Rugby is a full-contact, action sport, requiring finesse and team consciousness as well as athletic ability, stamina, and coordination. The object of the game is for one team to score more points than the other. There are fifteen men on a side, and there is a single referee, who is the Law during the game. The rugby ball is an inflated leather-covered ball of oblong ellipsoidal shape.
A rugby game, called a "match", is played in two 40-minute halves, with a five-minute break in between. Each half is initiated by a kickoff from mid-field. Which team kicks off in which half is determined by a coin toss before the match. The players are forbidden to wear any protective equipment; however, soft bandages may be employed to safeguard existing injuries. Each team is permitted limited substitutions during the course of the match, and the players going off the field may not return. Substitutions are allowed for replacement of injured players.
A player with the ball may run with it, kick it, or pass it laterally to any other player who is behind him; forward passes are not allowed in rugby. It is a team effort to advance the ball downfield and to score. Members of the opposing team may tackle the man with the ball at any time, and no member of the attacking team may obstruct a defensive player from moving toward the ball. There is no blocking allowed in Rugby. A tackle must be made using an arm and a shoulder. A "high tackle", a tackle above the shoulders, is considered dangerous play and constitutes a penalty. When a man is tackled to the ground, he must release the ball. The ball is always live, and the first man to get to the ball may pick it up and run with it.
When a man is tackled with the ball, and one or more players from both teams converge around the man with the ball, a Maul is formed; each team wrestles to gain possession of the ball. When one or more players from both teams converge around a ball on the ground, a Ruck is formed; each team attempts to gain possession of the ball by using only their feet.
A Scrum is setup in a controlled and specified formation; the eight forwards from each team pack down in opposing formations of 3-2-1 with two flankers on either side of this triangle. The front rows of three men each lean forward and lock together head-to-shoulder; this forms a "tunnel" in between which the opposing packs. The scrum-half then injects the ball into this tunnel, and each pack vies to gain possession of the ball, using only their feet, and to heal the ball gently to the back of their respective side, where the scrum-half may pick it up and pass it out to the backs, who start to advance the ball downfield. Once the ball exits the scrum, the scrum ceases, and the forwards disengage and join the open field play. Scrums are prescribed by the referee when a team is guilty of a minor infraction; the most common reason for scrumming-down is a player knocking the ball forward with his hand. Scrummage is also ordered when a ball is hopelessly smothered in a ruck or maul.
"When the ball is kicked or carried off the pitch across the touch lines, it is said to "be in touch". This means it is out-of-bounds. A Line-out is employed to bring the ball back into play. The line is defined as the line perpendicular to the touch-line and intersecting the touch-line at the point where the ball crossed it. The forwards line up on either side of this line, one meter apart; the rest of the team must retreat 10 meters from this line, except for the scrum-halves, who stand next to their lines of forwards. One of the forwards then throws the ball in, directly along the line, and both packs attempt to gain possession of the ball and then pass the ball back to their scrum-half, who passes it out to the backs. The backs must remain 10 meters back from the line until the ball exits the line-out or the mauling forwards advance 5 meters in either direction.
Penalties are assessed against a team for various infractions. Off-side, blocking, intentionally throwing the ball forward, or illegally playing the ball with the hands in a scrum or a ruck are the most common. In this event, the team offended against receives a kick from the point of infraction. The kick may be a drop-kick, a punt or a place kick, or it may be tapped with the foot and then passed to the kicker's teammates. Field position generally dictates the type of kick taken.
No player may participate in play unless he either has the ball or is behind the ball. The specifics of being off-side depend upon the type of play that is active. If the ball is kicked forward by a playerís teammate who is behind him, that player is off-side until either he retreats behind the kicker or the kicker passes him. When there is a scrum, anyone not bound in the scrum must remain behind the line of the ball within the scrum. In a ruck or a maul, anyone not bound in must remain behind the back foot of the last man bound in; anyone who binds into a ruck or a maul must do so from his side of the ball. The penalty for off-sides is a kick from the point of infraction; in the case of off-sides after a kick, the non-offending team has the option of choosing a scrum at the point where the ball was kicked.
The referee shall not whistle for an infringement during play, which is followed by the non-offending team gaining an advantage. Thus, the referee, after observing an infraction, will wait to ascertain that the non-offending team has not developed an obvious tactical advantage before he whistles for the infraction. The advantage allows the game to keep moving, providing something good occurs to the side that did not break the Laws. If a team knocks the ball forward and then the opposing team knocks it forward while the referee is playing advantage, the scrum is awarded based on the first knock-on.
Ways to Score:
There are four ways to score in rugby: the Try, the Conversion Kick, the Penalty Goal, and the Dropped Goal. A player scores Try by running or kicking the ball into his opponentís In-Goal zone and then touching it down on the ground: the player must apply downward pressure on the ball while it is in contact with the ground. 5 points are warded for a Try. After a Try has been scored, the scoring team may attempt a Conversion Kick, which is worth 2 more points. The ball may be positioned on the ground anywhere along the line which is parallel to the touch lines and which intersects the location at which the ball was touched down in-goal; a player must kick the ball through the uprights of the posts.
A Penalty Kick may be awarded to a team if the opposing team is guilty of a major infraction of the laws. The ball may be place-kicked from the point of the infraction, and if it passes through the uprights, 3 points are awarded. The Dropped Goal is a drop kick which passes through the uprights; it is worth 3 points. A drop kick is made by letting the ball fall from the hand to the ground and kicking the ball from behind as it rises from its first rebound. A Dropped Goal may be attempted any time during the match and from anywhere on the pitch.
History of Scoring:
Up until 1886 the conventional scoring system was by goals: dropped goals and goals from tries. The game developed from soccer, and the only way to score was to kick the ball for goal. Carrying the ball into the In-Goal zone earned a man a "try" for goal; the try itself counted for nothing. Then it developed that if the number of goals were equal, or zero, then the game could be decided on the greater number of tries. Scoring by points was introduced in 1886; a goal was worth 3 points, and a try was worth 1.
In 1891, the International Board amended the rules to read, "A match shall be decided by a majority of points; a try shall equal two points; a penalty goal shall equal three points; a goal from a try (the try not also too count) shall equal five points. Any other goal shall equal four points." After scoring a try, a team was allowed to "convert the try to a goal" by kicking the ball through the uprights, hence the term "conversion kick."
In the 1990ís the Board changed the value of Try to be 5 points, with the kick-after converting this to 7 points.
The field of play in rugby is called a pitch because the ground is higher in the middle and slopes off to the sides (it is "pitched") for the purpose of water drainage. The "pitch" is a rectangle of maximum dimensions 100 meters by 69 meters, and is preferably covered with grass. The two longer sides are called the Touch lines, and these determine out-of-bounds. The two shorter sided of this rectangle are the goal lines, and beyond these goal lines lie the zones called In-Goal, which are bounded by the Dead-ball lines on the back side; the In-Goal zone is the same width as the pitch an d is usually 22 meters deep. Two goal posts and a crossbar are centered on each goal line. A team scores points by kicking the ball through the goal posts and by touching the ball down to the ground in the oppositionís In-Goal.
The ball is kicked-off from here to start each half and to restart after a score.
These are located 10 meters on either side of the halfway line. The kickoff must travel this far unless the receiving team fields it.
These are very important lines. If the attacking team propels the ball in goal and the defending team grounds it, or if the attacking team propels or carries the ball over the dead ball line or to touch-in-goal, a drop kick from the 22-line by the defending side restarts play. Also, kicks by the defending side (excluding dropouts) that go to touch on the fly result in a lineout where the ball left the field. Kicks are taken in front of the 22 which find touch on the fly are thrown in from where the ball was kicked.
These lines run parallel to the long sides of the field, and they are 5-meters and 15-meters from the touch lines, respectively. They are relevant for throw-ins; the ball must travel at least 5-meters before a player touches it. No player involved in a Line-out may stand farther from the touch-line than 15-meters.
There are fifteen men on a side in a rugby game, and, although all of them must handle the ball, run, pass, tackle, and kick, the players usually migrate to a position which makes best use of their particular talents. The fifteen are roughly divided into three groups: the tight-5, the pivot-5, and the loose-5.
The Tight-5 are the players in the front and second rows of the pack forwards. The front row consists of two props, numbers 1 and 3, and the hooker (number 2). It is the hookerís job in a scrum to take possession of the ball coming into the tunnel by striking it with his feet and to guide it back under the feet of his supporting players; he is also usually the person who throws the ball in from line-outs.
The hooker is usually a short person with a lot of facial hair. Since he is usually buried deep in the scrum, he learns to feel comfortable in foul-smelling caves; he also learns many tricks for stealing the ball, which he carefully keeps secret. Many of the tricks are much less than legal, and under close scrutiny the hooker will be observed to get away with more cheating in a single game than most players draw of in their careers.
The job of the two props is to support the hooker in the scrum, to carry most of his weight so that he can use his legs freely to strike the ball. Props also sport a great deal of facial hair, and they also learn many "tricks" in the scrum; hyperbole, asperity, and pugnacity, and they also display aggressive behavior.
The second row, numbers 4 and 5, are the lock forwards: they bind behind the three front row players, inserting their heads between the hips of the props and hooker. The locks steady the platform and supply the power on the drive. They are usually tall and not so fat as the props, so they do most of the jumping in line-outs. Locks have special anatomical features associated with their positions; they must necessarily have dysfunctional olfactory organs, and they have special gnarly, bulbous appendages attached to the sides of their heads so that they can stand out in a crowd and attract at least some glances from attractive young ladies.
On the whole, the tight-5 are never where theyíre needed in the game; they are the last ones out of the scrum and the last ones to arrive at the breakdowns. When a team is losing ground in a ruck or a maul, the members of the tight-5 are usually found standing on the weak side anxiously waiting for the ball to come out so that they can "break it up the weak side" for a big gain.
The numbers 6 and 7 are called the flankers, the wing forwards, or the breakaways. Their job is to stabilize the scrum, define the outer edges of the scrum, and to shield the scrum-half from his opponent; they are loosely bound, so they break off quickly when the ball comes out. Defensively, their primary purpose is to squash the opposing scrum-half or fly-half and to cause a breakdown somewhere along the backline. Offensively, the flankers should be the first forwards to arrive at the breakdowns or as support for the backline. Speed, stamina, and good tackling ability are essential, and good ball-handling skills are extremely important. Wing-forwards usually suffer from a strong identity crisis of whether to be a forward or a back; many times they take the position simply for the accessibility of hammering a few people without the burden of much thinking.
The eight-man, number 8, is the forward who controls the channeling of the ball out the back of the scrum when it is time. He is also loosely bound and must break quickly and support or defend. The eight-man may pick up the ball at the back of the scrum and initiate an attack. The direction of attack is usually against the weak side, and the eight-man invariably chooses to go when there are seven defenders lined up on the weak side and no one covering his backs on the strong side; in this case, he usually topples and tramples his own scrum-half, who is just bending down to pass the ball out of the backline for an easy score.
The scrum-half, number 9, must work in perfect timing with three
other players for a successful team. He must work with the hooker when
putting the ball in the scrum, then the number 8 when taking the ball
from the rear of the scrum, and finally with the fly-half out to whom he
passes. Scrum-halves usually run the offense since they are in constant
contact with both the forwards and the backs. They are usually short but
quick and tenacious. They are the primary target for squashing by the
opposing forwards, and hence they seldom know which direction the ball
is going, and they never know the score of the game.
The fly-half, or our-half, number 10, is the general of the backline play. He must have sure hands and a quick mind, for he must decide whether to pass, run, or kick the ball within one step of receiving it from the scrum-half. The fly-half will usually call for a set-play off a scrum-down or a line-out; these can become fairly elaborate combinations of misses, switches, and occasional simple passes. The backs practice these maneuvers extensively during training, but they rarely ever execute one properly in a game. The fly-half usually decides to start putting his foot on the ball about the time that his backline is starting to click and to make yardage.
The linkage between the eight-man, the scrum-half, and the fly-half is the pivotal connections of a teamís play, and it requires the three men to work together on timing so that their efforts mesh smoothly. Usually the scrum-halfís hand messes with the eighth-manís foot, causing the ball to make an errant trajectory, or the eighth-man leaves a ball deep in the scrum, forcing the scrum-half to dig in to get it and whirl a pass a round the eight-manís body. At this point, the fly-half can be heard shouting to "just get me the ball cleanly!" In the next play the scrum-half makes a gentle, soft lob, which reaches the fly-half just before the opposing wing-forwards, with lathery drool at the corners of their mouths. The one universal terror under which all fly-halves live is to have an outlet pass come straight at their hands: there is no way they can catch such a pass. However, this fear is fairly academic.
The loose-5 are composed of centers, the wings, and the fullback. The centers, numbers 12 and 13, are the keys to the offensive attack: a center breaking a tackle in the line can initiate an open field run for great gain. Defensively, the centers must tackle their marks to stop the opponentsí advance. The centers, when tackled with the ball, must try to maintain their feet and control of the ball until support arrives from the wing-forwards and the rest of the pack. The centers are usually the "pretty boys" of the backs. The hardest drinkers and unquestionably the greediest ball hogs in the sport. It is not uncommon to see a center repeatedly crash into two defenders (leaving his winger unmarked), get stripped of the ball, and get up saying, "I thought I could break it."
The wings, numbers 11 and 14, are the fastest men on the field, and it is advantageous to get them the ball with plenty of open field in which to maneuver. They must also defend against and confidently field kicks and either return the kick or initiate a counterattack. Wings must posses a great deal of patience, for they see little of the ball during a game, other than of their centers eating it in the line; consequently, their first encounter with the ball results in a juggling act that makes the Harlem Globetrotters look like amateur basketball players. When they do hang on to the ball, the rest of the team merely jogs downfield, as the winger will either score or be tackled: a non-forward pass is not in his repertoire.
The fullback, number 15, plays an important position, both offensively and defensively. Defensively, he is the last line of defense, so he must be a good tackler, and he must be able to field kicks. He needs to have a good foot to return a kick, and he must be able to initiate a counterattack. Offensively, the fullback will insert himself into the backline in order to create an overload, giving his team a much better chance of making a break.
Fullbacks are usually chosen for their levelheadedness, as they must cope with the intense pressure of acute boredom. The few plays in which they participate are usually spectacular, like tackling three men while the fourth scores an easy try, or returning a kick 3 meters forward and 40 meters sideways.
The loose-5 are frequently called "backs", because the forwards are convinced that this is the only direction that the ball will travel, once it has left the scrum. On the whole, they are intensely individualistic players, who seldom know each otherís names and who always suit up in inexplicably clean jerseys. They perform the most glamorous open field runs and tell stories of heroics in a most unassuming manner that leads others to believe that "itís the Backs what get the Glory, and itís the Scrum what gets the Blame!"