Why are rugby balls egg-shaped?

So, ever wondered why rugby balls are egg-shaped - unlike those used in other sports?

Oval balls were first used not long after the first game of rugby was played. That was way back in 1823 when Rugby School pupil William Webb Ellis famously picked up the ball during a football match and ran through the defence with it, so inventing the game of “rugby football”.

This new game required a new kind of ball. Fortunately the shoemaker of Rugby, William Gilbert, had a shop right next to the school, and started to supply them with balls made out of stitched leather casing and an inflated pig’s bladder! The bladders were green and smelly and had to be blown up with breath power alone, so this was not a pleasant job! When inflated, the bladders became plum-shaped, and the leather casing was made to fit. They were much larger and rounder than the balls you see today, but this is where the oval shape comes from.

When William died, his nephew James Gilbert took over making the balls as the new game started to become really popular. He was famous for the power in his lungs, and his ability to blow up the largest and tightest match balls made their company very famous. Even now, Gilbert rugby balls are exported to all of the world's major rugby playing countries and tournaments.

Eventually, in 1870, another Rugby-based businessman called Richard Lindon invented an inflatable rubber bladder, and a brass hand-pump to inflate them. Everyone in the town must have been very relieved!

Over the years, the shape has changed slightly to become more streamlined to this running and passing game, and the modern rugby ball is made of hi-tech materials such as polyurethane, synthetic leather, laminated polyester, latex and glue - designed to keep its shape, give better grip and withstand the elements.

Reasons why egg-shaped is better for rugby:

  • It’s easier to hold
  • It’s easier to pass
  • It fits under the arm, so it’s easier to run with
  • It doesn’t roll so far, so it stays in play longer