A Brief Guide to Rugby

Welcome to rugby! 

The 2021 Major League Rugby season kicked off this past weekend at Bold Stadium in Austin, Texas.  The partnership between the Austin Gilgronis, the Austin Music Foundation and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians brough many first-time watchers to the match who were probably left wondering what’s going on.  This guide is meant to help. 

Rugby rules can be difficult to understand.  Indeed, even the most experienced rugby fan may not understand all the ins and outs of the sports.  This short article will shed some light on the play, and hopefully make watching the match more enjoyable. 

The rugby field, or pitch, is about the same size as a soccer field, and resembles a football field.  The pitch is divided into halves by the “halfway line,” similar to the 50-yard line in football.  At either end of the field is the “try line,” or the goal line.  Positioned at the center of the try line are rugby posts, similar to football goal posts from the 1960s. The line marking the back of the “try zone” is called the “dead ball line,” beyond which the play is stopped. The side line of a rugby pitch, marking the boundary of play, is called the “touch line.”  

Figure 1 - A “try” is scored when a player carries the ball beyond the try line and touches it to the turf.

The match consists of 2, 40-minutes halves with a 10-minute intermission.  And, like in soccer, the play clock runs continuously. 

Play is started, or re-started after a score, by kicking the ball from the halfway line.  The kickoff must travel at least 10 meters before the ball can be put into play.  Points are score in one of four ways: 

·      A “try” is scored when a player carries the ball beyond the try line and touches it to the turf.  This is similar to a touchdown in football. A try is awarded 5 point. 

·      A 2-point “conversion” is awarded following a try by kicking the ball from the ground through the posts and above the cross bar.  The kick is made 22 meters from the try line, from the position where the ball crossed the try line. 

·      A team can score 3 points on a “drop goal.”  A drop goal is scored when a player intentionally drops the ball to the ground and kicks the ball on the bounce through the goal posts and above the cross bar.  

·      A team can also score points on a penalty, but it has several options.   It can choose to either continue play, kick the ball down the pitch, or kick the ball from the ground between the posts and above the cross bar.  A “penalty goal” is awarded 3 points. 

Rugby play is continuous, unlike football where there are pauses of 20 to 30 seconds between plays.  The ball is advanced by running, passing and kicking.  A player runs with the ball until tackled.  Once tackled, the tackler must immediately release the ball carrier.  The ball carrier then rolls the ball to their teammates while lying on the ground with their back to the opponents.  This formation called a “ruck.”  Only the ball carrier can be tackled.  There is no blocking.   

Figure 2 - A "maul" is formed when the ball carrier is tackled by does not fall to the ground.  Players from both teams surround the ball carrier and lift them from the ground.  

Sometime a player on defense may stop the player with the ball, but ball carrier is not tackled to the ground.  When this happens, players from both teams immediately surround both players.  The ball carrier is lifted from the ground, turned around, and tries to pass the ball to their teammates.  This is called a “maul.”

The player running with the ball may also pass the ball.  Passes must always be backwards and are usually made underhanded.  

A player may also advance the ball by kicking it.  The kicked ball is usually targeted to a vacant spot on the pitch with players running to the ball, or aimed to go out of bounds. 

Figure 3 - Passes in rugby must always be backwards and are usually made underhanded.  

A forward pass or dropped ball that bounces forward is considered a foul.  Play is re-started in a formation called a “scrum.”  A scrum is formed by eight players from each team huddling together and linking arms in a closely packed formation.  The team that did not commit the foul rolls the ball into the center of the scrum.  Players in the scrum fight for the ball by pushing the pile, and moving the ball with their feet until the ball leave the back of the scrum.  

Figure 4 - A forward pass or dropped ball that bounces forward is considered a foul and stops play.  Play is re-started in a formation called a “scrum.”

A “line out” occurs when the ball leaves the field of play either because the ball is kicked out of bounds or a player steps out of bounds.  Players from both teams form two lines, standing perpendicular to the touch line, about 1 meter apart, and between 5 to 15 meters away from the touch line.  The ball is thrown from the touch line between the two lines by the team in possession.  A player form each team is usually lifted by their teammates to catch the ball or tap it to their teammate.  

Figure 5 - A “line out” occurs when the ball leaves the field of play.  Play is restarted by throwing the ball in from between the touch line between a line of players from the two teams.  

This guide is nowhere near complete.  The rules are complex and vary by league. Hopefully, it helps you understand the basics of the game and allows for an enjoyable experience.  Your understanding and enjoyment will increase with each match that you watch. 

About the Author

Andy Nietupski founded TTL Sport Media in 2015 after a corporate career of business start-ups and turn-arounds.  TTL Sports Media helps sports organizations optimize their business results using the latest digital sales and marketing techniques.  TTL Sports Media publishes thousands of pieces of content annually and curates a catalog of more than 100,000 items.  On behalf of its client interests, TTL Sports Media annually publishes nearly 200 articles and makes 1000’s of social media posts.  

Copyright 2021 Andy Nietupski and TTL Sports Media

Copyright © All rights reserved.
Using Format