In Rugby, We Call Them ‘Laws.
Rugby is the most complex simple game you’ll ever watch. At its core, rugby is one team with the ball running into another team defending, until the offensive team scores or loses the ball. However there are many rules that govern the teams’ interactions, and this is what confuses most newcomers to the game.
THE BASIC LAWS
Play: Two teams of 15 players try to advance the ball against an opponent’s goal line by running, kicking or passing (laterally) the ball. There is no forward pass. There is no blocking.
Knock-On/Forward Pass: The ball cannot travel forward off a player’s hands. That means no forward passes or dribbling. The two ways you can advance the ball is kicking the ball or carrying the ball forward. Passes have to be either lateral or backwards. Result of breaking this rule: Scrum for the opposing team.
Scrum: Maybe the most commonly asked question is: What is that thing with all the guys mushed together in a big blob? That’s a scrum. On each team, eight of the 15 players, known as the forward pack, bind together. Three in the front; four in the middle, and; one at the back. They push forward in the same formation, while the team that didn’t commit the foul puts the ball into the scrum, hoping it comes out at the back of the scrum on their side. Around 90 percent of the time, the team that puts the ball in gets the ball back. Have a look at this video of scrums if you’re still confused.
Tackling: When one player tackles another there are three rules for the tackler. 1. Don’t tackle around the neck or above. 2. When coming into contact with the ground, make the tackle safe for your opponent. 3. Tackle with your hands and shoulders, not just your shoulders.
Ruck: Once the player with the ball has been tackled, they must release it. What’s called a “ruck” is formed and the ball is up for grabs — the two teams have to fight for possession of the ball. Rules governing the contest for possession often vary slightly by country or referee, but the basics are: stay on your feet, enter the ruck from your side of the field and don’t touch the ball until it’s secured by one team or outside of the ruck.
Lineout: Generally, if the ball goes out of bounds, the team that didn’t take it out of bounds gets to throw it in at the point the ball crossed the line. That throw must be perpendicular to the sideline, and typically involves a jump-ball among a corridor of forwards.
Penalty: Commit an infraction, and your opponent is given the ball. You have to back-up 10 meters. Commit a flagrant infraction and you’ll receive a yellow card and sit for 10 minutes (“sin bin”) while your team plays short one player. Do it again, or a major violation and it’s a red card, your team is without a player for the remainder of the match, and you may be facing a serious ban. This is not soccer.
Scoring: The goal of every rugby team is to score a “try.” There is an infinite number of ways to score tries, but they all involve crossing the goal line and touching the ball on the ground. One try is worth 5 points, after which the scoring team has the opportunity to kick the ball off the ground for a “conversion” worth two points.
The difficulty of a conversion depends on where the try scorer touches the ball down. Touch the ball down underneath the uprights and the conversion will be a chip shot, that most of you reading could make. Score next to the sideline and even good kickers will only make this conversion half the time. The only other way to score is off penalty kicks. A penalty kick is exactly like a conversion, but are awarded after foul play instead of following a try.
Matches: A rugby game is 80 minutes long with 40 minute halves and stoppage time similar to soccer. Draws are allowed but rarely occur in competition.
Player safety is our greatest priority. While a contact sport, the risks associated with rugby are reasonable, with proper coaching and technique factoring significantly in the success of players in avoiding injury.
Rugby is played all over the world, by men and women of all types. Played in over 100 countries, it is a Top 3 most popular team sport in nations such as New Zealand, England, Ireland, France, Australia, Fiji, Italy, South Africa and Wales. This sport could not be as popular, among so many different cultures, if it were excessively dangerous. In fact, the risk of injury in rugby is relatively low compared to sports Americans embrace – such as football, skiing, ice hockey, and lacrosse – among studies to ascertain the risk of sports injury.
The main reason rugby players have a relatively low risk of injury compared to football players is paradoxical – rugby players don’t wear protective equipment. Thus the rugby player doesn’t have the same disregard for the safety of his or her head, neck, and shoulders when tackling or trying to break through a tackle. The other reason is that unlike football, rugby is a game of possession, not yardage. Consequently rugby players don’t tackle by “driving through the numbers,” as football players are taught to do with their heads when tackling a player. In rugby, players are taught to use their arms to wrap a player’s legs and let the momentum of that player cause him to go to ground. Furthermore, in rugby there is no blocking, and so players who don’t have the ball don’t get hit when they’re not expecting it.
One of the reasons rugby has a reputation for being “dangerous” in the United States is because when the average American sees rugby being played, he or she sees a free-flowing contact sport. Because it doesn’t have the familiar stop-and-start character of football and other TV-shaped sports, to the uninitiated rugby can appear confusing and “scary.”
Furthermore, while the bumps, bruises, and scrapes you see on the elbows, knees, and faces of many rugby players can appear alarming, they are often battle wounds (totally healing) which are happily worn by millions of players around the world who know what it’s like to go out there and play.
USA Rugby is our national organizing body. You can find them at: www.usarugby.org