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Apr 28

Why Is a Rugby Ball Not Round?

Think of a ball game and each one has something in common: football, golf, cricket, snooker – they’re all played with a round ball. Of course, rugby fans across the world are now shouting, “Not rugby! Their ball isn’t round!”

So why the exception? Why doesn’t rugby use a spherical ball?

The Oval Ball

Rugby was invented in 1823 at the now famous Rugby School when schoolboy William Webb Ellis picked up a football during a game and ran with it. It was not long after that that the oval ball started to take shape.

William Gilbert was a local cobbler, and he began making balls for the school. Gilbert’s original shop is now home to a museum. The brand that still bears his name today was born, and now Gilbert balls are exported worldwide and are widely regarded as the best balls for the game, although Summit balls are often used in the southern hemisphere.

Their shape differs slightly from Gilberts, so there has been some debate, particularly ahead of international tournaments, about how goal-kickers in particular will handle a ball different from the one they practise with. Big sports brands like Puma and Adidas also make rugby balls.

The first rugby balls were made from pigs’ bladders. They were rounder than they are today, though the shape evolved to suit a game that involves kicking and throwing. The Gilberts inflated their balls with clay pipes before encasing them in leather and then carefully stitching them together by hand.

Technological Advances

The next development of the rugby ball also happened in Rugby when in 1870 Richard Lindon invented a rubber bladder to replace the pig’s one and a hand pump to preserve lung power.

The stitching is basically the same today, but the leather has been replaced by materials designed to better withstand the weather and hold their shape. This only happened relatively recently, and even in the 1980s many games were still played with a leather ball.

Rugby balls nowadays take into account grip and accuracy of flight and often go through rigorous testing processes.

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