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The sport of Rugby is often referred to as the "father" of American football. Rugby started at least 70 years before American football and football evolved with many of the same principles, strategies and tactics. However, there are several obvious differences.



Rugby is played at a fast pace, with few stoppages and continuous possession changes. All players on the field, regardless of position, must be able to run, pass, kick and catch the ball. Likewise, All players must also be able to tackle and defend, making each position both offensive and defensive in nature. There is no blocking of the opponents like in football, and there are only five substitutions per game allowed for each team. A rugby match consists of two 40-minute halves. Finally, rugby is considered to be a gender equity sport as approximately 25% of all players in the United States are female.



The field that rugby is played on is called a pitch. The pitch is expected to be 100 metres long by 69 metres wide. The sidelines are called touchlines and there are two in-goal areas which are expected to be 10 to 22 metres deep with a tryline marking the front and a dead ball line at the back. The goal posts are located on the try line and are 5.6 metres apart with a crossbar set at 3 metres. The height of the posts varies according to the club's wishes.



Other important lines on the pitch include the half way mark at 50 metres. A dashed 10 metre line set each side of the the 50 metre line which is used to judge kickoffs and a solid 22 yard line marked 22 yard from each tryline. Other lines include two dashed lines set at 5 and 15 metres marked parallel to each touchline. These lines are used mostly to identify the zones for lineouts.

Rugby union is played in different variations depending on the number of players on the field for each team. The typical game is played with fifteen players per side and lasts 80 minutes, with 40 minutes being played in each half. An abridged version is also very popular but is played with seven players per team over two seven minute halves. A less often played version is called tens and is played with ten players per side.



A rugby team has 15 players on the field of play, both American football and soccer have 11 players on each team. In rugby, each team is numbered the exact same way. The number of each player signifies that player's position. Players numbered 1-8 are forwards, who are typically the larger, stronger players of the team whose main job is to win possession of the ball. These players are similar in size and abilities as American football linebackers and lineman. Players numbered 9-15 are backs, who tend to be the smaller, faster and more agile players. Their main role is to exploit possession of the ball that is won by the forwards, similar to the roles of American football's running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks.

#1 Prop
#2 Hooker
#3 Prop
#4 Lock
#5 Lock
#6 Flanker
#7 Flanker
#8 Number 8
#9 Scrumhalf
#10 Flyhalf
#11 Wing
#12 Inside Centre
#13 Outside Centre
#14 Wing
#15 Fullback



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 metre line. The opposing forwards will move in front of their opposites, but spread out behind the 10 metre line in preparation to receive the kick.

The kicker, who can be any member of the team, 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 forwards at least 10 metres and land in bounds. The kicker's forwards will charge down the pitch attempting to catch the ball themselves. If a receiving team's forward successfully catches the ball, he will attempt to advance the ball normally running into a large amount of opposition. His supporting forwards will then often bind around him to prevent him being brought to the ground and losing possession of the ball.

The second half of a match is started in the same way except the teams have switched ends of the pitch and the team starting the match kicking now receives the ball.


Very often a player will lose the ball forward during a tackle or just while running and receiving a pass, thus knocking-on. If the ball is quickly picked up by the other team, the referee will let play continue to allow the recovering team to take advantage of the mistake. If no advantage occurs, then the referee will whistle for a scrum to be set at a spot he indicates on the pitch also called a mark. The team that did not lose the ball is awarded the ball to put into the scrum. A scrum is also awarded whenever a pass is made in which the ball goes forward.

The typical procedure of scrummaging involves each set of front row players binding and the hookers calling for the locks to join the formation. The flankers join on each side of the locks setting their shoulders below a prop's outside buttock. The No. 8 joins at the back between the hips of the two locks. While this is occurring the captain of the forwards can be calling a move while the backs are shouting out code words signalling what move they will be running. The forward pack with the put in is then allowed the courtesy of initiating the coming together of the scrum. Upon a prearranged signal between the hooker and scrumhalf, the scrumhalf will roll the ball into the tunnel underneath the two locked together front rows. Each of the hookers will then attempt to push the ball behind him with a sweep of his foot. All of this is occurring while each pack is attempting to push the other backwards driving themselves over the ball.

If the ball is won cleanly, most often the scrumhalf will run to the back of the scrum to retrieve the ball from in front of the No. 8's feet and pass it to the backs, to a breaking loose forward, or make a run or kick of his own. The opposing scrumhalf will follow looking for a chance to snap up any loose ball. The No. 8 may also decide to pick up the ball himself, and start a back row move from the back or base of the scrum.

One exciting aspect of scrummaging is the pushover try. A pushover try is scored when a scrum is set close to the attacking tryline. The attacking scrum will keep the ball at the No. 8's feet driving the defending pack backwards across the tryline. Once the ball has been dragged across the tryline, the No. 8 or scrumhalf will touch the ball down for the try.




Players in possession of and carrying the ball may be stopped by being tackled by the opposing team. Players are tackled around the waist and legs and, in general, may not be tackled higher. Once a player is tackled, however, play does not stop. The player must release the ball and roll away from it to allow other players on their feet play the ball.

A player who is tackled to the ground must try to make the ball available immediately so that play can continue. Supporting players from both teams (one from each team) converge over the ball on the ground, binding with each other and attempt to push the opposing players backwards in a manner similar to a scrum. This situation is known as a ruck. The ball may not be picked up by any player, until the ball emerges out of the ruck. The ruck ends and play continues. A team that can retain possession after the tackle and the ensuing ruck has a huge advantage, because a ruck forms offside lines. These offside lines are the same as in the scrum and everyone must get back onsides in order to rejoin play. This opens up space into which the attacking team can move the ball forward.

A Maul is formed with a similar gathering of players, except the player in possession of the ball is not brought to the ground (not tackled) but it held up by an opponent and one his/her own players converge on him/her. This creates offside lines through the feet of the last players on each side. Players from each team must retreat behind these offside lines if they are to take part in any subsequent play. The maul ends when the ball emerges.






The other common set piece in rugby, besides the scrum, is the lineout. After a ball has been kicked or run into touch (out of bounds), the forwards of each team will line up at the spot indicated by the touch judge as the touch mark. Normally, the hooker of the team being awarded the ball will be the person to throw the ball back into the lineout. The other forwards will lineup at least 5 metres away from him but no further than 15 metres. The opposing team will lineup to match their counterparts. Someone on the team with the throw-in will call a coded signal indicating who the ball will be thrown to and any subsequent move. At the same time the flyhalf should also be calling a move. The hooker will then throw the ball to the intended receiver who has jumped into the air. Most often the throw is to the locks who are jumping in the second and fourth positions in the lineout supported by the players on either side of them. Once a jumper does jump, these supporting players are allowed to lift him higher into the air and hold him there. Once the ball is secured, most often many of the forwards on both sides of the ball bind together and a maul will ensue until the ball is produced for another phase.





If and when the ball is produced from a ruck or maul without penalty, usually by the scrumhalf, the ball will most often be passed to a forward charging back through the defence or to the flyhalf who has pre-determined a course of action. The flyhalf is the person normally determining all moves which the backs will run. Once he has received the ball he will then start a run, make a pass, or kick the ball. All of this must be done very quickly as the opposing backs and forwards will be quickly rushing up to tackle whomever has the ball.

The moves the backs run will include a number of different manoeuvres and ploys to put the backs into open running space. Common running tactics include loops, switches, dummies, and miss passes. A loop is where a player will make a short pass to another and then run around to the other side of that player to receive a return pass. A switch is where two players will cross paths allowing the ball carrier to pass behind himself to a runner running on a different angle. A dummy is a faked pass to another runner freezing or decoying the defender. A dummy switch is a switch where the ball carrier does not pass the ball to the crossing runner. A miss pass is a pass which is thrown past the first immediately available supporting player to runners further past him.

When the ball is being run, a player tackled to the ground must immediately release the ball (the defender tackling the runner must release the runner after the tackle) making it available to both teams. Typically the tackled player will attempt to place the ball closest to his own supporting players. Those supporting players will make a decision to pickup the loose ball or drive over the ball and tackled player to bind together into a new ruck. The defending team will do the same thing in an attempt to push the attacking team backwards. If the ball is picked up and advanced again by either side, a maul can quickly ensue if the advance is checked by the defence and the ball does not go to the ground. Each time a successive ruck or maul is set, it is described as a phase of play.

Once a player makes a break over the tryline, he must touch the ball down to the ground to be awarded the 5 points for the try. If he loses the ball in the dead ball area, the ball will come out and play will be restarted with a 22 metre dropout. Often a player will cross the tryline close to one of the touchlines and will turn back towards the posts before touching down. This is done to provide a better angle for the person attempting the conversion kick. The kick for extra points must be taken from a mark perpendicular to the spot where the try was touched down. Thus the kicker's job is typically made much easier when the try is awarded centered between the posts.

The conversion kick is a place kick taken immediately after the try and worth 2 points. The defending team must retreat behind the tryline but can rush the kick once the kicker makes a move towards the ball to kick it through the uprights.



The rugby ball is made of leather or other similar synthetic material that is easy to grip and does not have laces. Rugby balls are made in varying sizes (3, 4 or 5) for both youth and adult players. Like footballs, rugby balls are oval in shape, however are rounder and less pointed than footballs to minimize the erratic bounces we see in football.



There is no blocking in rugby. Rugby does not have downs, and a team is not required to reach 10 yards and stop. Play is continuous like soccer. The person with the ball leads the attack. In rugby there are several ways to move the ball. Any player may carry, pass or kick the ball. Play is not stopped and continues when the ball hits the ground or when a player is tackled. The ball carrier must release the ball when tackled and roll out of the way so that other players on their feet can play the ball.

Running: When running the ball, players may continue to run until they are tackled, step out of bounds or run beyond the goal line (see scoring a try). Players run the ball to advance toward the opponent's goal line.

Passing: The ball may be passed to any other player. However, it may only be passed laterally or backward, never forward. Players pass the ball to an open teammate to keep it in play and further advance it.

Kicking: Any player may kick the ball forward at any time. Once the ball is kicked, players of either team, regardless of whether or not the ball hits the ground, may gain possession. Players typically kick the ball to a teammate in an effort to advance it or to the opposing team to obtain relief from poor field position.



Probably one of the more challenging aspects about rugby for the first time observer is the offside law. Like soccer, the offside line is continually moving up and down the pitch in rugby and varies according to the aspect of play. In general play, the ball creates the offside line and players are not permitted to participate in play if they are on the opposing teams side of the ball. Simply being offside is not a penalty, but attempting to participate in the game from an offside position is. In the lineouts previously discussed, the offside lines are 10 meters back on either side from a line drawn across the field from where the ball is thrown in. At a scrum the offside lines are drawn across the field through the feet of the last person in each team's scrum.



Drop kick: A kick made when the player drops the ball and it bounces off the ground prior to being kicked. Worth three points if it travels through the goalposts. Drop kicks are also used to restart play after a score.

Forward pass: A violation that usually results in a scrum to the defending team.

Infringement: A violation of a law.

Knock on: The accidental hitting or dropping of the ball forward. The infringement is the same as that for a forward pass: a scrum to the other team.

Non-Contact Rugby: A Version of rugby designated to introduce the game to first time players (touch rugby). Two hand-tag replaces the tackle.

Penalties: Penalties occur regularly in rugby. Unlike other sports, there typically aren't yardage penalties and only occasionally do teams have to play short handed. Instead, the non-offending team is usually awarded a choice to kick the ball to gain field advantage. Some of the more important penalties are listed below:

Penalty Kick: Awarded after a serious infringement of the law. Offenders are required to retreat 10 yards while the opposing team is given the opportunity to restart play unopposed. Teams will often kick the ball up field and out of bounds to gain field advantage. When they do this, play is restarted as a lineout where the ball goes out of bounds. If in range, they may attempt a kick at the goal posts, worth three points. Finally, they may simply tap the ball with their foot and run with it.

Free Kick: This is awarded after a less serious infringement of the law. The free kick is similar to the penalty kick except a player cannot attempt a kick at goal to try to score three points. A player must restart with a tap kick or attempt to kick the ball out of bounds. If the kick is made from in front of the 22 meters (25 yards) line and goes directly out of bounds, the lineout occurs back where the kick was first kicked. If the ball bounces out of bounds, or if the kick was taken from behind the 22 meter (25 yards) line the resulting lineout is where the ball crossed the touch line.

Sin Bin: On occasion, the referee will send a player to the Sin Bin (behind one of the in goal areas) for a specified period of time, for serious and/or repeated infringements. The team is required to play short-handed until the referee permits the player to return. This penalty is fairly rare, but used by the referees to maintain control of the game.

Send-Offs: In extreme cases a referee may send a player off the field for dangerous or reckless play. A player who has been sent off is banned from that game and is not permitted to return or be replaced.

Put in: Rolling the ball down the center of the scrum tunnel by the Scrum Half.

Sevens: An abbreviated game of rugby that follows the same laws except a 7's team consists of only seven players and each half is seven minutes long. Much like a game of three-on-three full court basketball, it's a wide-open contest. Because of its wide-open style of play, the Seven's version of rugby is a very entertaining game to watch.

Set piece: A term for scrums and lineouts because these are the only choreographed plays of the game.

Support players: Players who position themselves to increase the ball transfer options of the ball carrier.
Tap and play kick/ move: A gentle kick to oneself, followed by a pick up, used to restart play after either a penalty or free kick is awarded.

Throw in: Throwing the ball down the middle of a lineout.

Touchline: The side boundary of the field (sideline).

Try line: The end boundary of the field (goal line).

22-Meter line: Is a line 22 meters (25 yards) from the try line. If a kick is made from behind the "22", the opposing team gets a lineout where the ball went out of bounds. If the kick was made in front of the "22", the resulting lineout is from the point of the kick if the ball goes directly out of bounds.




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