How do you play rugby?

Rugby is a full-contact sport played by two teams of 15 players. Each team tries to move an oval-shaped ball into the try zone to earn points. The ball may be run, passed or kicked. To stop a team’s advance, the opposing team can tackle the player with the ball. While this may sound like a vague description of another sport, rugby is not football.

The rules of play for this brutal sport are unique and, at times, complicated. Understanding the game may take a little effort, but remember, this is one of the most popular sports in the world.

Shop this article: Gilbert USA International Replica Rugby BallSurlim Rugby Soft Helmet“Rugby For Dummies” by Matthew Brown, Patrick Guthrie and Greg Growden

A brief history of rugby

Roughly 100 miles northwest of London, there is a county in England called Warwickshire. In 1564, it was the birthplace of Shakespeare. Over two centuries later, it was the birthplace of rugby. 

According to the lore, in 1823 a 16-year-old disruptor at an independent school named, appropriately enough, Rugby School, decided running with the ball should be allowed in soccer. So after catching the ball, instead of putting it down as the rules required, William Webb Ellis took off for the touch line. While this account is hard to verify, it is considered the origin of rugby.

The rugby field

A rugby field is a rectangle a little bigger than an American football field, about 328 feet long by 230 feet wide (100 meters by 70 meters). At either end there is a try zone — think end zone — at least 33 feet (10 meters) deep. At each end of the field, there is an H-shaped goal 18 feet (5.5 meters) wide and at least 52 feet (16 meters) high. The crossbar is 10 feet (3 meters) above the ground.

The mandatory field markings are a dead ball line, a goal line, a 24-yard (22-meter) line, an 11-yard (10-meter) line and a halfway line. There are also touchlines on either side of the field and a center spot for restarting the game after points have been scored.

The rules of rugby

Rugby can be difficult to understand, especially for Americans who try to compare it to American football. Here are basic guidelines that can help you get a quick grasp of the sport’s mechanics.

The object of rugby

Rugby is an 80-minute game played in two 40-minute halves with a short break between. There are 15 players from each team on the field, and each team has seven substitutes. If a player leaves the game for any reason other than an injury, they cannot return. The object of the game is to be the team with the most points at the end of the second half.

The basic rules of rugby

When a team has possession of the rugby ball, it tries to maneuver the ball down the field across the try line to score. To earn points, the ball must be placed firmly down on the ground in the opponent’s try zone. A player can run with the ball or pass it to the side or behind — never forward. A player can also kick the ball to move it down the field or attempt a drop kick, in which they drop the ball and kick it after it hits the ground, trying to get it through the goalposts.

To stop the first team’s progress, its opponents must tackle the player with the ball. All tackles must be made below the shoulders. While tripping with the foot is not allowed, an ankle tap, which is performed with the hand, is considered a tackle and is permissible. Once a player is tackled, they have one second to get up or release the ball to keep the game going. Often after a tackle, a ruck is formed over the ball as each team competes to win possession.

There are no timeouts in rugby. Play only stops if the ball goes out of bounds, there is an infraction or the ball is buried in a ruck or a maul — when the player with the ball is stopped, but not tackled and is joined by at least one player from his own team. The only time the clock stops is if there is an injury.

How to score in rugby

There are four ways to score points in rugby:

  • A try: When a player places the ball on the ground in the in-goal area, the team gets five points.
  • A conversion: After a successful try, a team gets the chance to make a two-point conversion kick.
  • A penalty kick: Penalty kicks are worth 3 points.
  • A drop kick: A kick that goes through the posts during regular play is worth three points.

What you need to buy for rugby

Gilbert USA International Replica Rugby Ball

Gilbert USA International Replica Rugby Ball

If you need a practice ball to develop your rugby skills, this replica will suit your needs. It features the USA Rugby bald-eagle emblem and team colors and has a synthetic latex bladder for superior air retention.

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Adidas Kids Goletto VIII FG Soccer Cleats

Adidas Kids Goletto VIII FG Soccer Cleats

These youth cleats have soft, lightweight uppers and a lace closure. The built-in heel pad adds comfort while the forefront stitching gives the player greater control.

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Surlim Rugby Soft Helmet

Surlim Rugby Soft Helmet

Since rugby is a full-contact sport, it is important to wear headgear. This soft helmet is made of polyester and high-density foam. It has an adjustable chin strap and rear laces to ensure a snug fit. The multiple air vents provide comfort to the wearer.

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"Rugby For Dummies" by Matthew Brown, Patrick Guthrie and Greg Growden

“Rugby For Dummies” by Matthew Brown, Patrick Guthrie and Greg Growden

If you’d like to take a deep dive into all the rules and nuances of rugby, you’ll need a book. This one not only outlines the rules, it gives you fitness tips and game-winning strategies as well.

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