Rules of Rugby

A guide on how to play rugby union and rugby league

A huge spectator sport in many parts of the world, rugby is well-known for being a game that is believed to have been invented accidentally.

The game takes its name from that of a town and its exclusive public school in Warwickshire, in the Midlands of England.

The school is where the story of rugby is said to have begun. One day in the year 1823, while playing a game of football, or soccer, instead of kicking the ball, one of the players. a pupil named William Webb Ellis, picked it up and started running with it in his hands towards his opposing team’s goal.

Subsequent findings have cast doubt on the likely truth of this tale – but it has become so deeply established in the fabric of the game that it hardly matters whether or not the events actually happened as they were passed down through subsequent generations.

After Webb Ellis’ alleged exploits, a game began to evolve more formally, involving two teams’ players running with the ball in the their hands, and scoring points by passing it among themselves, avoiding having it taken from them by the opposing team, and putting the ball on the ground over a line at the far end of the opponents’ half of the pitch.

Webb Ellis’ exploits certainly did contribute to the development of the rules of rugby football, because it was three fellow senior pupils at the same school who were given the task of introducing formal rules of rugby. At that time, the game was widely known as football, because the game which we know more commonly by the same name did not become widely known for about another 30 years. 

Because tackles have been an increasing cause of injuries to players in recent years, the laws governing what is allowed in a tackle have become increasingly strict”

What Do You Need To Play Rugby?

The game is played between two teams, initially consisting of 15 players each – although replacements are allowed at any time, with each team allowed to have eight players on standby for this purpose. 

Players form themselves into two lines, known as forwards and backs, with eight of the former and seven of the latter. 

Rugby is played on a pitch, usually with a grass surface, measuring 110 yards from end to end, and 77 yards across. Additionally, there is an area behind each goal across the full width of the pitch and 25 yards long, called the in-goal area.

Each end of the pitch also has a line across it at 25 yards/22 metres from each goal line.

A rugby game lasts for 80 minutes, divided into two 40-minute halves, with a 15-minute break between them. The referee can stop the clock, and add time at the end of either half at his/her discretion. Because rugby is a sport involving a great deal of contact, the time taken to complete a game can be rather more than the amount of time for which the ball is in play.

The ball is often cited as the most distinctive feature of rugby. Four leather or synthetic panels are sewn together to produce a ball which is oval-shaped, and is approximately 30 inches (75cm) long at its widest point, and has a circumference of 23 inches (58.4 centimetres) across the middle.

An H-shaped goalpost is placed right in the middle of each goal line, the top edge of the horizontal bar of which is three metres off the ground. Each vertical post is 5.6 metres apart.

How Does The Scoring System Work In Rugby?

The rules of rugby stipulate that the ball can be passed between players in two ways. Throwing is the most common method used, and in this case, the player in possession must always pass the ball to another player who is behind them at the time the ball is released.

The highest number of points is awarded by one team scoring a try, which involves them passing the ball among their own players and advancing up the pitch, as described before, until one player carries the ball over the try line – level with the goalposts – in their opponents’ half of the pitch. A try is worth five points.

After a try has been scored, a team then has the chance to score a further two points by scoring a conversion kick. This is taken from a position on the field of play level with the point at which the scorer of the try touched the ball down over the try line. Hence, once they have crossed the try line, you will often see players carry on running with the ball and try to avoid being stopped until they get as close to underneath the goalposts as possible. This is to make it easier for the kicker to score the points awarded for a conversion, in addition to a try.

A range of in-play offences committed by one team can result in the awarding of a penalty kick to the team offended against. If the attacking team considers that the kick can result in the ball being directly kicked (from off the ground) through the opposition’s goalposts and over the three-metre bar, then they are allowed to kick directly for goal. If such a kick is successful, the attacking team is awarded three pints.

The fourth and final way to score points is by means of a drop goal. This can be done from anywhere within the field of play, and involves a player dropping the ball onto the floor, then kicking it between the opposition’s goalposts, as described for a conversion or penalty kick, above. A successful drop goal is worth three points. 

What Are The Rules Around Contact With Other Players?

Players are allowed to tackle each other to try to force them to release the ball. A fair tackle involves a player grabbing hold of an opponent, for example around their legs or waist, and pulling them to the floor. A tackle should always be made below the ball-carrying player’s shoulders. If a player is tackled above shoulder height, this is deemed a foul

Because tackles have been an increasing cause of injuries to players in recent years, the laws governing what is allowed in a tackle have become increasingly strict.

The general rule on tackling is that tackles should be made below the collarbone, and the tackler must wrap their arms around the opponent. The tackler should not lift his opponent in a way that raises the hips above the torso and causes the tackled player to land on their head or neck. There have been known to be instances when, in the course of a tackle, a player has thrown an opponent to the floor, and they have then, often accidentally, landed on their shoulders, neck or head, and so been at risk of serious injury. Such occurrences, now commonly known as spear tackles, have been clamped down upon very strongly by match officials in recent years.

Shoulder-charging a player, that is, tackling them without using the arms, is also forbidden.

Of course, rugby is a very physical game, and there are regular instances when opposing players – and teams – become involved in fierce disputes. Physical assaults do occasionally happen when tempers become frayed, but assaulting an opposing player should result in an instant dismissal of the player committing the assault.

What Are The Other Ways Of Committing A Foul?

Any player from the attacking team who is in front of the ball and considered to be interfering with play at any time will be called offside, and will concede a penalty to the opposing team. A player can be in front of the ball only if they are not interfering with play, and a player cannot arrive to tackle a player with the ball from an offside position.

A pass that does not travel backwards or level with the play is considered a forward pass, which is also penalised by the attacking team surrendering possession.

Kicking the ball or carrying it over the touchlines at either side of the pitch is penalised by the awarding of a line-out to the opposing team. A line-out involves two lines of up to seven players from each side lining up parallel to each other, and facing the player throwing the ball back into play. The ball is then thrown straight down the middle between the two lines, and players from both sides are supposed to jump to try to catch the ball, and then either catch the ball or hit it with their hand back to one of their team-mates.

What Are The Differences Between Rugby Union and Rugby League?

Rugby league is a game that emerged out of rugby union in the late 19th century, and was incorporated as a separate game in England in 1895, with Australia and New Zealand following over the next decade.

A rugby league game is played between two teams of 13 players, as opposed to 15 in rugby union. 

When a player is tackled in rugby league, they must immediately let go of the ball. Then, on getting to their feet, they must drop the ball between their feet and pass it with a heel backwards to a team-mate.

Rugby league also places a limit to the number of times the players of one team can be tackled before they must pass the ball to their opponents, this limit usually being six. This rule was supposedly put in place so that no one team could monopolise possession of the ball, in spite of being repeatedly tackled.

When the ball is kicked out of play in rugby league, play is re-started by a kick from inside the field of play close to the point where the ball crossed the touchline, rather than a line-out, as described earlier for rugby union.

There are also minor differences to the scoring structure between the two codes. In Rugby League, a try is worth four points, a goal scores two points and a field goal/drop goal is worth one point.

Rugby league initiated the practice of paying players long before it was formally allowed in rugby union, although today, rugby union at its senior levels has moved a long way from its truly amateur status.

What Is Touch Rugby?

As the game’s authorities grew increasingly concerned at the risk of injuries, particularly among children and young players, a modified game started to take off, in which tackling was replaced by a rule stipulating that a player must pass or release the ball as soon as they are touched by an opponent.

Touch rugby is played in a number of formats, and rules too vary, specifically over whether a touch forcing a player to release the ball has to be with one hand or two.

Some game formats also replace line-outs with kicks back into play. As touch rugby is often played by children, games are often played over a much shorter duration than under the original rules.

In all other instances, for example the scoring system and those governing fouls, touch rugby adheres to the regular rules of rugby.