A simple guide to rugby

For the uninitiated, rugby must seem a game of contradictions. The ball, which isn’t round, can only be thrown backwards, but players run forwards, and you earn points for a good try.

But when you understand the basics of the game, rugby is a spectacular combination of dexterity, brute force, speed and strategy.

H-shaped goalpost

The rugby field is a rectangular grassed area marked by an H-shaped goalpost at either end. Points are scored when the attacking team kicks the ball over the crossbar of the goalpost, or scores a try - touching the oval ball down in the in-goal area behind the posts.

A penalty goal (kicked over the crossbar) is worth three points; a try worth five. The team who scores the try then has the chance to add two more points to their total with a conversion - a free kick at the goalposts.

A drop kick, where the ball is dropped on the ground and kicked on the rebound between the posts, can be attempted at any time of the game, and is also worth three points.

15 players

Each side fields 15 players at a time, and can make substitutions during the 80 minutes of the game (two halves of 40 minutes).

The players on the field each have specific positions and duties. There are eight forwards - a collection of the burliest and tallest athletes in the team - who form the scrum; and seven backs, whose job is to run the ball towards the try line.

Players can run with the ball as far as they want to, but when they are tackled to the ground, they must release it. The ball can be kicked forward, but it must be passed backwards.

An on-field referee makes the calls, supported by two touch judges on the sidelines, and for big games, they can "go upstairs" to the television match official to get the final word.


Throwing the ball in from out-of-bounds is called a line-out; a scrum, where 16 men bind together in a bizarre crouched huddle, restarts the game after an infringement; a maul is an all-in scramble for the ball.

Some of the terminology may sound obscure - the knock-on, the dead-ball, the ruck, the drop-out from the 22, the dummy and the up-and-under. But the premise of the game is simple - to get the ball between the posts or over the try-line and outscore the other side.

More information:

The story of rugby