In an effort to supply as much information as possible, we have compiled some basic rugby facts for anyone interested. In this summary, we've included a brief history of the sport, as well as some of the basic rules for playing the game.
Many believe that rugby was born in 1823 when William Webb Ellis "with fine disregard for the rules of football (soccer) as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game". Although it is worth pointing out that there is little in the way of evidence to substantiate this, it is the most popular view.
Medieval chroniclers documented games of football between rival villages that would do anything in their power to kick, carry and blast a ball past their opponents. Authorities would later attempt to outlaw such dangerous and unproductive pastimes. The first recorded game of ball being played in London was 1175. Edward II passed a statute forbidding Londoners to hustle over large balls and Edward the III ordered his sheriffs to suppress the game. James I debarred "all rough and violent exercise with a foot ball" and Charles II again made the game unlawful. In fact during the period 1314 to 1527 no less than nine European monarchs made it a specific offense to play "foote balle", instead directing their subjects to practice archery or face fines or even imprisonment. Despite it all, youths continued to play the game.
The game is also said to have originated in Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) from the Viking game of Knappan which became very popular during Tudor times in Pembrokeshire, Britain. Some have tried to trace the origins of these games to the 6th century Roman sport of Harpastum a word derived from the Greek word meaning seize (also later on in Florence, Italy called "Calcio"), but then others have argued that the Romans learned this game from the Far East, China or even Japan, and so it goes on.
I guess we can be certain that ever since man learned to walk on two legs he was tempted to kick, throw and catch objects for his own enjoyment.
Rugby is now a huge sport, popular across the globe. Steeped in tradition, the sport has been modernized consistently and is now a professional sport attracting big business while remaining true to its roots. The Rugby World Cup is held every four years and is one of the biggest grossing sporting events in the world. The World Cup in 2003 had a gross commercial income of more that £80 million ($136 million) and attracted a world television audience of approximately 3.4 billion people. In 2007, that number increased to 4.2 billion people.
Rugby's beginning in America is uncertain. It is known that the game was played in various forms prior to the formation of the Rugby Union in 1871. On May 5 1874, Harvard University hosted Montreal’s McGill University at Cambridge, Mass., in the first recorded rugby game on American soil. In 1905, publication of photographs of a harsh game between Swarthmore and Pennsylvania caused President Theodore Roosevelt to insist on reform to lower the brutality with threat of abolishing the game. The forward pass was introduced to the United States game. The rules of rugby became less popular and the game of American football was born.
World War I brought a further setback to American rugby. It was viewed as foreign and lost popularity. The Great Depression and World War II further set back the sport. By 1950 only about 30 clubs competed nationwide.
In the 1960's however, rugby underwent a revival in the United States. Men (including President George W. Bush) and women on college campuses took to rugby to escape the rigid discipline of other sports. In 1975 the United States of America Rugby Football Union was formed and brought significant progress to the development of rugby in America. By 1980 over 1,000 rugby clubs competed. The USA Eagles claimed the first unofficial Women’s Rugby World Cup in 1991 by defeating England, 19-6, and today America’s men’s side also competes in the World Cup, the highest level of international competition. Most major colleges and universities have rugby clubs and there are more than 2000 rugby clubs in the USA involving in excess of 70,000 players and these numbers are growing rapidly each year. Texas Rugby Union has more men’s clubs than any other Local Union.
Rugby Union is now a sport played by two teams of fifteen players and several substitutes controlled by a referee and two touch judges. It is played in two 40 minute halves on a grass pitch. This article is aimed at giving a very basic introduction to the game of Rugby Union.
The idea of the game is to outscore your opponents by grounding the ball behind the oppositions try line. This is called a “try” and is worth five points. To ground the ball an attacker must hold the ball and touch it on the ground, touch the ball with downward pressure while it is in the in-goal area or fall on the ball and push down so that it is under their body and over the try line.
A “Conversion” may then be attempted by place kicking the ball over the cross bar and between the posts from a position perpendicular to where the ball was grounded for the try. Three Points may also be scored by drop kicking the ball over the bar and between the posts or place kicking a Penalty over the bar between the posts for three points.
Players line up either as a forward or a back. Forwards are the players who take part in the scrums and line outs. Backs can be seen lined up across the field, prepared to pass the ball toward the outside.
Although their motion will generally be forward, players cannot pass the ball forward, i.e. towards the oppositions try line. Referees will stop the play if the ball is passed forward and award a scrum (Unless there is an advantage – see Advantage). A scrum will also be called if a knock-on occurs (see The Scrum) going to the non-penalized team. A knock-on is where a player loses control of the ball and propels it forward with their hands or arms into another player or into the ground. If it is propelled forward and the player retains control without it hitting the ground or another player, then it is play on. There is however an exception to this rule, if a kick is charged down, the knock on rule is not applied.
A scrum consists of eight players from each side who bind on to each other and try to push the other team backwards and off the ball, players cannot push before the ball is in the scrum this will result in a penalty.
Players must remain bound until the ball comes out however if the ball is at the feet of the hindmost player, he may unbind, pick the ball up and continue playing. The only time fewer than 8 members of the team are in the scrum is if a second row or flanker has been sin-binned (a temporary sending off), sent off or left the field due to injury and no replacement is available.
The eight players in the scrum are 2 x Props, 1 x Hooker 2 x Second Rows (or locks) and 3 x flankers (or wing-forwards). The props and hooker comprise the front row. This is a specialist area of the game and only players suitably trained in the prop and hooker positions may play in the front row.
The scrum is formed with the hooker binding between the two props, while the two second rows place their heads into the spaces between the hooker’s hips and the props hips. The flankers then bind on to the second rows with one flanker on each side of the scrum and one in the middle – the number 8. The props also have a specific side of the scrum to bind on to. The loosehead prop binds on the side of the scrum that the ball is put in from (hence there is space on one side of his head!) and the tighthead prop binds on the other side of the hooker. As the front rows interlock heads when the scrum is formed, a tighthead prop will always scrummage against a loosehead prop and vice versa.
The scrum half of the team that have the “head”, so called because the loosehead is nearer the scrum half, puts the ball in straight in the channel between the two front rows. The ball must come back out of the scrum via any route, as long as it passes through the legs of a prop. Once the ball is out of the scrum, play carries on as normal.
Players line up for a game in various positions the shirt numbers that a player relates to this position. The standard lineup is:
1 – Loosehead Prop
The positional line up at a scrum can be seen on the right. This is a typical line up with the black team attacking “up the page”. The red team is defending. Notice how the black team are in a line which will allow the ball to be passed backwards and the red team are in a defensive line, behind the last player in the scrum.
A tackle is completed when the ball carrier is held and brought to the ground by the tackler. If a player is merely knocked over then they are not considered to be tackled and they may get back up and continue playing. If a tackle is made above the shoulder, or if a player does not make an attempt to wrap their arms around the player (i.e. shoulder charging) then the tackler will be penalized and may face a spell in the sin-bin if it is considered to be dangerous.
When a player is tackled they must release the ball immediately. Holding onto it will result in a penalty to the opposition. The tackler along with any other player coming into the tackle area must be on their feet before playing at the ball and enter it from the rear of tackle. If any player enters the tackle area and does not remain on their feet they may be penalized by the referee.
After a tackle there are two scenarios that can occur. A ruck occurs when the ball is on the floor and there is at least one player from each team in contact with each other over the ball. The ball cannot be handled in a ruck. Instead, the ball must be rucked backwards by players using their feet. Players must join a ruck from behind the hindmost foot of the hindmost player otherwise they will be offside and penalized.
A maul is formed when there are three players, all on their feet; the ball carrier and one person from each team. Players must also join a maul from behind the hindmost foot or be offside. A player must bind onto a ruck or maul using their whole arm, placing a hand on the ruck or maul is not sufficient and may be penalized.
If a team is awarded a penalty they may select, to kick to ball to touch to gain field position and hopefully possession from a line out, to kick for goal for a three point score, tap the ball and run or take a scrum. Some minor offences result in a free kick from which a penalty kick at goal cannot be taken.
A line out is awarded if the ball is brought into touch from the field of play. The throw will only go to the team that kicked it if it is from a penalty kick. All other circumstances result in the non-kicking team getting the throw in. The throw in should be reasonably straight into the tunnel between the teams. The team throwing in will determine how many players are in the line out. Penalties occur when a player unfairly interferes with his opposite number.
In general play a player is off-sides when in front of a teammate who has the ball, this means that the player is out of the game until they are put back on side. They must not take part in the game in any way during this time.
If a player kicks ahead and a team mate is offside at the moment of the kick, they can be put on side by the kicker if the kicker runs in front of them or if another on side team mate runs in front of him. They can also be put on-side by an opponent if the opponent runs for 5m with the ball, kicks or passes the ball or intentionally touches it but does not hold it – such as dropping the kick.
There is an offside line at the hindmost foot of the scrum, ruck and maul beyond which defending players cannot move until the ball is out. The offside line at a line out is 10m from the line of touch so that the players have more room to move.
If a team commits either a penalty or scrum offence the opposition can be awarded an advantage without the need for a penalty or scrum to be awarded. Assuming the opposition get the ball there are two types of advantage: territorial, where a player has taken the opportunity to move the ball up field; tactical advantage is when the player sets up a good attacking platform for their team.
If a referee decides that an advantage has been taken they will allow play on and ignore the need for a scrum or penalty. If they decide otherwise, the play is brought back to the original offence position and the scrum or penalty is awarded.
This is a very basic overview of the game of Rugby Union. If you wish to learn more about the game, the laws of the game are available on the IRB website. The RFU have a specialist coaching section of their website with many interesting areas of player development and coaching advice available.