Rugby 101 - Beginners Guide to Rugby
Two 40-minute halves with a five-minute half-time and no time-outs. Any time lost due to tending injured players on the pitch is added to the end of each half.
Fifteen players on each team with 7 substitutions. Once a player is substituted, they may not return to the game unless the substitution was to stop bleeding (i.e. bloddy nose). All 15 players may run, kick or pass the ball (forward passing is not permitted). The 15 players are divided into two groups: 8 forwards (generally larger and stronger) who focus on obtaining and maintaining possession of the ball, and 7 backs (generally smaller and faster) who focus on taking the ball forward and scoring.
The goal of rugby is to move the ball forward by running with the ball or kicking. The team which scores the most points (see below), wins the game.
Play is continuous and free-flowing. There are no “downs”, no designated offensive and defensive teams, no blocking and no automatic “turn-overs” of posession. The ball usually marks the offside line.
The ball may be advanced by running or kicking. Passing with the hands cannot be forward but can be lateral or backward. Players without the ball cannot be tackled or interfered with in any way (this includes a player who has just kicked the ball).
When a player is tackled to the ground, the ball must be released and the player must move a way from it; play continues without stoppage. A “ruck” or informal scrum (see below) forms over a tackled player without stoppage of play.
A coin toss determines the team which will kickoff first. The kicking team will send their forwards to one side of the pitch at the 50 meter line. The opposing forwards will move in front of their opposites, but spread out behind the 10 meter line in preparation to receive the kick.
The kicker, who can be any member of the squad, will set the ball on the ground and start the match on the referee's whistle most often kicking the ball high and short to the opposing forwards (he can also kick it long and deep or away from the forwards if desired). The kick must travel at least 10 meters and land in bounds.
Their are multiple ways in which a team may score points in rugby:
Try – Five points when the ball is touched to the ground (“grounded”) in the opponent's end zone.
Conversion – Two points for a kick through the uprights after a try is scored. The kick is taken on a line (parallel to the touch-line; see above) which passes through the place where the ball was grounded. Thus, grounding the ball “between the posts” makes for an easier conversion attempt than if the ball is grounded near the side-line.
Drop Goal – Three points for ‘drop kicking’ the ball through the opponent’s uprights at anytime during play.
Penalty Kick – Three points for place-kicking the ball through the opponent’s uprights following an infraction by the opposition. Penalty kicks must be taken from the point of the infraction.
Play must be restarted following any score or when the ball leaves the field, the ball is unplayable, or when play stops due to infraction or injury.
Score – Following any score, play is restarted with a kick-off (see above) to the team who scored (i.e. when you score, you get posession back immediately).
The defending side may halt their opponent’s advance by tackling, stripping the opposing player of the ball, or forcing a turnover of possession. Tackles must be made below the opponent’s shoulders and the tackler’s arms must wrap around the tacklee.
If the ball is held up off the ground, once more than any two players have bound together a “maul” is formed. If the ball has gone to the ground, then the group of bound players is called a “ruck.” The very important principle of rucks and mauls is that once they are set, two imaginary offside lines become present at the back of each team's rucking/mauling players extending from touchline to touchline. Any player running into the zone who is not joining the ruck or maul before the ball leaves is considered offside and a penalty can be awarded to the other team.
Penalty Kicks and Free Kicks
Penalty and free kicks are awarded to the non-offending team for numerous infractions throughout the game. Penalty kicks are usually used to attempt to score or to gain territorial advantage by kicking the ball into touch (in this case, the team who kicked the ball into touch will throw-in at the line-out). Free kicks cannot be used to score and are usually taken as very small kicks which are then picked up and carried forward. Penalty and free kicks must be taken from the point of infraction. The offending team must retreat 10 meters from this point.
The Forwards’ chief responsibility is to gain and retain possession of the ball, whether in open play or from set pieces such as the scrum and the line-out. They will contain the most physically intimidating members of the team, with weight and power a major issue. However, as general athletic standards have increased in the modern game, so Forwards are today expected to have some speed and agility, particularly when carrying the ball. The Forwards are made up of the following positions:
Loosehead Prop (No. 1)
The loosehead prop supports the hooker in the scrum and the jumpers in the line-out. He must have plenty of power for the scrum but, at the same time, they are vital to the proper functioning and movement of the scrum. Indeed, when substituting a prop, his replacement must be a prop themselves, such are the skills required.
More specifically, the loosehead prop can be found on the left-hand side of the scrum and is so called because he is not locked into the scrum. Instead, his head is outside that of the opposition tighthead prop.
Hooker (No. 2)
The hookers are unsurprisingly responsible chiefly for hooking the ball with their feet in the scrum, although some are experienced and skilled enough to act as an extra prop as well (to complicate opposition feeds by the scrum-half).
The hooker additionally usually throw the ball at line-outs, and it’s their responsibility to ensure success with good distribution.
Tighthead Prop (No. 3)
Identical to the loosehead prop, but the tighthead packs down on the right-hand side of the scrum and is named ‘tighthead’ because they are locked between two opponents (the loosehead prop and the hooker). There are other subtle differences in technique, which you will pick up as you get further into the sport.
The Locks (Nos. 4 & 5)
The locks are typically the tallest players and act as targets at line-outs, having to catch and distribute to the scrum-half or at least pat the ball on his team’s side. At the scrum, they are vitally located between the props and the hooker, and provide balance and momentum to the team’s efforts. They are also extremely important in rucks and mauls, and need to be effective ball carriers, making the locks pivotal to how the forwards generally operate and succeed.
Blindside Flanker (No. 6)
The flanker is a curiosity in rugby union, being the only true all-rounder position with no set duties. It is therefore paradoxical that flankers are considered potential game-winning players. In the scrum, they are not big pushers and, although they must stay locked to the scrum until the ball is out, they must respond quickly and unbind when it does.
Blindside flankers are generally larger than their openside counterparts and are so-called because they attach to the scrum on the side closer to the touchline and cover attacks on the blindside of the scrum. Throughout the game, the blindside flanker should act as a real ball-winner and can even perform duties as a jumper in the lineout.
Openside Flanker (No. 7)
Fundamentally similar to the blindside flanker, the openside equivalent is usually smaller and more agile, with extra pace to provide impetus to attacks. In the scrum, they are found on the side furthest from the touchline, allowing them to get into open play more quickly and, if they receive possession, test out the opponent’s defense for weaknesses.
Number Eight (No. 8)
The number eight is very much a linking man for the Forwards and the Backs, incorporating the attributes of both sets. Their fundamental role is to augment the team’s ball-winning and ball-carrying.
As such, they can be found in the rear of the scrum, controlling the movement and either feeding the ball to the scrum-half once it has been hooked back, or taking the ball on and running at the opposition. Similarly, they are typically located at the back of the lineout, providing an option for a long throw-in.
The Backs are expected to both create and convert point-scoring opportunities after the ball has been won and taken on by the Forwards. All members have to be agile and dynamic, with pace a major attribute for many positions, but kicking skills are a priority elsewhere. Moreover, just as the Forwards have grown more agile in recent years, so too the disparity in size and strength between the Forwards and the Backs has shrunk markedly to allow the latter to contribute more effectively in defense and attack.
Scrum-half (No. 9)
Much like the number 8 links the Forwards to the Backs, so too the scrum-half connects the Backs to the Forwards.
The scrum-half is involved in play at all times - feeding the ball into the scrum and usually distributing after it has left, standing at the side of the lineout waiting to receive the ball from the jumpers, and following rucks and mauls. He is also the first line of defense in most situations. (Video)
Precisely because of these duties, the scrum-half has to be smaller than the majority of the team, have outstanding handling and distribution, as well as a fair amount of guile.
Fly-half (No. 10)
The fly-half is arguably the most influential player on the pitch, as he calls the tactical game on the pitch with his kicking, distribution and ball-carrying from deep. The fly-half is also typically the goal-kicker. As a result, the fly-half has to be a leader, a powerful and accurate kicker, and yet also perform to the highest standard in defense.
Wingers (Nos. 11 & 14)
The wingers are big try scorers and are usually seen on hand finishing a successful attack. Every time you hear a commentator refer to an ‘overlap’, for example, it will typically be the winger who receives the scoring pass. Therefore, the wingers are the quickest players and, during attacks, run into the space up to the try line provided by the forwards and the other backs. (Video)
That said, because of their defensive duties, recent decades have seen more powerful wingers who can ride tackles as well as put in strong ones of their own.
Inside Centre (No. 12) & Outside Centre (No. 13)
Like their flanker counterparts in the Forwards, the Centers are all-rounders, but with extra power, mobility and handling to augment the defensive capabilities of the Backs as well as provide some venom to the offence. Both Centers receive frequent balls from the fly-half to test the opposition’s defensive line and expose gaps which either they or the wingers can profit from.
However, whereas the outside center tends more towards wing-play, the inside center more closely approximates the fly-half in his or her abilities. It is ubsequently far from unique for a fly-half to play at inside center and vice versa.
Fullback (No. 15)
The fullback acts as a sweeper behind the first few lines of defense, but his responsibilities don’t end with tackling. The fullback must also have good handling, distribution and kicking. Furthermore, despite his withdrawn position in the scrums and the lineouts, the fullback has become increasingly pivotal to a team’s offensive game in recent years - initiating attacks from deep in the field. One tradition which has endured is the fullback’s duty to contend with high-kicks from opposition players while under pressure.