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150 years of rugby at Oxford

A concise guide to the history of rugby and Oxford University

Oxford rugby dates back to the sports infancy. As many will know, the Oxford University RFC is one of the most renowned amateur clubs in the world. It was founded in November 1869, over a year before the start of the Rugby Football Union’s creation, the governing body for rugby in England. This highlights the tradition of the sport at Oxford, demonstrating the key role that the university has had in its popularity. 

OURFC has witnessed the various changes that have been made to the game in the last 125 years. William Web Ellis, a student at Brasenose College in 1825, is thought to be the inventor of the sport. This view comes down to his disregard for the rules of football as a student at Rugby school in 1823. According to legend, he lifted the football up and ran with it, thereby constituting the characteristic movement of the sport. This is why the international committee named the rugby world cup the “William Webb Ellis Trophy”. The notoriety of the sport travelled quickly from Rugby to Oxford and Cambridge. The first university match was played in 1872. From there, graduates took the sport to other British schools which eventually allowed it to grow to an international level. 

Since 1869, there have been over 300 Oxford rugby players who have gained representative international honours. Among them are many famous players coming from the university: Phil de Glanville (former English rugby union player), Joe Roff (Australian rugby union footballer), Anton Oliver (former New Zealand rugby union player), Simon Halliday (former English rugby union international), Gareth Baber (former Welsh Rugby footballer), David Kirk (former New Zealand rugby union player; won the Rugby World Cup) and Rob Egerton (Australian international rugby union player; he won 9 caps for the Wallabies in the space of 13 weeks) to name a few. These examples testify to the tradition and power of rugby at Oxford. 

It would be wrong to neglect mentioning the genesis of women’s rugby at Oxford, which began in 1988. Since then, annual matches have been held against Cambridge University WRUFC. The 20 Varsity victories in comparison to the 13 from the opposition speak to the strength and capacity of the women’s team. In 2015, the OUWRFC joined up with the OURFC to become the ‘Oxford University Rugby Club’. Sue Day (former England captain; has won 59 England caps) and Heather Lawrence (founder of women’s rugby at Oxford) are just two examples of notable players coming from the women’s side.

To sum up, Oxford University is a breeding ground for Rugby talent. 150 years not only marks a triumph for the university, but also for the sport, attesting to the interconnected relationship that they share. Here’s to many more years of rugby at Oxford, with the hope that sporting legends will continue to be fostered in the place where the sport truly took off. 

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