Rugby Union

A beginner's guide to ... rugby!

The objective in rugby is to score points by grounding the ball in the in-goal area.

Two teams of 15 players each attempt to score by carrying, passing, kicking, and grounding the ball in-goal.

The team that kicks off makes a placekick from the center of the halfway line, while the receiving team stands on or behind its 10-meter line.

After kickoff, any player who’s „on-side” (whose progress is not ahead of the ball) may

  • catch or pick up the ball and run with it,
  • pass, throw, or knock the ball to another player,
  • kick or otherwise propel the ball,
  • tackle, push, or shoulder an opponent holding the ball,
  • fall on the ball,
  • ground the ball in in-goal.


The game

Duration: A game of rugby consists of two halves of 40 minutes with injury time added on at the end of each half. This is not as long as you might expect, because physiotherapists are often allowed onto the pitch while play continues.



The object of the game is to score more points than your opponents. There are a number of ways to achieve this.

A try is worth five points. It is scored when a player places the ball on the ground with downward pressure in the in-goal area between the try line and dead ball line of the opposition's half.


If a team scores a try, they have an opportunity to "convert" it for two further points by kicking the ball between the posts and above the crossbar - that is, through the goal. The kick is taken from a point level with where the try was scored.

Penalty kick:
If a side commits a serious offense, a penalty is awarded and the opposition can take the option of a place kick at goal from where the infringement occurred. If successful, it is worth three points.

Drop goal:
A drop goal for three points is scored when a player kicks the ball from hand through the opposition's goal. But the ball must touch the ground between being dropped and kicked.

Moving the ball

Passing: All passes in rugby must travel backwards.


Kicking forms a major part of rugby and is used to start and restart the game, score points, win territory, launch an attack or get a team out of trouble (known as a clearance kick).

Players must be behind the kicker for all set piece kicks, such as kick-offs. But if a kick is made in loose play, then players can be in front of the kicker, although they must not advance towards where the ball is going to land until the kicker has put them onside by getting in front of them.

Only a player in possession of the ball can be tackled. American football-style blocking is not allowed. A tackled player must release the ball after he hits the ground. Neither he nor the tackler can play the ball until they are on their feet. A player is tackled when he is brought to the ground or when the ball touches the ground while the player is holding it.

It is illegal to high tackle above the shoulders. The same goes for the late tackle - taking the player after he has passed or kicked the ball.

It is also illegal to punch, stamp on or kick another player.


The ball goes forward off the hands or arms of a player and hits the ground or another player. Results in a scrum with the put-in to the opposition.

Forward pass:
The ball fails to travel backwards in a pass. Scrum to the opposition.

The knock-on: The ball is knocked forward

Ball not released:
When the ball becomes trapped in a pile up of players, a scrum is awarded to the attacking team if the ball is in contact with the ground and to the defending team if it is held up off the ground.

Scrums can also be awarded if the ball is not thrown into the line-out straight; a restart kick is done incorrectly; the ball is thrown into the lineout incorrectly; a player carries the ball over his own try-line and touches down in-goal; for accidental offside; or a scoring player fails to ground the ball properly in the in-goal area.

Basically, players must remain behind the back foot - that is, behind the last attached player.

Penalties are awarded for serious infringements like dangerous play, offside and handling the ball on the ground. It is signalled by the referee with a straight arm raised in the air. Players can also receive red and yellow cards, as in football.

The offending team must retire 10 yards for both penalties and free kicks. A team can either kick for goal, run the ball or kick directly into touch with the resulting line-out awarded to them.

This is a lesser form of the penalty. A team cannot kick for goal (unless it is a drop goal). 

Set play/set pieces

The eight forwards from each team bind together and push against each other. The scrum-half from the team that has been awarded possession feeds the ball into the centre of the scrum from the side most advantageous for his team.

The ball must be fed straight down the middle of the tunnel and the players must not contest for the ball until it is put in. If they do, a free-kick is awarded for "foot up".

The scrum: The number eight makes the gain line

A maximum of seven and a minimum of three forwards line up parallel with each other between the five-yard and 15-yard lines. A player of the team in possession throws the ball in, while his opposite number stands in the "tramlines" - between the touchline and the five-yard line.

All players not involved in the lineout, except the scrum-half, must retire10 yards.

The ball must be thrown in straight down the middle of the lineout.

Jumpers can be lifted by their team mates, but the opposition's jumpers must not be obstructed, barged or pulled down.

© Maarten Vermeulen 2017