Rugby union and Wales' national team hold an important place in Welsh culture and society. Sport historian John Bale has stated that "rugby is characteristically Welsh", and David Andrew said that "To the popular consciousness, rugby is as Welsh as coal mining, male voice choirs, "How Green Was My Valley,' Dylan Thomas, and Tom Jones".
Rugby union took root in Wales in 1850, when Reverend Rowland Williams became Vice-Principal at St David's College, Lampeter, where he introduced the sport. The first Welsh club, Neath was formed in 1871. On 19 February 1881, Wales played their first international, organised by Newport's Richard Mullock, in a game against England; England won by seven goals, one drop goal and six tries to nil.
On 12 March 1881, the Welsh Rugby Union was formed at The Castle Hotel, Neath. Two years later, the Home Nation Championship was first played and Wales did not register a win.
However, rugby union in Wales quickly developed and, by the 1890s, the Welsh had developed the four three-quarters formation. This formation – with seven backs and eight forwards, instead of six backs and nine forwards – revolutionised the sport and was eventually adopted almost universally at international and club level. With the "four three-quarter" formation Wales became Home International Champions for the first time in 1893; in the process winning the Triple Crown. Wales next won the Championship in 1900, heralding the first 'golden age' of Welsh rugby which was to last until 1911. They won two more Triple Crowns in 1902 and 1905, and were runners up in 1901, 1903 and 1904.
A line-out in the Wales victory over New Zealand's Original All Blacks in 1905. In late 1905 Wales faced New Zealand's All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park. New Zealand, later known as the Original All Blacks, were undefeated on their tour of the British Isles, already defeating England, Ireland and Scotland in three Tests before facing Wales. Before the match, the All Blacks' performed the haka; the 47,000-strong crowd responded with the Welsh national anthem – Hen Wlad fy Nhadau ("Land of Our Fathers") – the first time a national anthem had been sung before a sporting fixture.
Until the beginning of the 2003–04 season, Welsh rugby was organised in a typical league pyramid, at the top of which were 9 professional clubs. The system was similar to the English Guinness Premiership and French Top 14 club systems. However, by the 2002–03 season it was clear for financial reasons that Wales could not support nine professional teams. In a process instigated by the then CEO of the Welsh Rugby Union, David Moffett, the nine clubs began the process of organising themselves into regional teams - Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons, Llanelli Scarlets and The Ospreys.
The four regions compete in The RaboDirect Pro 12, against opposition from Ireland, Scotland and Italy.
The Heineken Cup
As well as The RaboDirect Pro 12, the regions also compete in The Heineken Cup.
The Heineken Cup (known as the H Cup in France due to restrictions on alcohol sponsorship) is one of two annual rugby union competitions organised by European Rugby Cup involving leading club, regional and provincial teams from the six countries in Europe whose national teams compete in the Six Nations Championship: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. Teams that do not qualify for the Heineken Cup enter the second tier competition, the European Challenge Cup.
The 6 Nations
The RBS Six Nations Championship is an annual international rugby union competition involving six European sides: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
The Six Nations Championship is the successor to the Five Nations and the Home Nations Championship, which was the first international rugby union tournament in the Northern Hemisphere. The event is currently sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
On 17 March 2012, Wales completed their third Six Nations Grand Slam in eight years, with a 16-9 victory over France at the Millennium Stadium (now known as the Principality Stadium) in the 2012 Six Nations Championship. The win followed a run of four wins including a 19-12 triumph at Twickenham. The victory over France was seen, by many, as the ultimate revenge for their narrow world cup semi-final defeat.
The Rugby World Cup
Wales won the right to host the World Cup in 1999. The centrepiece venue for the tournament was the Millennium Stadium (now known as the Principality Stadium), built on the site of the old National Stadium at Cardiff Arms Park at a cost of £126 million from Lottery money and private investment.
The tournament began with the opening ceremony in the newly-built, formerly named Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, with Wales beating Argentina 23–18, and Colin Charvis scoring the first try of the tournament. Australia won the tournament, becoming the first nation to do so twice and also to date the only team ever to win after having to qualify for the tournment, with a 35–12 triumph over France, who were unable to repeat their semi-final victory over pre-tournament favourites New Zealand.
The overall attendance for the tournament was 1.75 million.
Wales have contested every Rugby World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987. The 1987 tournament was Wales' most successful; they won all three pool matches and their quarter-final, before losing to the All Blacks in the semi-finals. They then faced Australia in the third place play-off match, which they won 22–21. In the next two tournaments in 1991 and 1995, Wales failed to progress beyond the pool stage, winning just one match in each tournament. Both the 1999 and 2003 tournaments were more successful, with Wales qualifying for the quarter-finals both times. Wales hosted the event in 1999 and topped their pool only to lose to eventual winners Australia in the quarter-finals. In 2003, they finished second in their pool to the All Blacks and faced England in the quarter-finals, where they lost to the eventual champions, despite scoring more tries than their opponents. In the 2007 World Cup, Wales again failed to progress from the pool stage. After a loss to Australia, and two wins against Japan and Canada, they lost by four points to Fiji, despite scoring more tries than their opponents. In the 2011 World Cup, Wales reached the the semi-finals for the first time since 1987. Playing the semi-finals against France, Wales lost 9-8, in a game conditioned by the controversial red card given to Wales' captain Sam Warburton after a dangerous tacke against Vincent Clerc, after just 18 minutes of play.