ORIGINS OF RUGBY – Rugby is the precursor of American football and has been played in the United States since about 1870. American football, as well as basketball, owes many of it’s characteristics to rugby. In fact, basketball was invented by James Naismith as an indoor alternative to rugby when the New England winters required an indoor game. Some of rugby's characteristics such as quick switches between attack and defense, ball handling and committing defenders to attack space are all found in basketball. Some people liken rugby to tackle basketball on grass. There are several obvious differences between rugby and American football. Rugby is played at a fast pace, with few stoppages and continuous possession changes. All players on the field, regardless of position, can 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 a maximum of seven substitutions allowed per team.
RUGBY ETHOS - All players, coaches, officials, parents and fans are encouraged to remember that rugby holds a unique place in American sport. It is an international fraternal sport that is based on hard but fair competition, and camaraderie. The International Rugby Board (IRB), the governing body for rugby around the world, Charter states: “Rugby owes much of its appeal to the fact that it is played both to the letter and within the spirit of the Laws. The responsibility for ensuring this practice lies not with one individual -- it involves coaches, captains, players and referees. It is through discipline, control and mutual respect that the spirit of the game flourishes and, in the context of a game as physically challenging as rugby, these are the qualities which forge the fellowship and sense of fair play so essential to the game’s ongoing success and survival. Rugby is valued as a sport for men and women, boys and girls. It builds teamwork, understanding, co-operation and respect for fellow athletes... It is because of, not despite, rugby’s intensely physical and athletic characteristics that such great camaraderie exists before and after matches.”
TIME OF MATCH - A match consists of two 40-minute halves (35 minutes for high school and youth), and there are no time outs. Play only stops for infractions, dead balls (when the ball is buried in a ruck or maul), or when the ball goes out of bounds. The clock only stops for injuries.
FIELD OF PLAY - Rugby is played on a field, called a pitch, which is longer and wider than a football field, more like a soccer field. Additionally, there are 10 meter end zones, called the try zones or in-goal area, behind the goalposts. The goalposts are the same size as American football goalposts.
THE BALL - A rugby ball is made of leather or other similar synthetic material and is best described as a large, over-inflated football with no laces.
PLAYERS & POSITIONS - Rugby has fifteen (15) players on each team. Everyone on the pitch plays offense and defense, and the number of each player signifies that player's specific position. Jersey numbers above 15 are worn by substitute players. Players numbered one (1) through eight (8) are forwards, typically the larger, stronger players of the team whose main job is to win possession of the ball. They would be the equivalent to American football linebackers and lineman. Players numbered nine (9) through fifteen (15) are backs, the smaller, faster and more agile players. Their main role is to exploit possession of the ball won by the forwards. Backs may be equated to running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks in American football.
STARTING THE GAME - Just as in American football, rugby begins with a kickoff to the opponent from mid-field. Provided that the ball travels beyond the 10-meter line, any player from either team may gain possession of the ball. You may occasionally see players lift each other to gain advantage here.
MOVING OR ADVANCING THE BALL – Rugby, like soccer, is continuous. There is no blocking in rugby. Additionally, rugby does not have downs and it is not required to reach 10 yards and stop. The person with the ball leads the attack. There are only three ways to move the ball in rugby: a player may carry (run), pass or kick the ball. When a player is tackled or the ball hits the ground play is not stopped, unless there is some sort of infraction or the ball is considered dead or buried in a ruck or maul. The game is intended to be free flowing and continuous.
Running: When running the ball, players may continue to run until they are tackled, step out of bounds or run beyond the goal line. Players run the ball to advance toward the opponent’s goal line.
Passing: The ball may be passed to any 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.
SCORING - There are four ways for a team to score points in rugby:
Try: Five (5) 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 but requires the ball actually be grounded.
Conversion: Following a try, two (2) points are awarded for a successful kick through the goal posts. The attempt is taken on a line, at least 10 meters from the try line, straight out from the point where the ball was touched down. This is like an extra point in American football.
Penalty Kick: Following a major law violation, the kicking team, if in range, has the option to “kick for points.” Three (3) points are awarded for a successful penalty kick. The kick must be from the point of the penalty or anywhere on a line straight behind that point. The ball can be played if the kick fails.
Drop Goal: Three (3) points are awarded for a successful drop kick. A drop kick may be taken from anywhere on the field 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.
RESTARTING PLAY - There are three 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. Except for a penalty kick out of bounds, the team that kicks or runs the ball out of bounds turns over the possession to the other team. Both teams form a line perpendicular to the touchline and one-meter (three feet) apart from one another. A team taking possession 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 to gain possession of the ball. This is similar to a jump ball in basketball.
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 (the forward pack) form a “tunnel” with the opposition. The offensive team’s Scrumhalf puts the ball into the tunnel by rolling it in where the Hooker tries to drag the ball back (hook it) with his foot to his teammates, while and each team pushes forward to try and gain an advantage. The ball works its way back through the forwards and then the Scrumhalf then retrieves the ball and generally passes it to the backline.
Penalty Play: After a major violation called by the referee a team can be awarded a penalty kick. The offending team must retreat 10 meters. The awarded team can quickly tap the ball through the mark set by the referee and run it, or they can kick the ball directly out and be awarded the line-out where the ball crosses the line (sideline).
TACKLES, RUCKS AND MAULS - Players carrying the ball may be stopped by being tackled by the opposing team. Players are tackled around the waist and legs, in general. Once a player is tackled, however, play does not stop as it does in football. A player who is tackled to the ground must make the ball available immediately so that play can continue. Supporting players from both teams 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 back of the ruck. A team that can retain possession after the tackle and the ensuing ruck has a huge advantage. A maul is formed with a similar gathering of players, except the player in possession of the ball is simply held up, and not tackled. The maul ends when the ball emerges.
OFFSIDE - One of the more challenging aspects about rugby for a first time rugby observer is the offside law. Similar to soccer, the offside line is continually moving up and down the pitch. In most instances, the ball creates the offside line and players are not permitted to participate in play if they are on the opposing team's side of the ball.
ADVANTAGE - After an offense occurs, if the referee thinks the non-offending team might benefit by “playing on” they may play advantage. How much territory or opportunity is needed before advantage is gained depends on the violation.
This page has a small representation of the types of instructional and informative video resources that are currently available.
Click the links below to access some great information about Rugby basics....enjoy!
USA Rugby HS Game Management Guidelines (2015)
BBC Sport / Rugby Laws & Equipment
We highly recommended reading Rugby for Dummies for those whom are new to rugby. Even those whom have been around the game for a few years may benefit. It is well written and makes the game so much more fun to watch! (When is a "ruck" formed? What is a "maul"? What the heck did the referee just call?)