRL) is the pinnacle of rugby league. It features its own Grand Final with the winners then competing in a one-off World Club Challenge against the winners of the Super League to decide the best team in the world. 

Regardless of which rugby code you prefer, there are plenty of opportunities to grab tickets for the best rugby matches and competitions. Here, Zenseats will always help fans discover the best rugby ticket options out there.  

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