The game we know as “Rugby”, derived from a chaotic activity played at Rugby School in England, was codified in the 1820s by a group of Rugby School alumni. They had all played the recent development in the game that allowed for the ball to be picked up and carried. As clubs were forming across Britain to play this variation they recognized the need for some formality of rules.
It just so happens that these gentlemen were also lawyers so the “rules” became “Laws”, and the terms they used in those Laws hark back to Rugby School. This should explain why they sound a little like the game was invented at Hogwarts. So here we go ….
Rugby Union Football – AKA “The Game”. “Rugby” from the school of that name and “Union” to differentiate it from “League”, a poor imitation played by professionals.
Side –may occasionally be used by Old Ruggers when they mean “team”. Only recently has the term “team” replaced “side” in the Laws.
Pitch – has nothing to do with the slope of your roof. It’s the patch of grass on which one plays The Game. It’s OK if you want to call it a field. If you are a referee you are expected to know the differences between “The Playing Enclosure”,” The Playing Area” and “The Field of Play”. Just for grins the Laws refer to the whole shebang as “The Grounds”. Stick with field.
In-goal – is the area between the goal line (try line if you wish) and dead ball line. “Try zone“ is OK in the USA but not elsewhere.
The 22 – is the area bound by the goal line and the line 22m from goal, also known as the 22. Duh!
Touch line – don’t know the origin of this term but you may know it as “side line”. But if you are the volunteer running up and down the side line with a flag indicating when the ball is “in touch” then you are the “touch judge” and you will be “running touch”.
Match – a formal engagement of rugby players on a pitch. If there wasn't a referee involved we might just call it a game. An ancient referee may call “side out” for half time and “both sides” for full time. Humor him and thank him for his time, effort and impeccable application of the Laws.
There are several means of scoring points.
Try – The ball is grounded in the opponent’s goal by downward pressure using the hands, arms or torso. The term “try” is from the earliest of days when the points were scored by “converting” the try into a goal. Today the try is worth five points. Isn't it ironic that a “touchdown” in football doesn't require grounding the ball?
Conversion – following a try a successful place kick or drop kick (see below) will be good for another two points. The kick must be taken from a point opposite where the try was scored.
Drop goal – at any time (OK, there is an exception) a player may attempt a drop kick at the opponent’s posts. If successful it’s worth three points.
Penalty goal – for certain misdeeds the non-offending team will be awarded a penalty kick. One of their options would be to take a place kick (or drop kick) at the opponent’s posts. Three points if good. They could also elect to kick for touch and will have the throw at the line-out.
There are a number of different kicks in rugby that will be used in different circumstances. The following will attempt to explain the different methods of kicking and when each method is appropriate.
Punt – the ball is kicked directly from hand. A player may punt the ball at any time. This may be a good tactical play to gain ground or it may be used to put the ball in touch when a team is under pressure. An “up-and-under” is a high ball that teammates can run under and catch. A “Garryowen”, named for an Irish rugby club that made the tactic famous, is an up-and-under that brings rain. A “grubber” is kicked along the ground with the intent that a teammate will run on to it and gather it up.
Drop kick – like a punt except the ball must strike the ground before the foot strikes the ball. It is required for starting and restarting the match at the halves and after a score. If you have some idle time then ask a referee to explain “22 drop” and the laws that apply.
Place kick – is taken with the ball placed on a tee. It is used to convert a try or a kick at goal when awarded a penalty. You may not use a place kick for any other purpose.
There are several different means of re-starting the game after an interruption in play.
Line-out – if the ball goes into touch the line-out is used to restart play. It consists of two lines of players perpendicular to the touch line and the ball is thrown in between them. If they kick it out then we throw it in (unless they kick it from a penalty, in which case they get the throw).Players are lifted by their team-mates in an attempt to win the ball. There are a scazillion Laws regarding “ball in touch” and “line-out” so don’t ask, trust the ref.
Scrum – following a minor infringement, such as a knock-on or throw forward, a scrum may be ordered. This is where eight of the largest players from each team, binding onto each other, engage in a pushing contest with the opponent to win the ball thrown in between them. The scrum is an important element of rugby as it packs 16 of the 30 players on the pitch into one small space thus freeing up acres of room for the backs to exhibit their skills.
Free kick – awarded for a deliberate but minor offense by their opponents. The ball is usually “tap kicked” to restart play. The opponents must retire 10m from the 'mark'.
Penalty kick – is for a major offense. Usually foul play such as a dangerous tackle or off-sides. A kick at goal may be attempted or a kick for touch. Occasionally a tap kick is taken. The opponents must retire 10m from the 'mark'.
Drop out – sometimes called a 22 is taken when the attacking team puts the ball in goal but fail to ground it for the try.
There is one Law that I believe is unique to rugby.
Advantage – is the Law that keeps the game flowing. It requires the referee to allow play to continue after a Law infringement to give the non-offending team an opportunity to gain an advantage. This way the game has far fewer stoppages. The referee indicates he is playing advantage by sticking out his arm and loudly calling out “Scrum advantage Red” or some such. If no advantage is gained he will whistle and award the appropriate sanction. It is at the referee’s discretion as to how long he may allow play to continue and he’s the judge of whether advantage was attained or not.
Most of the time during a rugby match players will be running with, and passing, the ball. When this is interrupted we call it a “breakdown” but play doesn’t stop. Instead the players compete for the ball so they can continue play. Play between breakdowns is a “phase”. When a team can string multiple phases together and retain the ball they have “continuity”. Continuity is good. There are three types of breakdowns.
Tackle – is the act of grasping the ball carrier (BC) and bringing him to ground. If the BC is brought down but not held then it’s not a tackle and the BC may jump up and continue with the ball. When a tackle occurs the BC must play the ball by passing it to a teammate or placing it on the ground where a teammate can retrieve it. If an opponent attempts to take the ball from him he must release it. At the same time the tackler must release the BC and get out of the way.
Tackles must be done safely. No tackles above the shoulders. The tackler must attempt to grasp the BC, not just shoulder charge. The tackler must not lift the BC and bring him down so that the BCs head, neck or shoulders strike the ground first. A player jumping to catch the ball must not be tackled in the air. Tackles must not be late (after the pass or kick) and not early (before the ball is caught). All dangerous tackles will be sanctioned by a penalty kick and the offender may be issued a yellow card (10 minutes in the sin bin) or red card (ejection). His teammates play shorthanded.
Ruck – following a tackle and the placement or release of the ball the players may compete for it to gain possession. They do so by crouching and driving the opponent away from the ball. When one or more players from each team are engaged over the ball on the ground then a ruck has formed and, as a radio commercial may say, certain restriction apply. The principal one is players may not use their hands but must push (ruck) the ball back with their feet. A player behind the ruck may dig it out with their hands to put it back in play.
Maul – if a ball carrier is grasped by an opponent but not brought to ground and then a teammate of the BC joins then a maul has formed. More players may join but must do so from their own side and they will then strive to drive the entire grunting mass towards the opponent’s goal. Once a maul has formed then it must not be deliberately brought down.
The concept of offsides and all the pertinent Laws provide the structure without which total chaos would reign. The general Law states that a player is in an offsides position if he is in front of a teammate who is carrying the ball. Although he is in an offsides position he won’t be sanctioned if he doesn't interfere with play. There are numerous other offsides Laws that pertain to different situations.
Offside on a kick – when a player kicks the ball down the field any teammate in front of the kicker may not move forward until he has been put onside by the kicker, or another onside teammate , moving past him. The opponents can also put them onside by catching the ball and running 5m or passing it. It's a little more complicated than that but you get the idea.
Offside at a ruck or maul – the hind foot of the player closest to a player’s goal line is the offside line. If players are caught in an offside position when a ruck or maul forms they won’t be sanctioned if they retire to an onside position immediately and don’t interfere. This allows the team than wins the ball valuable space in which to play it.
Offside at a scrum – the offside line for all players not in the scrum, with the exception of the scrum-half, if 5m back from the hindmost foot of the scrum. The scrum-half is allowed to follow the ball but must stay goal side.
Offside at a lineout – all players not participating in the line-out must be 10m back from the line-of-touch.
Playing positions and numbers.
The rugby team consists of two groups of players, forwards and backs. The forwards, sometimes called the pack, are generally larger, stronger but slower than the backs. The forwards are generally expected to do the grunt work and get possession of the ball so that the backs, being more fleet of foot, can run pass and kick and so earn the glory. The backs generally get featured as pin-ups while the forwards get featured in beer commercials. The jersey number is position specific. Positions are numbered 1 thru 15 and reserve players 16 thru 22.
1 – Loose head prop – front row player in the scrum on the left side.
2 – Hooker – middle of the front row in a scrum
3 – Tight head prop – right side of the front row
4 & 5 – Locks – second row
6 & 7 – Flanks – outside on the second row
8 – Number eight – last row in the scrum
9 – Scrum half – puts the ball into the scrum and links the forwards with the backs
10 – Fly half – receives the ball from the scrum half and directs play in the backs