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Fun Fact 02: The Iconic Oval: Unraveling the History of the Gilbert Rugby Ball

Rugby, a sport that has evolved from soccer, is one of the most popular and thrilling games played across the globe. Originating in the early 19th century, rugby has a rich history filled with fascinating stories and tidbits. One such intriguing fun fact revolves around the iconic Gilbert rugby ball, which has become synonymous with the sport itself.

The Birth of the Gilbert Rugby Ball

The story of the Gilbert rugby ball begins in the small English town of Rugby, where the game was invented. In the early 1820s, a local bootmaker named William Gilbert started producing handmade leather balls for the Rugby School. As the sport gained popularity, the demand for rugby balls increased, leading to the establishment of the Gilbert family business in 1823.

The iconic shape of the Gilbert rugby ball was not always the same as it is today. The original rugby balls were rounder and more like a pig's bladder. The shape of the ball began to change due to the nature of the materials used in its construction. In the early days, pig's bladders were used to make the inner casing of the ball, which was then encased in a stitched leather cover. The shape of the bladder determined the ball's shape, which is why early rugby balls were rounder.

The Evolution of the Rugby Ball

Throughout the 19th century, the rugby ball underwent several transformations. One significant change was the introduction of rubber bladders. In 1862, Richard Lindon, another Rugby-based ball maker, began using rubber bladders instead of pig's bladders. This new material allowed for better control over the shape and size of the ball. The balls became more consistent in size and started to take on the distinct oval shape that we know today.

The leather covers also underwent changes. The traditional dark brown color was replaced with white for better visibility during matches. As synthetic materials became more widely available in the 20th century, the rugby ball's leather cover was replaced by synthetic materials that were more durable, water-resistant, and easier to grip.

The Gilbert Rugby Ball in Modern Rugby

Today, the Gilbert rugby ball is the official ball of the Rugby World Cup and is used by many professional rugby teams and leagues worldwide. The modern Gilbert rugby ball is made of high-quality materials designed to provide excellent grip, durability, and performance.

The ball's distinct shape, which is still slightly pointed at each end, allows for more accurate passing, kicking, and handling. The unique grip pattern on the ball's surface ensures that players can maintain control even in wet or muddy conditions. In addition, advancements in manufacturing technology have led to increased consistency in ball size, shape, and performance.


The Gilbert rugby ball is a testament to the rich history and evolution of the sport of rugby. Its distinctive shape, which has been refined and perfected over almost two centuries, is an iconic symbol of the game. The ball's development, from its humble beginnings as a pig's bladder to the high-performance, synthetic ball used in the Rugby World Cup, is a fascinating story that offers a glimpse into the sport's past and highlights the dedication of those who have contributed to its growth.


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