Rugby is a game of passion that’s full of action, excitement, and beauty, as well as unpredictable moments and dramatic resolutions on the field, but making sense of it can be intimidating for the first time viewer or player
Tackling the laws of rugby
Rugby is governed by laws, not rules. The laws of the game are designed to produce an entertaining and free-flowing contest for possession in an attempt to score the most points.
The laws of rugby are constantly evolving and are the same all over the world, wherever the game is played. In general, the laws governing play are straightforward about what’s allowed, but three crucial parts can be somewhat confusing: the tackle situation, advantage, and offsides:
- In a nutshell, when a tackle is made in rugby the requirements are that the tackler releases the tackled player, who then releases the ball so that players who are on their feet can use it.
- Advantage simply means that when one team makes an error, the other team can try to capitalize on it instead of the referee immediately stopping the action. If the players can’t capitalize on the error, play restarts where the original mistake took place.
- Specific offsides laws exist for different phases of play, but essentially players can’t be involved if they’re in front of a teammate who last played the ball or are behind the ball when the opposition has it.
Key rugby terms
For the first time rugby player or viewer, the sport can appear to be a chaotic collection of indecipherable movements and haphazard collisions.
In reality, rugby is highly technical and organized with specific laws governing all aspects of play. To get you on the right track early, here are the four most important parts of rugby to familiarize yourself with before watching a match.
- Lineout: Looks somewhat like a jump-ball in basketball, with both teams lining up opposite each other, but one team then throws the ball down the middle of the tunnel. Lineouts restart play after the ball, or a player carrying it, has gone out of bounds.
- Maul: Occurs when a player carrying the ball is held by one or more opponents, and one or more of the ball-carrier’s teammates bind on the ball-carrier. All the players involved are on their feet and moving toward a goal line. Open play has ended.
- Ruck: One or more players from each team, who are on their feet and in contact, close around the ball on the ground. Once a ruck has been formed, players can’t use their hands to get the ball, only their feet.
- Scrum: A contest for the ball involving eight players who bind together and push against the other team’s assembled eight for possession of the ball. Scrums restart play after certain minor infractions.
Key positions and scoring
Like most sports that didn’t originate in North America, the game of rugby can be difficult to comprehend at first glance because of the large number of players involved, the seemingly random calls of the referee, and the wide variety of strategies employed by different teams to score points and get wins.
The following sections outline who all the players are, explain what the referee is generally looking for during the rugby match, and spell out the basic skills required to be successful on the pitch.
A rugby team has 15 positions. Each one wears a specific number and has individual responsibilities:
- 1 and 3 are the props
- 2 is the hooker
- 4 and 5 are the locks
- 6 and 7 are the flankers
- 8 is, conveniently enough, the eightman
This group is collectively referred to as the pack or the forwards. This group’s main goal is to win possession of the ball. These players are usually the heavyweights of the team, using their bulk and strength to try to overpower their opponents.
A rugby team has another group as well — the backs or back line:
- 9 is the scrumhalf
- 10 is the flyhalf
- 11 and 14 are the wings
- 12 and 13 are the inside and outside centers
- 15 is the fullback
The aim of rugby is to score more points than the opposition. This is done in four different ways:
- Try: The most valuable play is to score a try, which means touching the ball down in the opponent’s in-goal area or on their goal line. Doing so is worth five points and earns that team the right to attempt a conversion kick.
- Conversion kick: This kick is worth an additional two points. The conversion kick is taken from a spot in line with where the ball was originally grounded, so scoring as close to the posts as possible is best.
- Penalty kick: Penalties for various infractions can be used to take a kick at goal, which is worth three points.
- Dropped goal: A dropped goal, which occurs when the player drops the ball on the ground and then kicks it just as it bounces, is worth three points if it goes through the uprights.
Rugby tournaments at a glance
The professional rugby calendar features a wealth of international, interprovincial, and domestic tournaments. Rugby players will often compete in three or more of these in a single year, representing their club, province, and country.
Over the years the names and formats of many of these rugby tournaments have changed because of growth and varying sponsorships.
|Rugby World Cup
|Held every 4 years to crown the World Champion
|20 nations; 12 from previous tourney, 8 qualifiers
|Six Nations Championship
|Annual international championship of Northern Hemisphere
|England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, and Italy
|The Rugby Championship
|Annual international championship of Southern Hemisphere
|Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa
|United Rugby Championship
|Annual interprovincial championship involving Irish, Welsh, Scottish, South African, and Italian teams
|Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Connacht, Ospreys, Blues, Llanelli, Dragons, Edinburgh, Warriors, Benetton, Zebre, Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers
|Super Rugby Pacific
|Annual South Pacific interprovincial championship
|Australia: Brumbies, Reds, Waratahs, Western Force, Rebels
New Zealand: Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders, Hurricanes
Pacifica: Fijian Drua, Moana Pasifika
|Heineken Champions Cup
|Annual interprovincial/club championship featuring teams from the Six Nations countries and South Africa
|Varies every year, the eight highest ranked teams from the United Rugby Championship, France’s Top 14, and England’s Premiership
|England’s Gallagher Premiership
|The top 12 clubs in England play for the domestic national championship
|Bristol, Leicester, Saracens, Gloucester, Northampton, Bath, Harlequins, London Irish, Exeter, Sale, Newcastle
|France’s Top 14
|France’s domestic championship has 14 teams
|Toulouse, Racing, Castres, Clermont, Bordeaux, Lyon, Montpelier, Toulon, Bayonne, Pau, Perpignan, Stade Francais, La Rochelle, Brive