Rugby 101


Introduction to Rugby


Rugby is a popular game played by men and women of every race and creed, from under age five to well over fifty, in over 100 countries of the world. In a few of those countries it is the national sport -- some say religion.

The basic game involves 15 players though seven-a-side tournaments are also popular. The object of the game is to score as many points as possible by carrying, passing, kicking and grounding an oval ball in the scoring zone at the far end of the field -- called the in-goal area. Grounding the ball, which must be done with downward pressure, results in a try (worth 5 points). After a try, a conversion may be attempted by place kick or drop kick. If the ball passes over the bar and between the goal posts the conversion is successful and results in a further 2 points. Points may also be scored from a drop kick in general play (worth 3 points) and a penalty kick (worth 3 points).

The ball may not be passed forward (though it may be kicked forward) and players may not receive the ball in an offside position, nor may they wait in such a position. Players may not be tackled without the ball. Play only stops when a try is scored, the ball goes out of play, or an infringement occurs. When the ball goes out of play it is thrown back in at a line-out where the opposing "forwards" line up and jump for the ball. Infringements result in a penalty, a free kick, or a scrum. In a scrum, the opposing forwards bind together in a unit and push against the other forwards, trying to win the ball with their feet. Substitutions are only allowed in case of injury and there is no separate offensive and defensive unit.


While playing soccer at Rugby School of England in 1823, William Webb Ellis picked up the ball in his hands and ran with it. This sparked an interest, leading to the creation of rugby. Cambridge University immediately adopted the game, popularized it and made local rules. The game grew popular at area schools and in 1871, ten years after the common rules of soccer were set, the first Rugby Union was founded in London and firm rules of the game were established.

In 1895 rugby clubs in northern England called for compensation of lost wages for players. The Rugby League was founded as a result and a 13-player game with altered rules was created for professionals.

Rugby spread across the globe and competition emerged between countries. In the United States, the game emerged primarily on the West Coast. The lack of precise rules, ambiguities in the game and complexity of the sport drew a lot of United States players away from the game and major changes were invoked. In 1880 the scrum was replaced by a line of scrimmage, drawing emphasis from the free-running characteristic of the game. The game continued to play with rugby rules until 1905 when the publication of photographs of a harsh game between Sarthmore and Pennsylvania created a stir. President Theodore Roosevelt insisted on reform of the game to lower the brutality with threat of abolishing the game by edict. In 1906 the forward pass was introduced to the United States game. The rules of rugby died and the game of American football was born.

Rugby continued to flourish elsewhere, with special regard to Britain, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Although a handful of clubs remained in the United States, rugby did not re-emerge until the 1960's. College campuses turned to the sport because it was one where many could play and escape the rigid discipline and professionalism inherent in college football. Minimal costs, constant action and the opportunity for frequent play with a primary emphasis on fun also attracted many. The number of clubs grew from about 80 to over 1,000 between 1964 and 1980. The United States of America Rugby Football Union (USARFU) was formed in 1975, creating added recognition and a measure of organization.

The sport continues to grow and now played in over 80 countries worldwide. The rules of rugby continue to evolve and amateurism remains as dominant characteristic.

The Field

The field used is grass with the usual exception of mud. The measurements of the field are shown in the image below. The length of the field cannot exceed 100 meters (110 yards) and the width cannot exceed 69 meters (75 yards). Each try zone cannot exceed 22 meters (25 yards) in length. Goal posts similar to those used in American football, shaped in the form of an "H," stand on the goal line at opposite ends of the field, at the beginning of each try zone. The lines usually drawn inside the field are 22 meters (25 yards) off goal, 10 meters (10 yards) off halfway and the halfway line. Also, a 5 meter (5 yard) alley is drawn along the lengths of the field measured off the touch line (out of bounds).


Players do not wear any padding or protection except for a mouth guard. The traditional uniform consists of a long sleeve cotton shirt with a collar. Shorts are usually cotton and rise to about mid-thigh. Knee-length socks with turnover tops are worn along with boots similar to soccer cleats. There are strict rules governing the kinds of cleats used. An optional piece of equipment is the scrum cap worn by some forwards which are made from leather or cloth and worn as protection for the ears. Any other item than what is listed is usually not allowed in play with the inclusion of jewelry. The ball comes in many sizes. It is shaped similar to an American football, but is larger. The standard length is about 285 mm (11 inches) and the standard center circumference is about 630 mm (24 inches).


The referee controls the game and sees that the players maintain good conduct and obey the laws of rugby. There is only one referee and that person is the only judge, timekeeper and score keeper. There are two touch judges, one appointed by each team. They stand outside the touch line and follow the play. If the ball is kicked out of touch, the touch judge on that side lifts the flag and stands perpendicular to where the ball went out to mark it. The touch judges also determine if a goal kick is successful. The referee still has absolute authority and makes the end decision even if both touch judges disagree. The team coaches are not allowed to influence the team once they are on the field. Thus a captain is appointed for each team. The captain makes plays, encourages and leads the team. This person is the only means of communication between the team and the referee. Players are not allowed to address the referee unless they are called upon.


The objective of the game is to gain more points than the opposing team within the allotted time of play. A tie is called if the scores are equal at the end of play. A try is scored when a player places the ball in the opposition's goal area. It is counted as 5 points and can be converted to an additional 2 points with a successful place kick made from a line perpendicular to the point at which the ball was scored. A goal can also be scored through a penalty with a free kick or a drop kick from the field of play. A goal counts as 3 points.



A method of refereeing. The referee allows the game to proceed uninterrupted as long as the ball is in play and there are no major infractions. Play can continue after an infraction if the non-offending team gains an advantage.

Blind Side

The side nearest to the touch line.

Drop kick

A kick technique where the ball is dropped to the ground and as it bounces back up it is kicked.


A technique where one pretends to pass the ball.

Free kick

Kick where a score may be made. Can be taken as a place kick, drop kick or if no score is attempted, a punt.

Grubber kick

A kick technique where the ball bounces along the ground.


Where a player propels the ball toward the opponent's goal line. This results in a penalty.


A play where two single file lines are formed by both teams after the ball goes out of touch. A player from the team that did not take it out throws the ball back in from the touch line between the two lines. This brings the ball back into play and determines which team receives the ball.


A loose formation brought around a player who is still in possession of the ball and has not been brought to the ground.


Also called blocking. Where a player gets in the way of an opponent who is chasing after the ball. This results in a penalty.


Generally when a player is in front of the ball when it was played last by a team member. A penalty occurs if a player is off-side and obstructs an opponent, plays the ball or is within 10 meters (10 yards) of an opponent playing the ball.

Penalty kick

Kick awarded to the non-offending team after a penalty occurs.

Place kick

A kick technique where the ball is place on the ground before being kicked.

Punt kick

A kick technique where the ball is dropped and kicked before it touches the ground.


A loose formation created around a free ball or a player who has been brought to the ground with the ball.


A tight formation between the two opposing teams in readiness for the ball to be put in the tunnel between the two front rows and brought out into play.


Method of scoring worth 5 points by touching the ball down in the opponent's goal area.