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Rugby 101: What is Rugby?

Photos by Flip Buttling

Now that the 2012 Olympics have ended, very few people are already looking forward to the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016. Sure the athletes hoping to achieve their olympic dreams, would be among those few, but there is another group: Rugby players, including myself.

In 2016, Rugby will be included once again as an olympic sport. It will be the first time that rugby had been played in the olympics since the United States took the last olympic gold for rugby against the French, in the Paris 1924 games. Countries will compete in the seven-a-side (Rugby Sevens) version of the sport.

So the general public has exactly four years to learn what Rugby is. I'll give you a head start.

Probably the most common version of the sport, played in the U.S. is Rugby Union. Played between two teams, fifteen players a side, on a field (commonly referred to as "the pitch") 100 meters long (330ft) by 70 meters wide (230 ft.) Teams face each other in a brutal clash. It's not hard to see how rugby is the sport that birthed American Football, although many rules differ today.

The goal in rugby, as with most sports, is to win by accumulating more points collectively than the other team. To get in a position to score, a team can run with the ball, pass backward, and/or kick it. Through a combination of these elements and maintaining possession of the ball, "scoring a try" becomes possible.

Scoring a try is accomplished when a player literally "touches down" the ball, with controlled downward pressure in the "try-zone." After doing so, the team that scored is allowed a chance to convert the try for an additional two points by kicking a placed ball through the uprights. However, this kick is given an extra level of difficulty - the kick must be taken from a specific point on a straight line, parallel to the sidelines from where the try was scored. It be underneath the uprights or by the sidelines.

Additionally, at any point during open play, any player may attempt a "drop goal" worth three points. This is a tricky kick to make, as the ball must be dropped, hit the ground, then kicked through the uprights.

Lastly, a penalty kick may earn a team points. This happens only when a serious infraction has occurred. A placed kick is taken from the spot where the infraction took place on the pitch. If successful, this kick is also worth three points.

Players are normally categorized as either a "forward" or a "back." These two groups collectively work together using each others strengths, to accomplish victory.


Forwards, the "bruisers" of rugby, are an eight-man group that comprise the "scrum" or "pack." Two Props, A Hooker, Two Locks, Two Flankers and an Eight Man are the names of the positions of this collective group. Their job is to secure the ball after a tackle in a "ruck," as well as make tackles on defense, and to perform scrums and line outs.

Backs are their nimble, faster counter parts. They are a seven-man squad made of the Scrum Half, Fly Half, Inside Center, Outside Center, two Wingers and a Fullback. They have two main responsibilities: Tackle the opposition to prevent them from scoring and to score tries.

It is commonly said that the Forwards win the game; the Backs determine by how much.

Next week, learn terms like Line Out, Scrum Down, Ruck and further details of the forward positions. You will surely understand why, as a Back, I love my Forwards.

Tagged: Rugby, basics