It’s all very straight forward nowadays: score a try (five points) convert the try to a goal (two points), drop a goal or kick a penalty (three points). All very simple. The current points scoring system makes it easy to compare match results going back many years. But it was not always so.
In the early days games were settled by kicking goals, the best out of three. There were no points values associated with scoring. A team was allowed to try to kick a goal if it touched the ball down in the area behind the opposing team’s goal, which is why it was called a “try”.
The first rules (they were called that then) were drawn up over three days in the summer of 1845 by three senior boys of Rugby School — one of them the seventeen year old son of the headmaster, Dr Arnold — after they had been asked to codify the game.
Then in January 1871 the Rugby Football Union was founded in the Pall Mall restaurant in Regent Street London (restaurants and pubs feature frequently in rugby club formations!) to bring some sort of order, and to standardise the many variations of rules in the game. For example, clubs in Scotland played twenty-a-side, as well as removing some of the more violent aspects of the Rugby School game.
A committee was formed by three ex-Rugby School pupils, who by this time were all lawyers, and was charged with formulating a set of rules. Being lawyers they formulated “laws” not “rules”. This task was completed and approved by June 1871. However, the laws still insisted that: “A match shall be decided by a majority of goals only“.
A “try” was just that, an attempt
Tries were of no consequence whatever. Only in 1875 was the law modified to state that: “A match shall be decided by a majority of goals, but if the number of goals is equal or no goals be kicked, by a majority of tries”.
The following year Cheltenham College adopted the RFU rules but still continued to use their own points based scoring system. They referred to points as “rouges”. Various other clubs assigned their own scoring systems. The practice of touching down the ball beyond goal line was awarded a “point” by some, referred to as the “minor point” or “rouge” by others. Although Cheltenham’s scoring system referred to points in general as “rouges”. Confusing, wasn’t it?
Eventually ten years later a pattern favoured at Cheltenham School was adopted by the RFU (although not their “rouge” scoring name) whereby points were scored for a try, a conversion goal and a dropped goal. This scheme was accepted by the RFU in 1886.
The points system was now universally established. During the following years modifications were made adjusting points values for various events, and by 1905 the scoring system was more or less as we know it today.
Image: “Thomas Cook’s Rugby Club“, by John Dann.