Rugby 101 part 1

My next blog for the week is going to cover more of the basics and history of rugby. Im going to try and not make this simple and easy to understand and follow along. It will be longer due to all the different aspects and rules of rugby but I will try and stick to the absolute basics.

Lets start with the codes of rugby and the history. There are 2 codes of rugby, the rugby union and the rugby league. I am not going to get into the rugby league much because it is not as well known as the rugby union. Basically the rugby league is a faster and more physical version of the rugby union. There tends to be less rules and more toleration of moves and plays that are not allowed in the rugby union. They also number their positions different and there are less positions in total (13 positions per side). In the rugby union things are a little different than in the rugby league. Unlike in the rugby league there are 15 people on each side and the positions are numbered differently. They also have more rules and guidelines for safety in the game but are still very physical.

Now time for some brief history on rugby. There are many variations and myths on how rugby came to be. The most common being the myth that while attending school at Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire, William Webb Ellis “picked up the ball and ran with it” during a game of English school football (soccer). Although this story is very doubtful it quickly made the school famous for the game of rugby. The Rugby World Cup trophy is even named after Ellis. During the earlier period of development of the sport many schools used different rules and regulations until a significant event lead to the creation of the first written laws of the game at Rugby School in 1845. Originally rugby  was a sport made for guys. However, records show that women’s rugby football started around the late 19th century. The first documentation of a women’s team being from Emily Velentine’s writing stating that “she set up a rugby team in Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Ireland in 1887.” Since then rugby has been a sport for both men and women with NO variation of rules for both genders. Both men and women play the same way and follow all the same guideline. There are no limitations for women at all in Rugby.

KF2-2002  Here is the Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire (There is a rugby pitch shown in the foreground)

Now I am going to go into field set up, general rules/laws, equipment requirements and positions played in rugby. First I am going to describe the field set up. A rugby pitch (or field) is usually 144 meters (157 yards) long and 70 meters (77 yards) wide. So it is longer and wider than a soccer field and a football field (just in comparison). There should be a maximum of 100 meters (109 yards) between the two try lines with anywhere between 10 to 22 meters behind the try line to serve as the in goal area (it is different for national games). The goalposts are H shaped and consist of two poles  5.6 meters (6.1 yards) apart. They are connected by a horizontal crossbar 3 meters (3.3 yards) above the ground. All pitch dimensions are in the metric system.


Here is a basic diagram of how a rugby pitch is set up. 

The main point of rugby is to have two teams compete against each other to see who can score the most points. Points can be scored in a couple different ways. The most common is by scoring a “try” which is when you touch the ball to the group in the in-goal area. You cannot just simply run across the try line to score a try. You MUST touch the ball down to the ground with your hands (not just throwing it) so in all actuality is should be called a “touchdown”. A try is worth 5 points and after scoring a try you can contest for a conversion kick through the uprights (the goal posts) to score 2 more points.  You can also have a successful penalty kick or drop kick that goes through the uprights which is worth 3 points (the points system is different in the rugby league).


Here is a example of a “try”. The player is clearly about to place the ball on the ground within the try zone (the two yellow pads are the posts or “uprights”)


This is an example of a conversion kick for 2 more points. The player is kicking off a tee and trying to kick the ball through the uprights. 

Now I am going to briefly talk about the actual structure of the game itself. Sides and who kicks off is decided at the beginning of the game by a coin toss. The game then starts with a drop kick (the ball must hit the ground first before the kicker makes contact with it). The players then chase the ball into the oppositions territory and the other team tries to retrieve the ball and move forward. The game then can advance in many different ways including: scrums, rucks, mauls, penalty kicks, etc. (I will get into that later on the post). Games are divided into 40 minute halves with a 5-10 minute break in between halves. The teams then switch what sides they are playing on. Stoppage for injury or discipline do not count for play time so games can go over 80 minutes. The referee or “Sir” is responsible for keeping time. If the time runs out while the ball is “still in play” the game continues until the ball is “dead” or stopped moving. The Sir then will whistle half-time or end of the game.

The ball can only be passed laterally or backwards, no forward passes are allowed (throwing the ball ahead to a player). The ball can be moved forward in three different ways: kicking it, running with it or within a scrum or maul. Only the player with the ball can be tackled or rucked over and there is no “blocking” in rugby. When a ball is knocked forward by a player with their arms a “knock-on” is committed and the play must be restarted with a scrum. Any player can kick the ball forward in an attempt to gain “yardage”. There are five major types of kicks: drop kick (must touch the ground first), punt (must kick the ball before it hits the ground), conversion kick (use a tee or set on the ground to kick form a certain position on the field), pop kick (short kick to pop the ball up and over close opponents) and a grubber kick/ball (small kick that makes small bounces through opposition).


Example of a backwards pass to a teammate. Number 11 is clearly ahead of the other player by a couple steps and is passing behind him. The player in blue who is grabbing onto the white player WITHOUT the ball was most likely penalized for doing that. 


Here is an example of a drop kick. The ball touched the group first before being kicked by the player. The ball must be dropped from the players hands not just set on the group to kick (that is a conversion kick). 

Now I am going to talk about the breakdowns and set pieces of rugby. I am going to first talk about tackling. Why we can go without wearing so much padding is because we make sure all our tackles are low. It is a set rule/law in rugby that all tackles must be made below the belly button and with the intention of trying to ground the player with the ball. Anything above the belly button is considered a high tackle and can result in a major penalty to the player who did it or their team as a whole. In order to complete a tackle the tackler must place their head on the person who is being tackled’s hip and wrap your arms around the said person to complete the tackle. It is illegal to push, “shoulder-charge, dump tackle or trip a player using your feet or legs (hands may be used but it is not recommended).


Here are two good examples of a tackle in rugby. Low, “cheek to cheek” (head on their hip) and driving force from behind. 


Here are two bad examples of tackles. The first one is a high tackle (NEVER GO AROUND THE BALL CARRIER’S NECK!). The second one is what we call a dump tackle (the legs are above the head when being tackled). These are both very dangerous and very illegal. 

Two things can happen after a tackle or attempted tackle. The first is a “ruck” which happens when the ball carrier is tackled. After the tackle is completed the ball carrier MUST go to ground and place the ball on the ground towards their team. Once this happens two to three players from each team contest against each other (by binding onto each other) to secure the ball. Another thing that can happen is a “maul” which happens when a tackle is not completed and the ball carrier does not go down. The ball carrier has come into contact with an opponent but stayed on their feet. Two or three people from each team then bind themselves together to try and “rip” the ball out of the ball carriers arms. This can be dangerous and very energy consuming if not done right.


This is an example of a ruck.


This is an example of a maul. 

Some set pieces/plays that restart the game mainly consist of “lineouts” and “scrums”. Lineouts happen when the ball goes “out of bounce” or “field of play”. A lineout is awarded to the team that touched the ball last before it went out of play. A minimum of three players from each team then line up about a meter apart and 5 to 15 meters perpendicular to the sideline. The ball is then thrown down the center of the “tunnel” created by both teams and two players (lifters) from each team lift another player (jumpers) in the air to try and grab the ball to gain possession. A jumper can not be tackled until they are touching the ground (only shoulder to shoulder contact is allowed in this play).lineout

Here is what a lineout looks like after the ball has been thrown in.

A scrum on the other hand is the main way to restart the game after minor infringements (if the ball has been knocked forward or passed forward, if a player touches down the ball in their own try zone, if players are accidentally offsides, trapped in rucks/mauls or a team opts for a scrum if a warded a penalty). A scrum is formed by eight forwards binding together in three rows from each team. The front row consists of two props and a hooker. Second row consists of two locks and two flankers and the last row is the eight man (I will get into positions and what they each do and mean later). This formation is known as “the 3-4-1 formation”. Once a scrum is formed the two teams bind together to create a scrum. The scrum half then “feeds” the ball into the tunnel of the scrum to be contested by the two teams to gain control of the ball. The hookers try and hook the ball back to their teams as the rest of the formation pushes. The side that wins possession pushes the ball to the back of the scrum where it is picked up by the scrum half or eight man.Scrum

Here is an example of a scrum.

Now I am going to talk about the officials of rugby. There are three match officials: a sir (referee) and two touch judges (assistant referees). The touch judges stand on both sides of the field and indicate where the ball has gone out of play. They also can help the sir watch for foul play, check for off-side lines and help make close calls. Just like other referees, rugby sirs have a system of hand signals to indicate their calls. They control how the whole game is played out and must be respected at all times. The only person who can communicate with the sir is the field captain on both teams. If anyone else tries to talk to the sir they can be penalized. There is also no arguing calls or yelling at the sir, if this happens you can also be penalized. There are 3 to 4 main penalizations (if the action is not a minor infraction). Players can be warned once by having the sir tell the field captain of the warning, then with a yellow card (they only get this once) and then with a red card which means they need to either leave the field permanently or are temporarily suspended (“sin-binned”) for ten minutes. The team then must play down a player until the ten minutes are up or for the rest of the game depending on the penalty.

One of the last things I am going to talk about is the replacement and substitution laws and rules. During the game players can be replaced for injury or substitutions. However, a player who leaves the field for anything besides blood control (bloody nose, face, etc.) cannot come back on to the field once they leave, no matter what. Before someone goes off the field they get a minute to “take a knee” (1 minute) to decide if they want to go off or not (besides for blood). The game will continue to play on around them until the ball has stopped moving or is “dead”. The player then needs to decide if they want to leave the game for the rest of the game or continue on playing.

Overall, this is just the beginning of the basics of rugby. I feel that this post is long enough so I will be “splitting” this blog post into two parts so I can cover more on rugby without having my post too long (even though this post IS already really long). For now if any of you have questions on any of this, let me know and do not be afraid to comment on anything you do not understand. It is a lot to understand and take in and I am glad to clear up any confusion. Im trying to be as brief and to the point as possible and yet there is still a lot to cover in just the basics. It is much easier to try, play or watch rugby to understand what is going on but for now I will try and explain things as best as possible within my posts. Hopefully you have learned something new so far if not then Im failing as a experienced player of rugby and the president of the Women’s rugby club here haha.

Ruck on everyone!


Here are my sources if anyone wants to look into rugby more:

Even though they are wiki pages they are pretty spot on.


One comment

  1. courtneyschneider · February 28, 2015

    Wow! I’ve never participated in the sport or even watched a game for that matter, but it looks very interesting! You obviously know what you are talking about! Thanks for sharing- I’ll have to check out a game sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

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