Rugby 101 – The Basics


The objective of rugby is the same as in American Football: to advance the ball into the oppositions end zone, called the try zone. While a player scores a touchdown in American Football when he reaches the end zone, in rugby the player has to touch the ball down in the try zone to be awarded a try.

Similar to American Football, a team advances the ball by running the ball up the field and the opposition attempts to stop the advance by tackling the player with the ball.  Passing the ball forward is not allowed in rugby. A forward pass, or even a ball dropped forward, results in a turnover and the opposition is awarded a scrum (see below).  Much of the game of rugby is aimed at passing the ball backwards until a player has open space to advance the ball in to the opposition tryzone either untouched, or in a one-on-one situation so that player can break the tackle and score.

Blocking is not allowed in rugby!!!


  • Try:  Similar to a touchdown in football, scored by touching the ball down in the opposition’s try zone. Worth 5 points
  • Conversion:  Similar to an extra point in football, this kick is taken after a try.  Conversions are worth 2 points.
  • Penalty kick:  Similar to a field goal in football. When a penalty is awarded, that team has the option of “kicking for points”. This kick is taken off of a tee, similar to a conversion, and similar to a field goal in football it is worth 3 points.
  • Drop goal:  These kicks are taken in live play. A player drops the ball on the ground and kicks it as it bounces off the ground. It is very difficult and rare. Drop goals are also worth 3 points. Interesting fact: drop goals are still allowed in football for both field goals and extra points but due to the difficulty, this is rarely done. Doug Flutie (NFL football player) attempted one a few years ago on an extra point (he made it).


  • Kick and chase:  In addition to running the ball up the field, a team may advance the ball by kicking it up the field and chasing after it. All players need to be behind the kicker to chase after the ball. If they are in front of the kicker, they must wait until one of the “onside players” runs past them before they can chase the ball.

 Tackle Situation:

  • Releasing the ball: When a player is tackled to the ground, the tackled player has approximately one second to release the ball once he is on the ground.
  • Ruck:  Once the player is tackled to the ground, the ball is fair game. The teams compete for the ball by trying to drive the opposition away from the ball in the direction of their opposition’s tryzone. Usually the team taking the ball into a tackle has the advantage in winning the ruck, as the tackled player will place the ball in his team’s direction.
  • Maul:  Created when a player is tackled but not to the ground. Teams will attempt to strip the ball away from the tackled player and resume open play

 Open Play:

Teams continually try to advance the ball up the field, usually with multiple rucks happening, until they breakthrough for a try, or an infraction is committed.

  •  Infractions:  For the most part these are either for dropping the ball forward (called a knock-on), a forward pass, or a penalty.
  • Penalties:  Teams have an option of kicking to touch (out of bounds) and having a lineout where the ball travels out of bounds, going for points if within kicking range, touching the ball to their foot and resuming open play (called a quick tap), or taking a scrum (this is rare). There are many different penalties in rugby, to name a few: high tackle (above the collar), leaving feet in ruck, and offside (probably the most common). A severe penalty may result in a yellow card, at which time the player spends 10 minutes in the sinbin while his team plays a man down.


  • Scrums:  Players bind together, and try to drive the other team off the ball. The team awarded the scrum has an advantage because they put the ball into the scrum on a signal from their hooker, who then kicks the ball back to their side. A good team wins 95% of their own scrums.
  • Lineouts:  Happens when a ball travels out of bounds. The teams line up side by side, with the advantage to the team throwing the ball in as they call out a play and two players lift the jumping player. A good team wins 80% or more of their own lineouts.
  • Kickoffs:  Similar to football, they occur at the start of each half, and after a score. The major difference from football is that the team that just scored will receive the kickoff rather than be the team that kicks off.

 Enjoying the Game:

Rugby may seem a bit complicated, but in the end, all it takes to enjoy the game is time.  Be patcient and you’ll pick up on it, it’s very similar to enjoying a football game. There will be great tackles as well as beautiful tries scored through wonderful teamwork, passing, and aggressive running.

We hope this brief description helps the rugby novice understand and most of all enjoy the game!

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