“It’s like soccer, right?”
“Isn’t that the game that’s like football, only you pass it backwards?”
These are common misconceptions about the game of rugby. When you say you’re a rugby player, people will look at you quizzically, trying to draw a mental picture of what the sport looks like. Many people consider it a cross between soccer and football, which is usually the easy explanation for the unfamiliar. In reality, rugby is a sport, a passion, an obsession. Not everyone can play it, and there is NOTHING ELSE like it, on or off the field.
This page is designed to familiarize those new to the sport with the intricacies of rugby. We’ll cover the equipment, basics of the game, common terms, and social activities. Please keep in mind that there is SO MUCH MORE to the game of rugby than what appears here. We’ve included what we think is relevant and necessary to get you started. The rest will come to you, the more you play.
The origins of rugby are most commonly credited to the legend of William Webb Ellis, who while in the midst of a soccer match at the Rugby School in England, decided to pick up the ball and run with it. However it began, it has been transformed into a sport that requires speed, strength, and strategy, with a dash of organized chaos thrown in. The object of rugby is to score more points than the other team by carrying, passing, and kicking the ball.
Rugby is a continuous, flowing game (like soccer) with no real timeouts. The only time play stops is for injuries, and the injury time is then added to the end of regulation time. Play only slows down briefly when the ball goes out of bounds, or if there’s a penalty. But fast-thinking players can take advantage of these situations by quickly starting play again. Rugby has both premeditation and spontaneity. The faster you can make things happen, the more likely you are to score.
We play on a pitch. It looks like a field and it is a field, but we call it a pitch. Ideally, it is grassy and level, but we take what we can get. A pitch has two try zones (these are NOT end zones…this isn’t football, remember?) and LOTS of white lines on it. Don’t worry, all of those markings will eventually make sense.
Our equipment consists of a kit (see below) and a rugby ball. The ball looks like an over-inflated white football, rounded at the ends. We also have a referee to maintain order while 30 people (15 of us, 15 of them) run amuck on the pitch.
Your rugby kit is what you wear to the pitch. It consists of a sturdy rugby jersey (not one of those frou-frou numbers from Britches), a pair of rugby shorts, matching socks, cleats, and a mouthguard. That’s it. No pads, no sticks, no helmets. And definitely NO JEWELRY. While accessories can be flattering, all jewelry should be left at home. Not only is it a safety hazard, but thousands of earrings have been lost forever in people’s pockets when thrust upon them right before the game’s opening whistle.
The Furies uniform consists of: navy shorts; team jerseys (provided); and navy with solid gold turndown rugby socks. While we will provide game jerseys, it’s a good idea to buy your own individual jersey for practice.
You Want Me to Do What?
The 15 players on a rugby team are divided up into two groups, forwards and backs. There are eight forwards and seven backs. Below is a brief explanation of the positions, their responsibilities, and typical skills and body type required to play it. (And as you’ll see, body type is a big determining factor when assigning positions.)
Rugby forwards are the worker bees on the field. Rugged, strong, and determined, these players spend the game trying to secure possession of the ball and then either move it forward or present it to the backs to do something with. They are then expected to remain in support of the speedy backs as they carry the ball. As a result, a forward’s job is never done. Forwards are also called the pack or the scrum. A scrum is the conglomeration of forwards binding together in specific positions to win possession of the ball. Again, this is a situation that is best explained and understood once you have seen one. Below are the forward positions and the common skills associated with each position:
- Loose/Tight Head Prop: There are two props on the field, one called loose head, the other tight head (those distinctions are based on the props’ positions in the scrum). Both props are usually strong, sturdy, and somewhat fearless.
- Hooker: A hooker’s responsibility is to “hook” the ball while in a scrum. She is typically small and quick, with good feet.
- Second Rows: There are two second rows, and they are tall, big, and strong. Due to their height, many second rows are used as the jumpers in lineouts.
- Wing Forwards: Also called flankers or breakaways, these two players are quick and aggressive.
- Number Eight: The last person in the scrum, the number eight is usually smart, with a good knowledge of the game, and has good hand and foot skills.
- Scrumhalf: OK, the scrumhalf isn’t technically a forward, but as the link between the forwards and the backs, we thought it important to list the position here. In order to be a good scrumhalf, one needs to be quick, smart, and to know the game very well.
The backs are the glamour gals of rugby. These are the sprinters, the passers with the Midas touch, the ones with the moves. While they tackle, ruck, and maul like the forwards, the backs usually play in a lot less traffic than the forwards. After the forwards win them the ball, the backs are expected to run, pass, kick, and score lots of tries. As a result, most of the glory in scoring goes to the backs. Here are the back positions:
- Scrumhalf: Already discussed.
- Flyhalf: The flyhalf is the vital link from the scrumhalf to the rest of the backs. She must have a cool head and great hands.
- Inside Center: Usually one of the sturdier backs, the inside center needs to have strength and a good change of speed.
- Outside Center: Just like the inside center, only faster and stronger.
- Wings: There are two wings, and they should be the fastest folks on the field.
- Fullback: The fullback does a lot of kicking, which requires a strong and accurate foot. The fullback should also be good at open field tackling, be able to read the field well, and have decent speed.
Now that we’ve given you an idea of the rugby positions, think about where you’d fit in. If you’re smaller and fast, with good hands, you’re likely going to be a back. If you’re a bit sturdier—maybe not so speedy—and strong, consider trying a forward position. Regardless of where you think you should be, we’ll be glad to help you find the position that’s right for you.
Most of this information can be found at the Radcliffe Women’s Rugby web site.
Useful Terms to Know and Understand
There is no way on earth we could list all the rugby rules on this webpage and expect anyone to understand them. If you really want to read the rules, a rugby rulebook does exist, but most are learned through experience. When you start to play, the most common questions you’ll ask are “Now why did we do that?” and “So what exactly does that mean?” But, in an effort to help you not feel like a complete idiot when you take the field, we’ve listed a few of the more basic, yet very important, rules and terms of the game. There are several rules and situations that apply to each of these terms. Feel free to ask as many questions as you want…
- Passing—This is the primary method used to move the ball from player to player. You can only pass the ball backwards (behind you) or laterally (parallel to you). Lateral passing is OK, but can be a close call, so ideally you will pass the ball to a player who is bursting onto the ball from behind you. If you can’t throw a good pass, your teammates will have a hard time advancing the ball, so this is one of the skills we emphasize. Anyone can be a good passer, it just takes proper technique (which we are happy to teach you) and practice.
- Kicking—Kicking is another method used to advance the ball, although not nearly as often as the pass. There are several types of kicks used throughout the game: pop-kicks, punts, grub kicks, and place kicks. All are used strategically in different situations for different results. As you progress in rugby, you’ll start to learn when to use which kick, and how to kick differently. While anyone on the field can kick the ball, there are usually only a few players who do it consistently (fullbacks, flyhalfs, and maybe a forward with a power foot for penalty kicks). Again, practice is the key to better kicking, although it is advised that experimenting with your kicks not be done during a game. There’s nothing worse than kicking a ball into the open arms of an opponent, who then runs in for the easy try.
- Tackling—Rugby is a game with tackling. If you don’t want to tackle or be tackled, then DO NOT PLAY THIS SPORT. Tackling is the most common method of stopping an advancing player from scoring (driving them out of bounds is another). Unlike football, play does not stop when someone is tackled. Instead, the tackled player must immediately release the ball, so that another player (from either side) can pick it up and continue play. If the ball is not released, or if the player releases the ball and then plays it on the ground (i.e., pushing towards her team), a penalty will be awarded to the opposing team. The ideal tackle consists of hitting an opponent low, squeezing their legs together, and driving them to the ground. This is another skill we emphasize in practice, so you get plenty of time to perfect your tackling. Remember, this is a game played without pads, so you can’t just go flying into another person (i.e., spearing, body checking) without running the risk of hurting yourself or your opponent. There is a technique to tackling that you must learn, not just for effectiveness on the field, but also for your safety.
- Scoring—In rugby, a team scores points in several ways. The most common is called a try. It is similar to a football touchdown, but with one significant difference. In rugby, it is not enough to cross the plane of the try zone with the ball. A try is only good if the ball is brought into the opponent’s try zone and touched to the ground with controlled, downward pressure. Spiking the ball does not count! There must be simultaneous hand/ball/ground contact. A try is worth 5 points, followed by a conversion kick attempt, worth 2 points. In total, a team can score 7 points off a successful try and conversion kick. Teams can also score by kicking. If a player drop kicks (dropping the ball and letting it touch the ground before she kicks it) the ball through the uprights, her team is awarded 3 points. This is very difficult to do, and not done often in women’s rugby. A team can also score 3 points by kicking a penalty kick. These kicks are awarded when a team commits a penalty that gives the opposing team the opportunity to attempt a place kick.
Did Somebody Say Party?
If this was your first stop when checking out the rookie primer, chances are you’re going to be a rugby player. If there’s one thing that separates rugby from other sports, it is the post-match party. The party (or social) is a chance for players from both teams to set aside their differences and celebrate the spirit of camaraderie that exists in rugby. Rugby is unique and intense, and so are its players. Having a post-match party allows you to meet a network of people from all walks of life, all over the country. Don’t be surprised if some of your best friends turn out to be rugby players from different teams.
Take a Break!
OK, now that you’ve read this entire primer, it’s time for you to take a break. Your head is likely swimming right now with all this information. Take some time to digest it, mull it over. If this sounds like the sport for you, please feel free to call any of the contacts listed on this page to get more information. We encourage women of all ages and athletic ability to join our team, and we’d love to have you come out and give us a try (no pun intended). Hope to see you on the pitch!