An old rugby adage holds that Rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen. I believe it is usually preceded by Football is a gentleman's game played by hooligans, which highlights the rivalry that exists between the two sports.
I do not wish to indulge in a long history of the sport, but rather would like to focus on how the game is played. Perhaps the history will be added at a later stage, or perhaps by another.
Playing Rugby: What do you Need?
- 1 Size 5 rugby ball.
Rugby balls are oval and can be made of leather (traditionally) or rubber.
- 14 friends plus you makes 15
- A 100m x 70m field, with a pair of H-shaped uprights on each end. Some markings on the field would be useful.
Parallel to the 70m sides, symmetrically, from the middle:
- A centre line. Duh.
- A dotted line 10m away.
- 12m away, the "22".
- 25m away, the "try line".
- The extremity of the field forms the "dead ball line".
Parallel to the 100m sides, there are only two lines: a dotted line 5 metres in.
- A referee is a very useful addition. Often the ref is the only person who knows where the ball is.
- Finally, some opposition helps occasionally.
Though team runs do occasionally go much better without any.
Putting together your Players
You're going to need all fifteen. You might want to get some more people to be subs. The fifteen positions you need to fill are as follows:
- Loosehead Prop
- Tighthead Prop
- Lock (yip, another one)
- Blind side Flanker
- Open side Flanker
- Number 8
- Scrum half
- Fly half
- Left wing
- Inside centre (Oh yes, Baby, note that "re". This is an English game.)
- Outside centre
- Right wing
- Full back
A scrum is a set piece that is brought into play after a series of small infringements. The team that did not commit the infringement gets to put the ball into the scrum.
The scrum is formed by grouping together the forwards in a set structure. The front row, comprising the two props and the hooker, followed by the second row pair of the locks, and finally the back row, loose forward trio of the two flankers and the number 8.
The scrum half feeds the ball into the scrum and the hooker strikes his foot to hook it back. The number 8 or, less frequently, one of the flankers, will control the ball at the back of the scrum with their foot and then either pick it up themselves, or let the scrum half retrieve it and pass it to the fly half.
A try is a score of five points (formerly three, also briefly four), which results when one of the players places the ball down beyond the opposing team's goal line.
It is not enough simply to carry the ball over the line. Downward pressure is required. Occasionally the opposing team will get a hand under the ball and prevent the opposing team from grounding the ball. The referee will then award a 5-metre scrum to the attacking team.
Mortice informs me that formerly a try scored half a point, a whole point being made up with the conversion, hence the term "try" -- a try at goal.
A penalty is awarded for a more serious infringement. The penalty is usually kicked, though you can now ask for a penalty scrum. Where an infringement has prevented the otherwise certain scoring of a try, a penalty try will be awarded. The team receiving the penalty (i.e. the team that did not commit the infringement) has three choices:
- a quick tap, where the ball is gently kicked back into the holder's hand
- a shot at goal (those H-shaped uprights), which netts three points if converted
- kicking for touch. Usually the team that did not kick out, or touch the ball last before it went out, gains the throw-in at the lineout. However, in the event of a penalty, the team that kicked out retains possession for the throw-in.
The General Idea
You want to score as many tries as you can. To do this you must put the ball down over the other team's goal line. Very rarely this is performed in one phase or movement. Once you've scored a try, any member of the team, usually a back (players 11-15), may have a shot at goal. If successful (over the cross), the conversion counts as two points.
The game begins with one player kicking the ball from the centre line. It must travel 10 metres (i.e. over the 10 metre line), or else the opposing team is awarded a scrum in the centre of the field. After the kick-off, the receiving team do their best to secure the ball, while the attacking team chase up. About 70% of the time, the receiving team wins the ball off the kick-off.
The first contact situation will happen when the receiver of the ball either takes the ball in themselves, or passes onto a ball carrier, who is a suitably built ramrod. The person in possession of the ball will be tackled and will do their best to make the ball available to their teammates. The basic ways of doing this are:
- Go to ground and set up a ruck
Drop to the deck making sure that you lie facing your own team. Put the ball down on your team's side of you and let go (unless you want to concede a penalty).
- Stay on your feet and let your teammates form a maul
Hit into the tackler with your shoulder, then turn and face your team while remaining on your feet. They will then bind onto you and push you into the direction of the opposing try line. One of them will rip the ball from you and push it to the back of the maul.
- Passing the ball to a teammate, just before you get munched is not a good idea.
It's likely that your teammate is in a worse position to you (your pass would be a hospital pass) or else simply not expecting you to pass, meaning that you lose the ball.
Assuming that the opposing team didn't steal the ball or that you didn't knock on (drop the ball forwards), your Scrum Half should retrieve the ball from the back of the ruck or maul. The Scrum Half will usually pass to the Fly Half who now has three general options:
The Fly Half may pass to another back and execute a back line move or else to a forward who acts as a forward runner.
Tactical kicks over the heads of the opposition when they have all moved up into a single defensive line can work. Alternatively, when deep within your own half, you may want to kick for touch to move play downfield.
- Go themselves
This is the riskiest, as the Fly Half will need to communicate with the rest of the team to ensure that they get support. Usually the Fly Half only goes themselves if they see a juicy gap in the opposition's defensive line, and can usually rely on the Scrum Half being there with a greedy back waiting for a glory pass that puts them over the try line.
A few No-No's
- Try to pick up the ball or hold onto the ball when you're lying on the ground, unless there is no member of the opposition anywhere near you.
- Shoulder-charge, or tackle somebody without wrapping your arms around them.
- Tackle somebody above the armpits.
- Hit anybody when the ref is looking. Particularly not if you're England captain.
- Pass the ball forwards.
- Forget to apply downward pressure to the ball once you're over the try line.
A note on Safety
Rugby is a contact sport. Injuries are expected. A lot can be done to mitigate the injuries that occur, and minimise the number of injuries.
The majority of rugby injuries occur early in the season. This is because your body gets hard as the season goes along. Early in the season, at training, you will bruise at the slightest bump. Later in the season, your body gets used to it and you don't bruise unless you get severely rucked. Do not play in a match if you are not match fit.
Wear protective gear. Headgear, shoulder pads, mouth guards and shin guards are not for wussies. They're to help you to play every game of the season. They are comfortable, give you confidence and preserve your looks. Interestingly, the IRB does not recommend head gear and shoulder pads for children, because they are concerned that the added confidence afforded by not getting hurt in a tackle will make the little ones overconfident and possibly gung-ho.
One of the best features of the game of rugby is that it caters for every shape and size. If you're short and fat you can be a Prop. Tall and slow, play at Lock. Short and quick, Scrum Half, please. Thin and fast but not very strong? Wing. Play in a position that suits your build.
Rugby is a physical game. At adult level, play in a league that matches your ability and fitness. If you're too good, you'll injure people. If you're not that good, you'll get injured.
Blood, Sweat and Beers
Gentle noder, you've made it this far, you're doing well. So why should you play? Is all this pain worth it? HELL YES! Rugby culture is the allure.
Imagine a gathering of a motley crew of fifteen to twenty-two people of different shapes and sizes, with different roles to play, who work together as a unit. Rugby is about teamwork, relationships, togetherness. This is no 45-minute squash or racket ball game in the gym on the way home. Rugby takes up your afternoon and all of your evening too. A night out in the pub, reliving the highs and lows on the field, is not optional.
It's more than a game, it's a way of life.
Mortice says one referee I've played with has even called a 'penalty restart' - instead of a dropkick to restart the game, it's a penalty kick. Bizarre.
Mortice would like to see something on the myriad ways of being offside, but this node is intended to be an idiot's guide to rugby. The offside rule could be a writeup all of its own. Hint hint.
For Byzantine, who asked me to teach him how to play.
Thanks to Mortice and Teiresias for their helpful suggestions =)