Origins of the Rugby Ball

blog5-08Richard Lindon and William Gilbert, in the mid-1800’s, handmade balls which they took to Rugby school. These balls were made of leather and consisted out of four panels of leather stitched together, and containing pig’s bladders. These English shoemakers owned a boot and shoe manufacturing shop within close distance to the school. This is really significant to rugby as boys at the school used their balls to play a different ball game which evolved into rugby. So the very first ball used in rugby was not made specifically for rugby at all, but for another game. Over time however due to rugby’s much more popular appeal than the game out of which it evolved (quad ball), the balls itself of Lindon and Gilbert became known to us as Rugby balls.

By 1850 Lindon and Gilbert became the de-facto suppliers of ‘Rugby’ balls for the school of Rugby. From accounts of records that have been preserved, the shape the balls that were used to play Rugby were oval, which was different from the more rounded shape of many other balls at the time. These early rugby balls were also different in size as pigs bladders varied and they had not standardised their shape yet. These balls were inflated by respiration rather than pumping devices. They would insert a stem of clay into the opening of the bladder and blow it up.

A standardisation of the ball was a formal written rule by 1892. Take note of the size differences between the 1892 ball size requirements and the 2004 IRB Law 2 requirements:

1982

The length of the ball was 11 – 11 ¼ inches long, the circumference from end to end was 30 to 31 inches and the weight was a heavy 12 to 13 ounces. The balls had to have no less than 8 stitches to the inch.

2004

The balls length be 11 inches to 11.8 inches, an end to end circumference of 29.1 inches to 30.3 inches, with a weight of 14.5 ounces to 16.22 ounces.