Rugby Union Playing Guide


Rugby Union pits two teams of 15 players against each other. The team scoring the most points wins the match, and this can be achieved by carrying, passing or kicking the ball. Qualities participants call upon include strength, discipline, technique and passion - traits that have seen rugby gain and maintain global status.

On-field Positions

Rugby Union Playing Positions


The Forwards Their collective role is to gain possession of the ball and get it to their backs, who should try and develop a running play. There are eight forwards in a team, and they are regarded as the heavyweights of the team.

The Backs They should be more mobile, typically with the pace to translate the possession provided by the forwards into tries. Of course, as fitness and skill levels have improved (particularly in the Professional era) the roles performed by the backs and forwards are not only interdependent but also frequently interchangeable.

Match Officials A game is controlled by a referee and two touch-judges. The referee is the most senior, and also takes note of the time and score. He is the sole arbitrator, whose decisions are final.

Play Begins Play commences with the toss of the coin between the two captains, with the winner being afforded the choice of kicking off, or choosing which end to defend in the first half. The game lasts for eighty minutes, excluding stoppages, each half forty minutes, with an interval for half time. However, if the fixture is a Sevens game then there are some distinct differences. Its a seven a side game, played on a full pitch each half lasts seven minutes, although major finals such as the Middlesex Sevens last ten minutes.

In all matches, play commences with a kick-off. This is a place kick from the centre of the halfway line. At the start of the second half the other team will kick off. If, from the kick-off the ball goes directly into touch, lands directly in the in-goal area,or directly over (or on) the dead ball line then the opposing teamhas the choice of either 1)accepting the kick 2)asking for it to be re-taken, or 3)asking for a scrummage at the centre spot. At the kick-off,the kicker's team must be behind the ball at the time of the kick. If not, the referee can order a scrummage (scrum) at the centre.

Scoring System There are four ways of scoring points:

  1. Try worth 5 points
  2. Conversion worth 2 points
  3. Penalty worth 3 points
  4. Drop goal worth 3 points

A try is scored by grounding the ball in the opposition goal area. The ball can be placed on the try line (in line with the posts) or beyond, but no further than the dead ball line. For the ball to be grounded, the player must be holding it in his hand(s) or arm(s) when he brings it into contact with the ground. The ball can also be deemed to be grounded if a player falls on the ball, but the front of the body, from the waist to the neck must make contact with the ball.

Every try is further rewarded with a kick at goal, and can increase the score by another two points. This is called a conversion. The kick is taken from a point level with where the try occurred. It can be either a place kick or a drop kick, and all the players on the kicker's team must be behind the ball at this time. Meanwhile, the defending team must stand behind their own goal-line. Once the kicker commences his run-up, the defenders can run forward in an attempt to put the kicker off, and perhaps even charge down his kick. A penalty kick is awarded against the offending team following an infringement of the rules. The rules concerning a penalty are very much the same as those for a conversion, with the exception that the kick must be taken at or behind the point where the infringement took place. There is also the option for a scrum, in which case the team awarded the penalty have the put in. Viewers of the last Lions' tour of South Africa will recall the efficacy of the drop goal. A player can, at any time during open play, attempt this. The ball is dropped onto the ground and kicked just as it bounces, and must pass through the posts without bouncing. Moreover, re-starts occur via a drop-kick, as well as at half time.

When and why - halts in play

Throw forward The ball must always be passed sideways or backwards. If it is thrown forward, then the player committing the offence will be penalised. If the throw forward is intentional then a penalty is awarded from the point where the infringement took place. If it was unintentional, then a scrummage shall be formed at the place of the infringement. Knock-on - the ball must always be gathered cleanly. If a player loses possession of the ball, and it travels forward towards the opposing goaline, or it strikes a player's hand and travels forward, then it is a knock-on and is penalised in the same way as the throw forward, unless the player can recover the ball before it has touched the ground or another player. The tackle - when tackled, the ball must be released immediately and get up or move away; you cannot touch the ball again or interfere in play until you are back on your feet. Failure to comply with this will incur a penalty for the other side. After the ball is released from a ruck, or maul, often forms around the ball. This is like an impromptu scrum with at least one player from either side closing around the ball, which is somewhere between them. When the ball becomes unplayable or stationary, a scrummage shall be ordered and the ball inserted by the team who were not initially in possession.

The lineout If the ball goes into touch during the normal course of play, play is re-started with a line-out, the equivalent of a throw-in in football. The line-out is a way of gaining possession of the ball and at least two players from each side line up in single lines and at right angles to the touch-line. The number of players in the line-out is determined by the team taking the throw, and the throw is taken by the team which did not put the ball in touch originally. Physical contact is not encouraged, and the players must stand so that a clear space of 1m separates the two lines. The line-out starts from a point 5m from the touch-line where the throw is being taken, and stretches to a point 15m away. Any player beyond 15m is not deemed to be in the line-out. The ball must be thrown straight between the two lines of players; you cannot try to gain an advantage by throwing towards the side of the line-out containing your own players. Once the ball has been thrown, the two sets of forwards jump and try to get possession of the ball. Mark (fair catch) - a player can make a mark by catching the ball from a kick, knock-on or throw forward by one of his opponents, and shouting "mark". Significantly, the player must be on his side of the 22 m line. After making a mark, the player has the option of a free-kick which can be either a place, drop or tap-kick. A goal cannot be scored direct from a free-kick.

Drop-out The drop-out is a drop-kick taken by the defending team. The kick is taken from anywhere on or behind their own 22m line. If taken from behind the 22, the ball must reach that line from the drop-out . If it does not, the opposition can request it to be re-taken or choose a scrum - formed at the centre of the 22. The scrum - the object at the scrum is to gain possession of the ball and get it out to your own scrum half so that he can engineer an attacking move. Once the scrum is formed, the ball is put in by one of the scrum-halves, and the hooker attempts to hook the ball back to his team-mates, who in turn gradually hook it out to the scrum-half who will have taken up a position at the back of the scrum. The most effective way of gaining advantage is by pushing the opposing forwards backwards (a tug of war in reverse). When formed, the scrummage shall occur at the place where the infringement took place (or as near as possible).

The line of scrummage The imaginary line between between the two sets of front-row forwards - should always be parallel to the goal-lines. The scrum is used to re-start play after certain infringements and can only be formed on the field of play - it cannot be formed in the in-goal area or within 5m of the touch-line. If any infringement by the defending team takes place in their own in-goal area, or within 5m of the touch-line. If any infringement by the defending team takes place in their own in-goal area, and the penalty would be a scrum, then the scrummage must be formed 5m from the goal-line on the field of play. A minimum of eight players are required from each team to form a scrum. Of those, three players MUST form the front row. The player putting the ball into the scrum must make sure the ball bounces on the line of scrummage beyond the feet of the nearest player. The ball MUST be put into the scrum in a straight line.


  • 1 Loosehead Prop
  • 2 Hooker
  • 3 Tighthead
  • 4 Second Row
  • 5 Second Row
  • 6 Blindside Flanker
  • 7 Openside Flanker
  • 8 Number 8


  • 9 Scrum Half
  • 10 Fly Half
  • 11 Left Wing
  • 12 Inside Centre
  • 13 Outside Centre
  • 14 Right Wing
  • 15 Fullback

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