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Our PLAYING RUGBY section is intended to be the "how to" of our website. Our LAWS & REGULATION section is intended to explain the rules behind the various components of the game.
William Webb Ellis is often credited with the invention of running with the ball in hand in 1823 at Rugby School when he allegedly caught the ball while playing football and ran towards the opposition goal. Although the evidence to support the Ellis story is doubtful, it was immortalized at the school with a plaque unveiled in 1895. In 1848, the first laws were written by pupils. Other significant events in the early development of rugby include the Blackheath Club's decision to leave the Football Association in 1863 and the split between rugby union and rugby league in 1895.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) has been the governing body for rugby union since its formation in 1886. Currently, 115 national unions are members of the IRB. In 1995, the IRB removed restrictions on payments to players, making the game openly professional at the highest level for the first time.
The Rugby World Cup, first held in 1987, takes place every four years, with the winner of the tournament receiving the Webb Ellis Cup. The Six Nations in Europe and the Tri Nations in the southern hemisphere are major international competitions held annually. Major domestic competitions include the Top 14 in France, the Aviva Premiership in England, the Currie Cup in South Africa, and the ITM Cup in New Zealand. Other transnational competitions include the Magners League, originally involving Irish, Scottish and Welsh teams and now Italian teams as well; Super Rugby (previously Super 12 and Super 15), involving South African, Australian and New Zealand teams; and the Heineken Cup, involving the top European teams from their respective domestic competitions.
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.
PLAYERS & POSITIONS
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. Click link for diagram of rugby positions.
STARTING THE GAME
Just like in American football, rugby is started with a kickoff to the opponent from mid-field. Provided that the ball travels beyond the 10 meter line, any player of either team may gain possession of the ball.
MOVING THE BALL
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.
There are four ways for a team to score points:
Try (5): Five points are awarded to a team for touching the ball down in the other team's in-goal area. This is much like a touchdown in American football.
Conversion (2): Following a try, two points are awarded for a successful kick through the goal posts. The attempt is taken on a line, at least 10 meters, straight out from the point where the ball was touched down. This is like an extra point in American football.
Penalty Kick (3): Following a major law violation, the kicking team, if in range, has the option to "kick for points." Three points are awarded for a successful penalty kick. The kick must be from the point of the foul or anywhere on a line straight behind that point. The ball can be played if the kick fails.
Drop Goal (3): Three points are awarded for a successful drop kick. A drop kick may be taken from anywhere on the field at any time during play. A drop goal is similar to a field goal in football, however, in rugby the kick is made during the course of normal play. The ball is alive if the kick fails.
There are two methods of restarting play following a stoppage caused by either the ball going out of bounds or because of an infraction of the laws.
Line-Out: If the ball goes out of bounds, it is restarted with a Line-Out. Both teams form a line perpendicular to the touchline and 1-meter (3 feet) apart from one another. A player of the team not responsible for the ball going out of bounds calls a play and throws the ball in the air in a straight line between the two lines. Players of each team may be supported in the air by their teammates as they jump to gain possession of the ball.
Scrum: Rugby's unique formation, the forerunner of the American football line of scrimmage, is the method used to restart the game after the referee has whistled a minor law violation. A bound group of players from each team form a "tunnel" with the opposition. The non-offending team puts the ball into the tunnel by rolling it into the middle and each team pushes forward until one player is able to hook the ball with the feet and push it to the back row players of his/ her team. The Scrum Half then retrieves the ball and puts it into play.
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.
TACKLES, RUCKS AND MAULS
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.