Rugby Union is a physical contact team sport with 15 players per side (ten and seven a side variants exist, e.g Hong Kong Sevens). Unlike grid iron or american football the players essentially wear no padding. Unlike soccer the players are allowed to pick up the ball and run with it.

Unlike rugby league the play varies in a number of key ways (apart from the greater complexity of the game in general):

General Play and Scoring Points

A ball being passed from one player to another is not allowed to be propelled forward, unlike gridiron or soccer. The referee (there is one referee on the field) can award penalties for offside, bringing down a maul, diving into a maul, dangerous tackling etc. A team can elect to kick for a penalty goal by kicking the ball between two upright posts and above a crossbar. If successful they are awarded 3 points. The other principle method of scoring points is to score a try. This occurs when the ball is applied with downward force on or beyond the oppositions goal line. Goal lines are not more than 100 metres apart with an in-goal area no more than 22 meters and no less than 10 metres past the goal line. A try is given 5 points. The team scoring a try is given the opportunity to convert the try for another 2 points.

The Team and Positions

As with most forms of contact teams sports players are broken into two main categories - forwards and backs. Forwards are mostly large but must also be mobile. In Rugby Union height is also an advantage in line outs, while shortness is valued for rucks and mauls. Backs are usually smaller and faster however breaking the opposition line is still a requirement. Fullbacks offer another attack and defense competent. Fullbacks must be good kickers and also able to find holes in broken play. They must also be able to play off the fridge of rucks and mauls and be able to chime into the back line whenever possible. The scum-half acts as the interface between the forwards and the back. They will often be the first person who gets the ball when it leaves a ruck, maul or line-out. It is their decision who to pass the ball to. They also play a surprise kicking role and create opportunities through their ability to read the defensive line, or lack thereof, of the opposition

The Scrum

The scrum is actually still a meaningful part of the game unlike rugby league where scrums are simple a method to restart play. A scrum is formed in the field-of-play when eight players from each team, bound together in three rows for each team, close up with their opponents so that the heads of the front rows are interlocked. This creates a tunnel into which a scrum-half throws in the ball so that front-row players can compete for possession by hooking the ball with either of their fee ( In rugby union the scrum is very important in particular when the team is close to the opposition try line or to create a stable foundation for attack.

The Tackle, Maul and Ruck

In contrast to rugby league or for that matter gridiron a tackle resulting in the ball and player being taken to ground does not end play. Instead a number of curious phases of play evolve or explode. So the concept of five or six or seven tackles until turnover does not exist in Rugby Union.

When one or more players bind onto the held player a maul forms. A player is technically not tackled until they get taken to ground. The maul can and does move depending on which team is able to push hardest. However the maul is very dynamic and the ball can be passed from one player to another forming a rolling maul. This can be a very potent method of attack and saps the oppositions strength.

A tackle technically only occurs when the players goes to ground. The player, once taken to ground, must immediately release the ball. Usually a tackled player gets taken to ground and a ruck, where players from both teams attempt to secure the ball, forms literally over top of them. Players are not allowed to simply dive into or on top of the ruck to get the ball but must attempt to stay on their feet. As the ruck forms from a held player to a tackle often players go to ground on the ball, on each other and in all directions. A player rucks when they use their feet to attempt to keep or maintain possession of the ball on the ground. A player can only join the ruck from the behind the hind-most player in the ruck. A maul can turn into a ruck but a rolling maul cannot be deliberately taken down by the opposition or they incur a penalty.

The ruck once establised forms the position of the offside line for the opposition - the hindmost foot of the hindmost player in the maul ( Once the balls leaves the maul players may move across the offside line. Often if a maul forms deep in a team's end of the field they will pass the ball from the maul to a kicker who then kicks the ball out of the field of play without the ball touching another player. Kicking the ball out usually results in a line-out. If the ball was kicked into touch (on the full without touching anyone) from within the teams 22 metre line the line out is formed where the ball crosses the edge of the field. If the ball is kicked into touch and the kicker is outside of their own 22 metre line the line-out is formed from where the player kicked the ball. No advantage is gained by the kicking team. If the kicker kicks the ball out of the field of play but makes the ball bounce onto the field of play and then out, then the line out is formed where the ball crossed the edge of the playing field.

The Lineout

A lineout is a method to restart play where two lines of players are formed at right angles to where the ball went into touch. The number of players from each side must be equal in number and varies from 1 player to 7 or so. The line out is formed no closer than 5 meters to the side line and no more than 15 metres from the side line. Depending on the previous play one person from one of the teams throws-in the ball between the two rows of players who stand 1 metre apart. The ball is not allowed to signifciantly favour one team or the other. Players participating in the line-out are allowed to assist through lifting one of their fellow participants in collecting the ball that has been thrown into the line-out. Any other players not participating in the line out must remain 10 metres behind the line out until a maul or ruck is formed or the ball is cleared from the line out.

Rugby Union is indeed a great spectacle offering a depth of play rarely seen in other sports. It has continuous action with many periods of spectacular play that highlights some of the great sporting skills. Not only raw power and aggression but also finese and deft touches of the ball. The complexity of rugby union, tactically, strategically, mentally and physically seems to IMHO outweigh those found in Rugby League. Some the finest sporting moments that I have seen have occurred in Rugby Union matches.

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