Calum Henderson reviews The Story of Rugby right on time for the Rugby World Cup.
Like all patriotic New Zealanders, the story of rugby is part of my DNA. I literally bleed rugby union. Put a drop of my blood under a microscope and zoom in enough, you'll see it's actually hundreds of tiny rugby balls.
The story of rugby? Well, William Webb Ellis picked up the soccer ball and ran with it, didn't he? From there, it's easy: Pine Tree, Buck, Jonah, Richie, Dan. The old Log o' Wood. Suzie the Waitress.
So is there really anything new a six-hour documentary called The Story of Rugby can teach me? As it turns out, yes. Actually quite a lot.
For a start, everything we thought we knew about Webb Ellis and the invention of rugby is a myth. Most of the legends of the game they've asked about it at the start of the series acknowledge this: "I believe it, in the same way you believe in Santa Claus," says former US women's captain Phaidra Knight.
Our former players seem the most shocked by this revelation. "True, without question," answers Fitzy. His confident tone is betrayed by his eyes, which look like they're filling with tears. "I mean, he picked up the ball, didn't he?" argues Murray Mexted in a state of flat-out denial. "Obviously it all started there."
The series, produced in New Zealand with a decidedly global outlook, never really explains where the Webb Ellis myth came from, just that it's not true. The real origins of rugby, it argues, date back to medieval times, when all across Europe whole villages would inflate a pigskin and use it as an excuse to beat the crap out of each other every Shrove Tuesday.
Mob football, as the various forms are collectively known, had "very few rules apart from no murdering and no manslaughtering", explains fun historian Miranda Carter. If Radio Sport had been around in the 1200s, you just know people would have been calling up talkback to complain about how it's PC Gone Mad that you can't do manslaughters in mob football any more.
By the time Webb Ellis was at school in 1823, all the posh English schools had their own versions of mob football, the rules refined over the years by generations of schoolboys. The first ever book of rugby rules was published by a trio of Rugby School students in 1845 and contains zero mention of old mate William.
With authoritative narration from Craig "Guy Warner" Parker and input from a slew of interesting historians and notable former players, the first episode traces the sport from medieval times through to the Industrial Revolution and Tom Brown's School Days (slammed by Carter as "actually really boring and preachy") to the cusp of the 20th century.
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The rest of the series brings us into the modern day, exploring the game's global and social reach. if you need something to get you frothing about the prospect of watching Japan take on Russia on Friday night, The Story of Rugby should do it.