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Friday, December 1, 2023

Rugby – Complete Details About The Most Exciting Game


History of rugby

Rugby players in black and white image

The popular game rugby might have its origin 2000 years before. Then the Romans played a ball game called ‘harpastum’. They brought back the game from Greece. The name means ‘seize’ in Greek which also implies that someone carried or handled the ball.

The Roman soldiers in Britain introduced the game to the local people. People called it football but with a different spelling. In the book ‘History of London,’ which dates back to the year 1175, there is a mention of the game.

Then it was a contest between two villages and nearly two thousand people participated in the game. There was no age and gender restriction and evidence are available for the contests between married women and spinsters.

The two teams from the villages would meet at a commonplace and leaders from the villages decided the place. To start the match they would throw a ball which was a piece of animal hide or a bundle of rags.

Then the teams would start the conflict to take the ball to their village and to the goal post located inside it. The post could be any place in the village and there was no restriction about it.

Interestingly getting the ball to the post has no particular way and people employed all means like kicking, carrying or striking it with clubs or sticks. Some people raided on horseback while some others carried swords in addition to the sticks and clubs.

The area of play was not a confined one and it took place through a vast area that included hills, valleys, rivers, etc. During the play, some people lost parts of the body while others lost their lives.

Usually, the game ended only at sunset and people started to use the game to settle their personal rivalry. As people imagined the ball as the head of the enemy king, at the end of the game they symbolically killed the ball.

After reaching the goal post, people killed the ball either by drowning it in the village fountain or by rubbing it into the village dirt. Then by the usual custom, they cut the ball and shared it among the leaders.

The ruling elite and intellectuals turned against the game as it became very violent. Kings wanted to ban the game and they banned it for thirty-one times in three hundred years.

With the advent of the industrial revolution, village life changed a lot. Moreover, the necessity to hold a job led to the natural death of the game.

Then during the course of time, the public schools in England were responsible for the revival of the game. To tackle the violent nature of the students, some schools tried to adopt street games. As more students got hurt physically, they decided to keep the ball on the floor and to pass the ball only by kicking.

One school at Rugby adopted the same version of the street game as it had more area to play. This led to the formation of two variants of football: Rugby and Soccer.

Rugby school also formed new rules and the famous person William Webb Ellis was a student there. It’s widely believed that his running with the ball in his hand is the basis to the modern rugby game. It’s not a complete truth as rugby evolved to the present way of playing after passing several stages.

In 1863, many delegates representing the game conducted a meeting to establish common rules to govern the game. Consequently, they drafted new rules but the rules differed from the modern rules of the game. Moreover, they also formed the Football Association to govern the sport.

During the following years, allowing ‘hacking’ became a bone of contention. And in the year 1871, the Blackheath club invited all clubs who wanted to play the carrying game. The purpose of the meeting was to ensure playing the game under the same rules.

As the carrying game differed from the kicking game, it became impossible for the games to coexist. So, the followers of the carrying game broke away from the football union and formed another governing body.

They called it Union and followed the rules of the Rugby school. Subsequently, the game got the present name. The name Union became Rugby Football Union.

The hacking continued and the physical handling of the opponent was felt as manly and pride. However, the injuries depleted the availability of the players. Then the rules banned it.

Within six months of the formation of the Rugby Union, an international match between England and Scotland was held in Edinburg.

The governing body regularly updated the style and play of the game and within the next twenty-five years after the formation of the rugby union, many developments took place.

Even from the first international match, disputes became part of the game. Subsequently, by the end of the 1880s, none of the home unions were ready to play against England as the English controlled the Rugby Union.

This led to the formation of a new governing body, The International Rugby Board in 1890.

Know more about Rugby Union

Rules of Rugby Union

Referee shows yellow card in rugby

The playing time for the game is 80 minutes and it has two halves of 40 minutes each. In between, each game has a 10 minutes rest period.

The number of players in each team is 15 and the number of substitute players is 7 per side. Players who left the field can enter back if they had injuries and underwent treatment for it.

The area of the rugby field is 100 meters in length and 70 meters in width. And there is also a 10-meter dead ball area.

The goal post is in the shape of ‘H’ and is usually 6 m in width. There is no specified height for the goal post. The markings on the field are halfway line, 22-meter line, 10-meter line and dead ball line.

The center spot is the place from which the game restarts after a try, penalty or drop goal.

To implement the rules and to ensure the smooth functioning, every game has umpires. Likewise, rugby has one referee and two touch judges who closely follow the live game and the players.

Whenever a player encounters a foul, the ball goes out of play or a try or drop goal is scored, the game will face a halt for a while.

A tackle should not be done above the shoulder height and doing so lets the umpire to signal ‘foul.’ The defending team can tackle a player by grabbing and pulling him/her to the floor.

When the ball touches the line, an out is called. Then any of the seven players who enter a line out enters in to catch the ball being thrown in. Both teams compete to win the ball.

To get the goal right it should pass through the top section of the goal. Otherwise, the ball is considered as still in play until it crosses one of the boundaries of the playing field.

The players who are in attacking must remain behind the ball to avoid the risk of being called offside.

The playing field of Rugby Union

Rugby union play ground

The playing field of rugby measures 144 meters in length and 70 meters in width at the maximum.

In actual gameplay, the dimension varies. The distance between the two try lines is 100 meters and it can be short in length and is up to 94 meters.

The in-goal area is located between 6 and 22 meters behind each try line. The recommended minimum width of the pitch is 68 meters.

The goalposts are in H shape and are located in the middle of the goal lines at each end of the field.

The minimum height of the goalposts is 3.4 meters and the posts should be 5.6 meters apart. The horizontal crossbar which connects the poles should be 3 meters above the ground.

Game structure in rugby

The captains and the referees toss a coin to decide which team will start the match. Then the play starts with a dropkick by the team which won the toss.

Subsequently, the players chase the ball into the opponent’s area while the other team tries to get the ball and advance it.

The game comprises two halves of 40 mins each and there will be a break in the middle. The sides exchange the sides after the break.

Unexpected interference in play, stoppages for injury and for taking disciplinary actions by the referee do not count as part of the playing time. So, the duration of the game usually extends after 80 minutes.

The referee keeps the time closely and is his responsibility to keep it right. Additionally, the referee is also assisted by a time-keeper.

If the time expires while the ball is in play, the referee allows the game to continue and blows the whistle only when the ball is dead. In case, if the referee gives a penalty or free-kick, the game continues.

In the knockout stages of the rugby competitions, if the game ends in a tie, two extra time periods of 10 minutes will be given.

The rule allows 20 minutes sudden-death extra time if the scores are level after the 100 minutes play. Further, as per the rules, a kicking competition will be taken in case of no results in the sudden-death.

Passing and kicking in rugby

Rugby players in action - passing the ball

Throwing the ball ahead to another player is called forward passing and is not allowed. But, the ball can be passed laterally or backward.

The ball moves forward by kicking, by a player running with it, or within a scrum or maul.

Only the player with the ball may be tackled or rucked. When ‘knock-on’ is committed, by knocking the ball forward with the arms, the play will restart with a scrum.


The defending side aims to stop the player with the ball, either by bringing him/her to the ground or by contesting for possession of the ball with the ball-carrier. It is called break down and each is governed by a specific law.


In rugby a player is pulling down another player

Bringing down the opponent player who has the ball is known as tackling. In tackling, the players should not tackle above the shoulder. Additionally, they should wrap the arms around the players to complete the tackle.

Pushing, shoulder charging or tripping the players using feet or legs are illegal. But they can use their hands. However, the players can’t tackle the opponent while he is jumping for the ball and has not landed on the ground.

Rucking and Mauling

ruck in rugby

When the player with the ball has come into contact with an opponent it is where mauls occur. The handler should remain on his feet and at least three players should bound themselves to set a maul.

In the case of a ruck, the ball should be on the ground and at least three attacking players bind themselves to secure the ball.


Image source: https://www.rugbyworld.com/

It is a way to restart the play after the players knocked or kicked the ball out of the touchline.

In line-out, three to eight players from each side take part and line up at the place where the ball has gone out of play.

The players line up with the aim of getting their hands on the ball for their team and the advantage is with the team which throws in.

The team which has not touched the ball before it went out, gets the ball. And the team also decides the number of players who make the line-out.

The eight forwards and the scrum-half make up the line-out and the most important players are the hooker, the two-second rows, and scrum-half. They have to get the ball out to the backs or the rest of the forwards.

The line-out is usually formed after the five-meter line and not more than 15m in from the touchline. Additionally, both teams must have a one-meter gap between them. And the other team will get the penalty if anyone of the team purposely closes the gap.

The hooker is the player who throws the ball into a line-out and he/she always aims to find the jumpers who are usually the second rowers.

The player must throw the ball straight and all the players who are not in the line out must be 10m behind the last man in the line.


It is necessary to restart the game after stopping the play due to minor incidents. Scrum is a way to restart the game in these situations.

A team gets the scrum if the ball has been knocked or passed forward.

If a player takes the ball over the try line and puts the ball down the referee will call for a scrum.

Similarly, when a player is accidentally offside or when a ball is in a ruck or maul with no chance of getting retrieved, the referee will call for a scrum. A team can also opt for a scrum when it gets a penalty.

Eight forwards in three rows from a team and a similar set from the opponent team form a scrum.

Among the three rows, the front row consists of three players. And they are two props on either side of the hooker.

The four players in the second row are two locks and two flankers. And one player will be behind the second row. It’s the 3-4-1 formation in rugby union.

The scrum-half from the team which got the feed will roll the ball into the tunnel. The gap between the two front-rows forms into a tunnel.

Then each pack of the teams will try to push the opposing pack backward to gain possession of the ball. The side which gets it transfers the ball to the back of the scrum.

Playing positions in rugby

There are 15 players per side in the rugby union match and there are usually seven or eight substitute players per side. Moreover, players in a team form eight forwards and seven backs.


The players in the forward positions always try to gain and retain possession of the ball. The strong and bigger players play in the forward positions and take part in the scrum and line-out formation.

Front row

Image source: http://www.artsalon.com

In the front row, there are three players among them two players function as props and one player as the hooker.

The function of the two props is to support the hooker during scrums, to provide support during line-outs, and to provide strength and power in rucks and mauls.

The hooker plays a key role in attacking and defensive play and plays a vital role in winning the ball in the scrum. And he/she throws the ball in at line-outs.

Second row

The second row usually consists of two lock forwards. The players at this position are the taller ones and they play as line-out jumpers.

While playing lock in line-outs, the players have to make a standing jump to collect the ball. Other forward players support them and they have to ensure the holding of the ball at their side.

By binding behind the three front row players, the players provide the forward drive and play an important role in the scrum.

Back row

It’s the third and final row of the forward position and is often referred to as loose forwards. The three positions in the back row are the two flankers and a nearby player.

The two flankers, the blindside flanker and the openside flanker form the final row in the scrum. The players play an important role in winning possession of the ball through ‘turnovers.’

The third player packs down between the two locks at the back of the scrum. He/she controls the ball after receiving it from the front of the pack and functions as a link between the forwards and backs in attacking phases.


The role of backs is to create and convert point-scoring opportunities. The players at these positions are smaller, faster and have more agility. And the players have more kicking and ball-handling skills than the players at the forward positions.

Half-backs in rugby

The scrum-half and fly-half are the parts of half-backs.

The fly-half plays a crucial part in executing the team’s game plan and orchestrates the team’s performance.

Following a breakdown, lineout, or scrum, the fly-half receives the ball from the scrum and the players have to be right in their actions and in their communication with the outside backs. Moreover, many fly-halves are also the team’s goal kickers.

The scrum-half links the forwards and the backs and the players receive the ball from the lineout. And they also remove the ball from the back of the scrum and passes it to the fly-half. They feed the scrum and act as a fourth loose forward.

Three quarters in rugby

The inside center, outside the center, and left and right wings are the four three quarter positions.

The players at the centers handle the attacking players and in the attack, with the speed and strength, they try to breach the opposition defenses.

Similarly, the players at the wings are placed on the outside of the backline and their primary function is to finish off moves and score tries.

In wings, the players are the fastest among the team members and use the speed in avoiding tackles.

Fullback in rugby

The fullback is placed several meters behind the backline and is the last line of defense in the field set up.

Methods of scoring in Rugby Union

Try – 5 points

The rugby players get most of the points by this method of scoring. A try gets five points to the team.

To score a try, a player has to ground the ball by applying downward pressure on it. And the player has to do it on the goal line, in the ‘in-goal’ area or by touching the ball at the base of the goalposts.

In scoring a try, a player holding the ball touches the ground in the ‘in-goal’ area. While doing so, he/she holds the ball with one or both arms. So, the ball receives the downward pressure from hands, arms or from the top of the body.

If the defending team applies any foul, the referee will award a penalty try to the attacking team. Then the attacking team executes a simple conversion kick from the middle of the goalposts.

Conversion – 2 points

The teams get the conversion kick after each ‘try’ and the teams can get two additional points.

A player has to take the conversion kick from any point in the field of play in line to where the try was scored. Moreover, it will be parallel to the touchline which helps the player to score as close as possible to the goalposts.

When a player kicks the ball above the crossbar and between the goalposts, he gets the successful conversion.

Drop goal – 3 points

A team gets three points for a drop goal.

In rugby union, any team scores drop goal when a player kicks for a goal in open play by dropping the ball onto the ground and kicking it on the half-volley.

Penalty Kick – 3 points

The attacking team can choose to take a penalty kick in the event of the defending team commits a major infringement.

Penalty kicks are place kicks and a player will kick the ball placed on a tee from the spot where the foul occurs. And the player has one minute time between placing the ball on the tee and he/she kicking the ball.

Bonus points

A system of awarding bonus points are in practice in rugby union league and tournaments.

By following the system, the teams get four points for a win and two points for a draw.

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How to play Rugby Union


How does a team win?

A team wins by scoring more points than the opposing team.

As already seen, in rugby union you score by try, conversion kick, penalty kick and drop goal kick.

The Try-zone:

The playing field in rugby union has two halves and a ten-meter zone at each end is known as “try-zone.”

When a player gets the ball into the opponent’s zone, the team earns five points. Additionally, the team can get two more points as it gets the conversion kick for the try it made.

Most importantly, the player who enters the try zone should touch the ball down to score in rugby.

Don’t throw forward

In rugby union, a player can only pass the ball i.e. throw the ball by hand, backward and sideways.

In scoring a try, an offense team forms horizontal lines of players and passes the ball sideways and backward until they find a gap in the defense side.

A player cannot pass the ball forward with the hands and it will attract a call for a penalty kick.

Kick it forward

In rugby union, a player can kick the ball forward anytime. When a player kicks the ball forward, any player from the team who is behind, can run forward and get the ball without a penalty.

A player cannot kick the ball to a teammate who is already ahead of him. And a player can pick the ball himself, which is not a fault.

Tackle the opponent

In rugby union, tackling is the way of defense in which the defending team tries to stop the opponent player.

The defending team can tackle the player with the ball in his/her possession. It can’t stop any other player from the attacking team.

In tackling, a player aims to bring the opponent down as quickly as possible, and the teammates around will help in getting the ball.

Ruck, Scrum, Line out

We already knew the terms. A rugby player should know very well the way of playing and the rules related to the ruck, scrum, line out, etc.

Learn the skills

Throwing the ball with speed and accuracy, tackling in accordance with the rules, attacking rucks, handling the scrum and being always in the position where the team expects you are the essential skills one should develop to play rugby union in a professional way.

Form a team & Play the game

Firstly, you have to set a field of play with proper dimensions. When you have enough number of players, you have to allot the right positions to the players. You should consider the skill and ability of the players in allocating the positions.

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