Rugby is mostly called “rugby” in Australia, but you will also hear it called by other names.
This is because Australians have several popular sports where players use their feet and hands to control a ball. So, they use nicknames to be clear when they’re talking about the sport governed by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU).
- Rugby Football
- Footy or footie
- Egg Ball
Let’s run through these names and their backgrounds.
Do Australians Call Rugby “Rugger”?
I like to keep up with the Australian Super Rugby news by browsing a popular forum for Australian rugby fans.
When I ran a search for the word “rugger” on the forum, there are hundreds of results. This term is definitely used by fans.
But what’s the context? It’s used in two ways: for the sport and for the players.
Australians usually use “rugger” to mean rugby
Rugger is often used in Australia to refer to the entire sport.
Here is what a Queensland Reds fan had to say about the news that their injured winger was hoping to get over his hamstring issues and continue playing.
With a bit of luck, the hammies will allow him to love rugger again.GreenAndGold forum member
Remember how we were all feeling down because the pandemic had canceled sports across the world?
This guy summed up how we all felt when rugby returned.
Gee, it’s good to be back watching rugger.
And this guy was delighted with a weekend rugby tournament:
It was heaven with two days of quality rugger with decent crowds and comradeship.
Using “rugger” for rugby players is less common
Australians may also use rugger to refer to rugby players.
However, this is far less common than using it for the sport. This is in contrast to American fans who are more likely to be referring to the players themselves.
You can find out more in our article on what rugby is called in America.
When did Australians start calling rugby “rugger”?
In late 19th century England, the two main football sports were known as association football and rugby football.
English schoolboys shortened “association football” to soccer. Similarly, the shortened “rugby football” to “rugger”.
The game and the name were brought to Australia by English settlers in the 1880s and 1890s.
Why do some folk whine about people saying “rugger”?
One of the most popular social media forums (Reddit) has plenty of posters complaining about the word.
Here are a couple of thread titles:
- Can we lose the term “rugger”?
- Is rugger an exclusively American word? Because it annoys the heck out of me.
The second title may seem somewhat polite, but I inserted the word “heck” for what was originally there.
The complainers are usually Poms! But to be fair, their distaste has more to do with how the term is used around them.
In England, the term is more likely to be used by people who don’t like rugby or associate it with upper-class snobbery. It’s often meant to be pejorative.
I’m Irish and it’s used in Ireland in this pejorative way too.
But I say that fans and players should use whatever term they like for the sport that they love.
Who cares if people on the other side of the world don’t like the term? That’s their problem, not yours!
Calling Rugby “Rugby Football”
As the sport grew in Australia in the late 19th century, various organizing bodies were set up to regulate the clubs and competitions.
In New South Wales, the Southern Rugby Football Union was established in 1874. Seventy-five years later, the Australian Rugby Football Union was established in 1949.
You can see why the sport would be referred to as Rugby Football.
The Great Split: How “Union” Became A Term For Rugby In Australia
In the early 1900s, there was growing acrimony between different rugby organizations throughout Australia. This was all part of the political upheavals at the time.
The sport split into two in 1908: rugby league and rugby union.
Since then, “rugby league” is often simply called “league”. Similarly, “rugby union” is simply called “union”.
The main schism was on whether players should be paid or not. Union officially kept its amateur status until the 1990s.
Of course, the split allowed other changes to emerge. The sports now have a very different set of rules and ways to play the game with an oval ball.
Saying “Fifteens” For Rugby
Two popular versions of Rugby Union are played in Australia. One version is played with fifteen players on the pitch. The other version is played with seven.
Fans often use “Sevens” to refer to the seven-player sport. That leaves us with “Fifteens” for the larger squads.
The term “fifteens” will be commonly heard in rugby clubs that play both sports.
Like a frazzled Queensland mum telling her friends: “my eldest is playing fifteens on Saturday, and my youngest is in the sevens tournament on the same day”.
What About Footy (Or Footie)?
I hesitated to put this on the list because footy can refer to any of the footballing sports.
That includes Aussie Rules football and soccer, as well as rugby union and rugby league.
But if you find yourself amongst fans of a rugby football club and they ask if you’re coming to the footy match at the weekend, you can assume that they’re talking about rugby union.
Egg Ball In Australia
Egg ball is a way of referring to the shape of a rugby ball. It’s also used jokingly to refer to both rugby union and rugby league.
The players are also referred to as egg chasers.
The picture above is an example from an article on the launch of a rugby game for the Xbox back a few years ago.
Clearly, the gaming journalist assumes that rugby fans will know what he’s talking about!
What About Elsewhere?
Curious about what rugby is called in other parts of the world? Check out these articles: