Rugby Union – your guide to this fast paced, fast growing sport.
Rugby Union: What is Rugby?
If you haven’t seen a rugby union game before you may find yourself asking “What is Rugby?” It’s a fast paced, full contact sport which came from the school playgrounds of England in the 1820s. Now a professional sport, Rugby Union is played in over 100 countries and the Rugby World Cup, played every four years, is the third biggest sporting event in the World.
Rugby Union: The Basics
Rugby Union: Field of Play
The rugby field or pitch is 100m x 70m and has goalposts and scoring zones at each end as in American Football although the overall area of a rugby union field is larger.
Rugby Union: Rugby Gear
For those used to seeing American Football players and the protective gear they wear it can be a shock to see how little a rugby player uses. Scrum caps and mouth guards protect ears, heads, teeth and tongues but they use little else. Rugby gear is a jersey, shorts, socks and boots or rugby cleats with studs which help grip in scrums and sprint towards the try line but also come in handy in rucks.
Rugby Union: Player Positions
The shirts numbers 1-15 in Rugby Union indicate the player positions and duties on the field. There are 15 players on the pitch for each team at any time, 8 Forwards (no 1-8) and 7 Backs (no 9-15), who will place offensive and defensive roles depending on possession. Like linebackers or linesmen in American Football, the Forwards use their strength to win possession of the ball. The Backs have agility and speed to turn that possession into points as do running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks.
Rugby Union: Rugby Ball
The oval or egg-shaped rugby ball is rounder than their American cousins to give a more even bounce.
Rugby Union: The Game
Rugby Union: Format of the match
Rugby games are played over two halves, each 40 minutes in length, and points are awarded when the ball is carried into the in-goal area behind the posts and grounded or when a player kicks the ball between the posts. The most common form of Rugby Union involves two teams, 15 players on each, but Rugby Sevens is becoming more popular. As the name suggests there are seven players on each team and each half lasts 7-10 minutes depending on the competition rules. This form of the game is now part of the Olympic schedule.
Rugby Union: Passing & Scoring
There are many similarities between Rugby Union and American Football as they have the same origins although they do differ on a couple of key points. For example forward passes are not allowed in rugby, and there are no downs, rugby is a free-flowing game which continues until the referees whistle blows. However they both require strength, strategy and speed and the aim in both is to carry, kick and pass a ball trying to get to the opponents goal line.
Try: if a player touches the ball down on or over their opponents try line they are awarded 5 points.
Conversion: kick between the posts for an additional 2 points after a try is scored.
Penalty kick: referee can award a penalty for rule infringements, if the place kick between the posts is successful the team receive 3 points.
Drop Goal: a kick between the posts from open play gains 3 points.
Rugby Union: Contact – Tackles, rucks and mauls
Only a player carrying the ball can be tackled. Contact can be made anywhere below shoulder level and by more than one player. A tackle does not stop the match, instead a ruck or maul forms as the teams fight for possession of the ball.
A ruck is when a player goes to ground with the ball, a maul is when the player remains standing and is at the centre of a move to push the ball. These are key points in the game as the ball can be turned over (won by the defending team) and players can get held up extricating themselves from the pile of bodies which causes gaps in the defensive line which can be exploited.
Rugby Union: Set Piece Restarts
The game starts and restarts after a score with a kick off as in American Football. However when open play breaks down the match is restarted with a scrum or lineout.
Rugby Scrum: The most unusual feature of the Rugby Union is the scrum. Called by the referee for rule violations the two forward packs in each team face off against each other in a formation which tests their strength. What is Rugby Union if not a competition of physical endurance and this set piece play typifies that but when you get to know the tactics of the game there are many ways to gain advantage from the scrum through position and timing. Strategy plays a key part in all aspects of play.
Lineout: If ball goes ‘into touch’ or out of bounds the game is restarted with the ball being thrown in by the hooker no 2. The two Forward packs line up parallel to each other and the hooker throws the ball down the middle with the intention retaining possession through a pre rehearsed call and move. The aim is to get the ball quickly to the Backs or to form a maul and drive the ball across the line depending on field position.
Rugby Union: Core Values
Rugby Union: Ethos
Rugby Union has a very strong ethos of team work and respect and the governing body, World Rugby, places a lot of emphasis on the on and off field culture they are trying to maintain. It is a sport which all can play, there is a rugby position to suit all physiques and skills.
The sport is played by all ages. Junior rugby is very popular in America with the USA Rugby Rookie Rugby programme recognised for its success in introducing the sport to a new generation. Women’s rugby is also growing, with the Women’s World Cup now a regular fixture and the sport thriving in the College Rugby set up.