What Is Rugby Called In England? (Explained)

Rugby is mostly called “rugby” in England, but you will also hear it called by other names.

This is because there are other versions of oval ball sports that are popular in England. So, fans use nicknames to be clear when they are talking about one version governed by the Rugby Football Union (the RFU).

These nicknames include:

  • Union
  • Fifteens
  • Rugger
  • Egg Ball

Let’s run through these names and their backgrounds.

Why English Fans Call Rugby “Union”

In 19th century England, schools and sports clubs played a variety of football sports under the general name of Football.

From the 1870s, there was a general split of rules and codes into two organizations.

One organization was Association Football. English schoolboys played on the spelling of “Association” and gave the sport the nickname of soccer.

Soccer is more commonly known as plain old “football” in England.

The second organization was the Rugby Football Union. The English governing body still has this name, often shortened to the RFU.

In the 1880s, the term “rugby football” was often used to distinguish the oval ball sport from soccer.

How rugby came to be called “union”

The next split within rugby was on whether players could be paid or not.

Those who wanted the sport kept amateur stayed with the Rugby Football Union.

Those who wanted players to be paid created a separate code called Rugby League.

Rugby League is often shortened to “league”.

Rugby Football Union is often shortened to “union” nowadays to distinguish it from rugby league.

As the main writer on this website, I often use the term “union” or “rugby union” to be clear that I’m not talking about rugby league.

Calling Rugby “Fifteens” In England

Two different versions of rugby are regulated by World Rugby, the global governing body for Rugby Union.

One version is played with seven players on the pitch and is called Sevens, Sevens Rugby, or Rugby Sevens.

The second version is played with fifteen players on the pitch. This is the older version and is usually the one known simply as rugby.

However, there are many clubs and players who are involved in both types of sports. This is when you may hear rugby being called “fifteens”.

For example, a frazzled London mum will explain why she’s so busy at the weekend.  

My eldest is playing fifteens on Saturday, and my youngest is in the sevens tournament.

Is Rugby Called “Rugger” In England?

In the late nineteenth century, the two main football sports played in schools and clubs were known as association football and rugby football.

English schoolboys shortened “association football” to soccer. Similarly, they shortened “rugby football” to “rugger”.

If you traveled back in time, it wouldn’t be uncommon to be hear something like this:

I say, old chap, that was a smashing game of rugger, what, what?

I’m joking a little but that’s the point. Nowadays, the term is very much associated in England with a somewhat elitist or upper-class background.

“Rugger” is more likely to be said by people who don’t like rugby or who 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.

English rugby fans dislike the term

If you want to have some fun by annoying English rugby fans, loudly exclaim that it’s great to meet some real ruggers.

Don’t believe me? I searched for the term on one of the most popular social media forums. 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 reasonably restrained. But I inserted the word “heck” for what was originally in the title. The guy seemed genuinely triggered.

The people complaining are English. There are some bemused comments by American and Australian forum users who aren’t sure what the problem is.

Personally, I say that fans and players should use whatever term they like for the sport that they love.

Egg Ball In England

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 the title 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 Footy?

My friend asked me on Friday if I wanted to watch the footy after work.

No, he wasn’t referring to a rugby match. He was talking about a game of soccer.

The word “football” is restricted almost exclusively to soccer in England. This is why the contract “footy” is also almost exclusive to the round-ball game.

What Is Rugby Called Elsewhere?

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