- Ask Steven Rugby
The birth of French rugbyJohn GriffithsMay 26, 2014
How were the French introduced to rugby and when did it become established in the south of the country? David Willis, England
The game was imported to Le Havre by British wine traders in the early 1870s, while Parisian students returning from English schools and young Brits working in Paris began playing rugby informally in the Bois de Boulogne in the 1880s.
The Baron Pierre de Coubertin, better known as the founder of the modern Olympics, was a strong advocate for the game and actively promoted it in French schools during the 1890s. But it was the start of the French Championship in 1892 - effectively a contest among the leading Paris clubs at first - that accelerated interest in the game.
By 1896 rugby's popularity had spread to the south of the country. Bordeaux and Toulouse met that year in a match that attracted considerable support, and in 1899 Stade Bordelais became French champions - the first provincial club to claim the title.
John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.