Spectator's Guide to Rugby 15's
PLAYERS & POSITIONS
Rugby has 15 players on each team. Everyone on the pitch plays offense and defense, and the number of each player signifies that player's specific position. Jersey numbers above 15 are worn by substitute players.
Players numbered one through eight are forwards, typically the larger, stronger players of the team whose main job is to win possession of the ball. They would be the equivalent to American football linebackers and lineman. Players numbered nine to fifteen are backs, the smaller, faster and more agile players. Their main role is to exploit possession of the ball won by the forwards. Backs may be equated to running backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks in American football.
STARTING THE GAME
Just as in American football, rugby begins with a kickoff to the opponent from mid-field. Provided that the ball travels beyond the 10-meter line, any player from either team may gain possession of the ball. You may occasionally see players lift each other to gain advantage here.
MOVING THE BALL
Rugby is continuous like soccer. There is no blocking in rugby. Additionally, rugby does not have downs and it is not required to reach 10 yards and stop. The person with the ball leads the attack and there are several ways to move the ball. Any player may carry, pass or kick the ball and play is not stopped and therefore continues when the ball hits the ground or when a player is tackled.
• Running: When running the ball, players may continue to run until they are tackled, step out of bounds or run beyond the goal line. Players run the ball to advance toward the opponent's goal line.
• Passing: The ball may be passed to any player. However, it may only be passed laterally or backward, never forward. Players pass the ball to an open teammate to keep it in play and further advance it.
• Kicking: Any player may kick the ball forward at any time. Once the ball is kicked, players of either team, regardless of whether or not the ball hits the ground, may gain possession. Players typically kick the ball to a teammate in an effort to advance it or to the opposing team to obtain relief from poor field position.
There are four ways for a team to score points in rugby:
• Try: Five points are awarded to a team for touching the ball down in the other team's in-goal area. This is much like a touchdown in American football but requires the ball actually be grounded.
• Conversion: Following a try, two points are awarded for a successful kick through the goal posts. The attempt is taken on a line, at least 10 meters, straight out from the point where the ball was touched down.
• Penalty Kick: Three points are awarded for a successful penalty kick. The kick must be from the point of the penalty or anywhere on a line straight behind that point. The ball can be played if the kick fails.
• Drop Goal: Three points are awarded for a successful drop kick.
There are two methods of restarting play following a stoppage caused by either the ball going out of bounds or because of an infraction of the laws.
• Line-Out: If the ball goes out of bounds, it is restarted with a line-out.
• Scrum: Rugby's unique formation, the forerunner of the American football line of scrimmage, is the method used to restart the game after the referee has whistled a minor law violation.
Similar to soccer, the offside line is continually moving up and down the pitch. In most instances, the ball creates the offside line and players are not permitted to participate in play if they are on the opposing team's side of the ball.
After an offense occurs, if the referee thinks the non-offending team might benefit by playing on they may play advantage.
TACKLES, RUCKS AND MAULS
Players in possession of and carrying the ball may be stopped by being tackled by the opposing team. Players are tackled around the waist and legs and, in general, may not be tackled higher. Once a player is tackled, however, play does not stop as it does in football.
A player who is tackled to the ground must make the ball available immediately so that play can continue. Supporting players from both teams (one from each team) converge over the ball on the ground, binding with each other and attempt to push the opposing players backwards in a manner similar to a scrum. This situation is known as a ruck. The ball may not be picked up by any player, until the ball emerges out of the ruck. The ruck ends and play continues. A team that can retain possession after the tackle and the ensuing ruck has a huge advantage. A maul is formed with a similar gathering of players, except the player in possession of the ball is simply held up, and not tackled. The maul ends when the ball emerges.
Sevens is a fast paced version of Union rugby. Rugby sevens was initially conceived in 1883 by two butchers from Melrose, Scotland, a rural town in the Scottish Borderlands, as a fund-raising event for their local club, the Melrose RFC. The first ever sevens match was played at the Greenyards, the Melrose ground, where it was well received. The Melrose Sevens are still played to this day!
There are several variations of the rules which apply to Rugby Sevens, primarily to speed up the game and to account for the reduced number of players.
The main changes can be summarized as follows: