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Rugby in a nutshell

Whether it’s the World Cup or a local club game: playing rugby satisfies the soul like nothing else. 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. It can be intimidating for a first-time viewer though.

For all newbies: this is Rugby in a nutshell, explaining key terms, positions, scoring, and the laws (yes, the rugby rules are called “laws”). 
of 15-a-side rugby, the most common form of the sport.

  • Number of players per team: 15 (plus 7 substitutes)
  • Duration: 2 x 40-minute halves with a mandatory half-time break of 10 minutes
  • Field: 100 m (length) x 70 m wide with H-shaped goalposts on each goal line. The distance between the goal posts is 5.6 metres with a min. crossbar height of 3.4 metres.
  • Ball: 1 oval-shaped high tech synthetic waterproof all-weather ball (size 5)
  • Player kit: Jerseys, socks, shorts, boots and for safety reasons, a mouth guard is essential along with headgear if required by a player.
  • Referees: A match is played with one referee and two touch judges or assistant referees

Each team of 15 players is divided into eight forwards and seven backs, each with defined roles in the team. Essentially, the powerful, hulking forwards are ball-winners who also play a major part in retaining possession when a player on their side is tackled. They take part in rugby's set pieces – the scrum and the lineout – and secure possession; The fast, elusive backs receive the ball from the forwards – their task is to run and pass to create space.

The objective of the game is to score more points than the opposition. Points are accumulated through scoring a try (five points), a penalty (three points), a drop goal (three points) or a conversion kicks following a try (two points). The attacking team strives to move forward by kicking, passing or running with the ball in hand, but when the ball is being passed, it may not travel forward. If it does then a scrum is awarded to the opposition. Much of the sport's appeal lies in the players' speedy interplay and total commitment.

When a team is defending, they will try to stop the opposition advancing toward their try line by hauling to the ground players who are carrying the ball. If successfully tackled, the player carrying the ball must release it once he or she is on the ground.

Beyond the basics


The pace and power of modern Rugby have made it one of the most exciting spectator sports around. Indeed, several aspects of the Game have evolved as a result of this mass audience appeal.

It’s simple... but complex!

To get you on the right track early, here are the most important parts of rugby to familiarize yourself with before watching a match or joining your first training. 


The Scrum is 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. The ball is thrown into the middle of the tunnel between the two front rows, at which point the two hookers can compete for the ball, attempting to hook the ball back in the direction of their team mates. Scrums restart play after certain minor infractions.


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. The lineout is a means of restarting play after the ball has gone into touch (off the field of play at the side). The lineout concentrates a selection of forwards in one place near to the touch line, so the backs have the rest of the width of the field in which to mount an attack. The key for the forwards is to win possession and distribute the ball effectively to the back line.


A ruck is formed if the ball is on the ground and one or more players from each team who are on their feet close around it. Players must not handle the ball in the ruck, and must use their feet to move the ball or drive over it so that it emerges at the team’s hindmost foot, at which point it can be picked up.


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. The team in possession of the ball can attempt to gain territory by driving their opponents back towards the opponents’ goal line. The ball can then be passed backwards between players in the maul and eventually passed to a player who is not in the maul, or a player can leave the maul carrying the ball and run with it.


The aim of rugby is to touch down the ball behind the goal line located at the opposing team's end of the field (this is called a “try”) and earn 5 points for doing so. This is achieved by running with the ball, passing and kicking it.


The ball-carrier can be brought to ground in a tackle, which must be below should height, and involve both arms of the tackler, wrapped around the opponent. When tackled, the ball-carrier must release the ball, which is then free to be played by others.


Kicking is a very important rugby skill that can have a huge impact on a match. A team which has no kickers not only misses out on the opportunity to gain valuable points, but are at a disadvantage throughout the whole of a match. There are different kinds of kicks – some gain points, others ground: Kick-off, Penalty kick, Goal kick, Drop kick or kicking for posession (Punt or Grubber Kick, Kick & Chase)

Variations of Rugby