In England, rugby union is widely regarded as an “establishment” sport, played mostly by members of the upper and middle classes. For example, many pupils at public schools and grammar schools play rugby union, although the game (which had a long history of being played at state schools until the 1980s) is becoming increasingly popular in comprehensive schools. Despite this stereotype, the game, particularly in the West Country is popular amongst all classes. Gloucester RFC is a prime example of a blue-collar club. In contrast, rugby league has traditionally been seen as a working class pursuit. An exception to this stereotype is evident in the neighboring country of Wales. In Wales, rugby is associated with small village teams which consisted of coal miners and other industrial workers playing on their days off. In Ireland, rugby union is a unifying force across the national and sectarian divide, with the Ireland international team representing both political entities.
In Australia support for both codes is concentrated in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. The same perceived class barrier as exists between the two games in England also occurs in these states, fostered by rugby union’s prominence and support at schools.
Exceptions to the above include New Zealand (although league is still considered to be a lower class game by many, or a game for ‘westies’ referring to lower class western suburbs of Auckland and more recently the poorer southern Auckland where the game is popular), Wales, France except Paris, Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Somerset, the Borders region of Scotland, County Limerick in Ireland (see Munster), and the Pacific Islands, where rugby union is popular in working class communities. Nevertheless, rugby league is perceived as the game of the working-class people in northern England, and in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland.
In the United Kingdom, rugby union fans sometimes used the term “rugger” as an alternative name for the sport, (see Oxford ‘-er’), although this archaic expression has not had currency since the 1950s or earlier. New Zealanders refer to rugby union simply as either “rugby” or “union” and to rugby league as “rugby league” or “league”. In the U.S., people who play rugby are sometimes called “ruggers”, a term little used elsewhere except facetiously.
Those considered to be heavily involved with the rugby union lifestyle—including heavy drinking and striped jumpers—sometimes identify as “rugger buggers”.
In France, rugby is widely played and has a strong tradition in the Basque, Occitan, and Catalan people areas along the border regions between Spain and France. The game is very popular in South Africa, having been introduced by English-speaking settlers in the 19th century. British colonists also brought the game with them to Australia and New Zealand, where the game is widely played. It has spread thence to much of Polynesia, having particularly strong followings in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga.