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Year 2012: Club members after a practice.

Some rugby basics: what is rugby?

For a fun fast-paced game that’s similar to football, learn the basic rules of rugby and organize an exciting game that will give your kids a great workout!

Below are simplified rules of the full version of the game (15-a-side) played by the bigger kids and adults.

Of course (as we are doing for VA Youth Rugby) there are many ways you can modify it to make it a littler safer and more appropriate for your situation.

  • Object

  • Rugby is a game played by two teams with 15 players each who try to earn points by getting the ball across the opponent’s goal line or kicking it over the crossbar between the goalposts.

    It’s a very fast-moving game with very few stoppages in the action and continuous change of possession. Every player on the field has to be able to play offense and defense because they may all have opportunities to run, pass, kick, and catch the ball as well as defend and tackle opponents.

  • Playing Area

  • Rugby is played on a field called a "pitch" that's about the size of a soccer field. A standard pitch measures 110 yards long by 75 yards wide.

    There is an end zone at each end beyond the goal line that's 25 yards deep. A crossbar with upright goalposts is located in the center of each team's goal line. It's about the same size as those used in American football.

  • Equipment

  • The only piece of equipment you really need to play rugby is a rugby ball, which looks like a fat football with rounded ends. It's made of leather or synthetic material that's easy to grip.

    Unlike a football, a rugby ball doesn’t have any laces. Rugby balls come in various sizes (3, 4, or 5) for youth, intermediate, and adult players.

  • Duration

  • An adult rugby match consists of two 40-minute halves. Teams change ends at half-time. At youth level this changes of course and depending on age the halves could be 10-30 minutes.

  • Players & Positions

  • An official rugby game is played with 15 players on a team. Players are assigned numbers based on their positions. Players are numbered in the following way:

    #1-8 = Forwards Forwards are typically larger, stronger players whose main job is to get possession of the ball.
    #9-15 = Backs Backs tend to be smaller, faster players whose main job is to advance the ball up the field.

    For more detailed information on rugby positions go here

  • Starting Play

  • The game starts with a kick-off to the opponent from mid-field. As long as the kick-off travels more than 10 yards, any player of either team may gain possession of the ball.

  • Moving the Ball

  • There are several ways to move the ball. Any player may carry, pass, or kick the ball. Reminder that the ball must only be passed backwards or laterally.

    • Running : When a player runs with the ball, he can keep running until he is tackled, steps out of bounds, or crosses the goal line.
    • Passing : The ball may be passed to any player on the field, but it can only be passed to the side or backward; it can never be passed forward.
    • Kicking : Any player can kick the ball forward at any time. Once it's kicked, players of either team can gain possession of the ball regardless of whether or not it hits the ground.
      Play is not stopped and keeps going even if the ball hits the ground or a player is tackled. The ball carrier has to release the ball when tackled and roll out of the way so that other players on their feet can try to get it. No blocking is allowed in rugby. Unlike football, rugby does not have downs, and a team is not required to move the ball 10 yards in order to keep possession of it.
      Play is continuous like in soccer, with the person in possession of the ball leading the attack.
  • Scoring

  • There are 4 ways to score points:

    • Try = 5 points: A try is like a touchdown in football. When a team advances the ball across the opponent’s goal line into the end zone, they score a try.
    • Conversion = 2 points : The conversion is like the extra point kick in football. When a team scores a try, they attempt to kick the ball through the goalposts in line with where they socred the try. The kick is usually a place-kick.
    • Penalty Kick = 3 points : When a team is called for a major rule infraction, the opposing team may try to "kick for points" if they are within range of the goalposts. The kick must be taken from the location of the foul or anywhere on a straight line from that point back towards the kickers own goalline. If the kick fails to go through the goalposts, it is a live ball and play continues.
    • Drop Goal = 3 points : A drop goal kick is similar to a field goal kick in football, except it can be taken from anywhere on the field by any player at any time during the normal course of the game. A drop kick is made when the kicker drops the ball and it bounces off the ground prior to being kicked. If the kick fails to go through through the goalposts, the ball is still in play.
  • Restarting Play

    • Drop kicks are used to restart play after a team scores. Besides a score, play is only stopped for 2 reasons: a rule infraction and if the ball goes out of bounds.
    • There are 2 ways to put the ball back into play when action is stopped:

    • 1) Line-Out: If the ball goes out of bounds, it is put back into play with a line-out.Both teams form a line perpendicular to the sideline and 3 feet apart from each other. A player on the team not responsible for causing the ball to go out of bounds calls a play and throws the ball in the air in a straight line between the two lines. Players from each team try to gain possession of the ball by jumping for the ball, and they may be supported in the air by their teammates as they attempt to get it.

      2) Scrum: A scrum is the method of restarting play after the referee calls a rule violation. It's a very strange-looking formation that's unique to rugby.
      Players from each team bind themselves together by interlocking their arms around each other's shoulders to make a tight formation about 3 rows deep. The front row players of one team interlock with the front row players of the opposing team to form a tunnel over the ball.
      A member of the team not responsible for the rule infraction puts the ball into the tunnel by rolling it into the middle. Each team pushes forward until one player is able to hook the ball with his feet and push it to the back row of players on his team.
  • Offside

  • The offside rule in rugby is similar to that in soccer, and it can be a bit confusing to understand, especially for those new to the game.
    Basically, the offside line moves continuously up and down the pitch as the ball moves. The ball creates the offside line, and players are not allowed to participate in the play if they are on their opponent’s side of the ball. A player is offside if he is in front of the ball when a teammate is playing it.
    Just being offside is not a penalty, but attempting to play the ball while being offside is what triggers a penalty to be called.
    This is a very basic explanation of the offsides rule, in live play it is much more complex and there are many variations to this rule. See FULL LAWS

  • Tackles, Rucks, & Mauls

  • Tackle: Players who have the ball can be stopped by being tackled and brought to the ground. The tackled player has to release the ball and roll away from it to allow other players who are on their feet to play the ball.

    Ruck: When a player is tackled and the ball released, players from each team converge over the ball and bind together like on a scrum, attempting to push the opposing players backwards. This action is known as a ruck. The ball can't be picked up by any player until it emerges out of the ruck. When this happens, the ruck ends and play continues.

    Maul: A maul is similar to a ruck except that the group of players surrounds a ball carrier who is still standing. The maul ends when the ball emerges or the player with the ball is able to run out of the middle.

    For an in-depth view on the laws surrounding these phases of play, including videos and guides, please go here

  • Fouls

  • Players may not:

    • > strike, kick, hit, or trip an opponent
    • > make a dangerous tackle or tackle with a stiff arm
    • > intentionally charge, obstruct, or grab opponent who doesn't have the ball (except in a ruck)
    • > deliberately pass the ball forward

    Penalties: Penalties are common in rugby, and they usually result in the non-offending team getting the chance to kick the ball to gain field advantage. Here are some of the more common penalties you'll see in the basic rugby rules:

    • Penalty Kick: A penalty kick is awarded after a serious rule violation. The offending team has to back away 10 yards while their opponent gets a free kick. If they're close enough, they can attempt to score by kicking the ball through the goalposts.
    • Otherwise, they may try to kick the ball down field to gain better field position. They also have the option of tapping the ball with their foot and picking it up to run with it.
    • Free Kick: A free kick is awarded for a less serious rule infraction. It's similar to a penalty kick, but the kicking team may not try to kick a goal.

    Sin Bin: If a player commits a serious violation and/or professional foul, the referee may send him to a location behind the goal area where he will sit out of the game for 10 minutes. Play continues with his team playing short-handed until he is allowed to re-enter the game.

    Send-Offs: In extreme cases of dangerous or reckless play, a player may be ejected from the game and not allowed to return or be replaced by a substitute.

  • Modifications

  • Depending on the number of players, skill level, available equipment, or the size of your playing area, you can modify the basic rugby rules to fit your needs. USA Rugby and Rugby VA has done this to suite the needs of our kids and to help develop the game locally.

Year 2019: our tag preparing to run on to Old Glory half time demo

Kids at play