What is Rugby?


Rugby, also referred to as Rugby Union, is a contact team sport originating in England in the early 19th century. The game is played between two teams of 15 players with an oval-shaped ball on a rectangular field. Each side of the field also has an H-shaped goal post.

Rugby is one of the most popular sports in the world with over six million registered players as of 2014. The governing body of Rugby Union, World Rugby, was established in 1886 and organizes the Rugby World Cup every four years. World Rugby comprises over 120 national unions and the span of the organization is divided into six regions: Africa, Americas North, Asia, Europe, South America, and Oceana.

Rugby has become a popular sport in the United States as of 2016. Major League Rugby started its first season in the spring of 2018 where seven teams across seven different states compete in the league. Rugby sevens has also been introduced as an alternative to the traditional 15 person style. Over 900 colleges now compete in rugby. According to Global Sport Matters, people participating in rugby rose by over one million over a ten-year span.


rugby history

Rugby's history started with 16-year-old student William Webb Ellis, who completely disregarded the rules of soccer when he picked up the ball with his hands and ran into a goal.

By 1839, the first team at Cambridge was made and so were the "Cambridge Rules." The Rugby Football Union was then made in 1871 in a London pub.

The first international championship was formed by England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in 1882. The sport continued to grow but it was not until 1987 when Australia and New Zealand hosted the first World Cup, and the sport has skyrocketed since.

Playing Surface

rugby field

Rugby can be played on any type of surface but is mostly played on grass or turf fields in parks, schools, and other large areas of grass. Youth, high school, club and pro all have the same rules and scoring; the only main difference between the four different levels is the size of the playing field. The rugby field should be at a maximum of 70 meters in width and 122 meters in length. There are no differences between men's and women's rugby besides the size of the game ball.


rugby equipment

The rugby game ball looks similar to an American football in that it holds the same shape, but the ball will be much bigger in size.The game ball is made of leather. It is also water resistant to improve the grip of the ball. There are many sizes of a rugby ball. Size three is for players in the 7- 9-year-old range. Size four is for players in the 10-14-year-old range. Size four and a half is for women's rugby players and for players 15 and older. Last is size five which is the regular size ball used by men's rugby players ages 15 and older.


Rugby Gameplay

Like in most competitive sports, the objective of the game is to score more points than the other team. Players in rugby are allowed to run with the ball, kick the ball, and pass the ball (only backward, however). Players with possession of the ball can be tackled by players on the opposing team to try to gain possession of the ball.

Positions and Roles

rugby positions

There are 15 players on a standard rugby team and a player's uniform number corresponds to their position on the team. Players wearing a number higher than 15 are substitutes. Players numbered one through eight are forwards. Forwards are the larger, stronger players on the team whose job is to gain possession of the ball. Forwards can be compared to linebackers in American football. Players numbered nine through fifteen are backs. Backs are the faster, more agile players whose job is to take advantage of the possession of the ball by moving the ball quickly. Backs can be compared to running backs and wide receivers in American football.

Just like in most major sports, there are infractions that can occur in rugby. Like American football, infractions in Rugby are called penalties. Penalties can result in goal kicks and restarts in play.

Rules and Regulations

Rugby Rules and Regulations

Rugby has an 80-minute clock, divided into two 40 minute halves with a ten-minute halftime in between. After halftime, teams switch sides of the field. Like in football, the field is rectangular with end zone goal areas on either side of the field with H-shaped goal posts.

Points in rugby can be scored in numerous ways. Five points are awarded for a try, crossing the opponent's goal line while possessing the ball. This is similar to a touchdown in football. A conversion occurs after a try is scored by kicking the ball through the goalposts. Two points are awarded for a successful conversion. Three points are awarded for a successful goal kick outside of a conversion, such as a penalty kick or a drop goal. After a team scores, the scoring team gives possession to the opposing team via kickoff.

Referees and Officials

rugby referees and officials

Just like any other sport, referees enforce the rules of the game. In order to become a referee in the United States, you must complete a Player Protection Package which consists of two free online courses. Then you will be able to register for in person workshops to get more skills and information, so you will be able to officiate rugby games. USA Rugby has a three level officiating program on their website, and they also have a two level course on sevens rugby.

Lingo and Terminology

rugby lingo and terminology

Here is a list of useful rugby lingo that will help you understand the game better:

Conversion: A kick given to a team immediately after a try; worth two points

Lineout: Restarting the play when the ball has gone out of bounds

Maul: When the ball carrier is being held by one or more opponent and one or more of their teammates are involved as well

Penalty: A kick worth three points when the the other team commits a penalty

Ruck: When the ball is on the ground and at least one player from each team surrounds it while on their feet; the ball cannot be picked up and it must be kicked to a teammate's hindmost foot to do so

Scrum: resetting after an infringement; teams bind together and the ball is thrown in the middle until it is kicked out

Sin Bin: When a player is forced to sit out for 10 minutes (fifteens) or two minutes (sevens) for a dangerous play

Touchline: When the ball moves out of bounds

Try: When the ball is touched in the goal zone (tryzone) and your team is awarded five points

Try line: The line that separates the tryzone and the rest of the field


Rugby Coaching

Coaching is also a great option for people who do not want to participate in a physically demanding sport like rugby. This allows you to be involved with the game without increasing your chance of injury. However, coaching can still be difficult, so World Rugby has an entire website dedicated to coaching education, online learning, technical content, a video library and a resource library. These resources are made for individuals who are just getting into coaching rugby, so the information is to the point and informative.

Skills and Techniques

rugby skills and techniques

Rugby players need to be versatile with their skills and techniques. Some skills to have are running, passing, catching, tackling and kicking. Running is essential because it allows you to start and stop quickly and also go for long periods of time without getting tired. Passing and catching are needed to get the ball moving. Kicking is also crucial so your team is able to convert kicks and penalties for extra points. Having fun is also an important part of the game.


rugby strategy

Here is a list of common strategies in rugby:

  • Blindside: During a scrum, use the smaller side of the group to cover the opposing team's main side, which will give you room to score.
  • Free Reign: Use quick moves with the ball so it can be removed from a crowd of players.
  • Playing the Middle: Play the ball in the middle of the field so defenders collapse in, which will give more space for wings to score.
  • Power Play: Utilize your physical strength to advance the ball.


rugby drills

If you want to sharpen your skills as a rugby player, you will need to consistently practice some drills. Rugby drills are usually divided by skill. Here is a list of drills based on skill:

  • Attacking Drills
  • Defending Drills
  • Rucking and Mauling
  • Scrums & Lineouts
  • Backs Moves
  • Passing & Handling Drills
  • Contact Drills
  • Kicking & Catching

A fundamental skill all players should have is the ability to pass. Passing drills improve a player's ability to pass and handle the ball.

Olympic Rugby

olympic rugby

In Olympic Rugby, there are events for men and women that consist of seven players on each team. The pitch, or field, is 100 meters long and 70 meters wide. Traditionally this field size is meant for 15 players on each team, so fewer players on the field make a faster-paced game. The game is made up of two seven-minute halves with a two minute halftime. The short halves and fast paced game, require the athletes to be in great shape.

Rugby Coaches

rugby coaches

A rugby team is not complete without a solid coach. Coaching rugby requires in depth knowledge of the game so one can strategize and lead their team to victory. Rugby World Magazine recently had a bracket to determine who their audience thought was the greatest coach of all time. The verdict was that Warren Gatland was at the top of that mountain. He has coached the Wales national team and is currently coaching a New Zealand rugby union team called the Chiefs.

Here are some of his accolades:

  • Record for most test matches overseen
  • Only coach to win three Grand Slam titles
  • His Wales team team had a record breaking 14-match winning streak

Rugby Players

rugby players

Rugby players are arguably one of the most athletic people in the world. The sport demands these players to be fast and agile while carrying a significant amount of weight. Some of the best players include:

  • Beauden Barret from New Zealand
  • Brodie Retallic from New Zealand
  • Alun Wyn Jones from Wales
  • Owen Farrel from England
  • Faf de Klerk from South Africa

Rugby Leagues

Rugby League

Rugby leagues have slight differences from rugby unions. The main difference is that leagues have 13 players on both teams, and unions have 15. Also, leagues allow 10 substitutions per game, while unions allow 7.

Scoring is the same in both unions and leagues, but the amount of points each score is worth is different. For example, a try in a union is worth five points and a conversion can add an extra two. In leagues, tries are worth four points and it can be supplemented for two more with a converting kick. Drop goals and penalties are both worth three points in unions, while they are worth one and two points in leagues.

Rugby Teams

rugby teams

In order to play rugby, you need to find a club or team. There are many resources on the internet that allow you to search for clubs or teams in your area. USA Rugby allows you to search for clubs based on your state, club type and even club name. You can also adjust the miles from a specific location. It is a useful resource that lets you see what options are available near you.

Rugby Events

rugby events

Rugby events vary based on location and the number of players. However, there are two main types of rugby events and tournaments: rugby fifteens and rugby sevens. Different variations of these include touch rugby, beach rugby, rugby tens and rugby twelves.

Some other events that rugby organizations hold are coaching and officiating clinics. These help new coaches and referees learn the basics of the sport.

Tournaments that take place every year and they can vary between sevens and fifteens.

Rugby Tournaments

Rugby Tournaments

Rugby unions hold tournaments where multiple teams compete until two teams battle it out in the final game where a winner is crowned. Tournaments can be found on the World Rugby and USA Rugby websites. Some notable ones include the Rugby World Cup Qualifying, Rugby World Cup, HSBC World Rugby Sevens, Americas Rugby CHampionship, 2020 Rugby Championship, Six Nations and finally the Olympics.

Rugby Books

rugby books

If you're a rugby fanatic, or simply want to learn more about the game, then books are a good option too. Below is a list of best-selling rugby books:

LegacyJames Kerr
Fringes: Life on the Edge of Professional RugbyBen Mercer
Rugby for DummiesMathew Brown
Rugby Classics: Think RugbyJim Greenwood
Rugby Simplified: How to Coach 7's RugbyCharlie Purdon
Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a NationJohn Carlin
The Jersey: The All Blacks and the Secret Behind the World's Most Successful TeamPeter Bills

By far, the most famous rugby book is called Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation, by John Carlin. It is about how Nelson Mandela got out of prison and won South Africa's first free election. However, the nation was still divided by the previous 50 years of apartheid. He had an ambitious plan to use the nation rugby team to bring the country together because they were hosting the 1995 World Cup, and they ended up winning. The book was later made into a movie called "Invictus," starring Matt Damon.

Rugby Websites

Rugby Websites

Here are some rugby websites that cover news, competitions, rules and all things rugby:

USA Rugby: Offers information on rules, events, memberships and teams in the United States.

World Rugby: Information about international competitions, Olympics, laws and how to get into rugby.

Talking Rugby Union: Blog that gives the latest news and rumors about international rugby.

Telegraph Rugby: Telegraph is a news publication in the United Kingdom, and they have an entire page dedicated to rugby news.

The Ruck: A rugby blog that covers the Six Nations competition, news, rumors and even has rugby trivia quizzes.


What is the difference between a rugby union and league?

Rugby leagues have 13 players on each team whereas unions have 15 players. A try is leagues are worth 4 points and in unions they are worth 5. Penalties are worth 2 points in leagues and 3 points in unions. Drop goals are worth 1 point in leagues and 3 points in unions

What is the difference between a forward and a back?

A forward is a position required to move the ball as close to the opposing goal line as possible. A back plays behind the forward and is skilled in passing, kicking and catching.

Places like New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Fiji, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland all have popular rugby scenes.

How often is the Rugby World Cup?

The Rugby World Cup started in 1987 and it has been happening every four years since.