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How to Play Rugby: A Beginner’s Guide to Mastering the Basics

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J P Myburgh

J P Myburgh

A rugby enthusiast, I bring you news and insights from the exciting world of rugby.

How to play rugby

Known for its unique blend of physicality, strategy, and camaraderie, rugby has firmly established itself as a beloved sport in many corners of the world. Whether it’s the fierce competitiveness of the Rugby World Cup or the friendly rivalry of local club games, rugby’s appeal lies in its ability to challenge and unite individuals through shared effort and passion. If you’ve ever been intrigued by this sport and wanted to understand it better or considering picking up a rugby ball and joining in on the action, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will help you thoroughly understand rugby’s basic principles, key skill requirements, essential equipment, and the spirit making it more than a game.

Understanding the Basics of Rugby

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, let’s first understand the game’s objective – scoring tries and kicking conversions. In rugby, a ‘try’ is scored when a player carries the ball over the opposing team’s try line and touches it to the ground. This achievement is the primary way of scoring and is worth five points. Following a try, the team is given an opportunity to kick a ‘conversion’ for an additional two points, where the player attempts to kick the ball between the H-shaped goal posts.

Further, teams can score through a ‘penalty kick’ or a ‘drop goal’, each worth three points, if a player successfully kicks the ball between the goal posts during general play, known as a drop goal or when a penalty is awarded.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the rugby field, the ‘pitch’. A standard rugby pitch is a large grassy area with specific markings. It is 100 meters long and 70 meters wide, with additional ‘in-goal’ areas of up to 22 meters at each end where tries are scored. The pitch is divided into two halves with a halfway line, and there are also 22-meter lines, 10-meter lines, and goal lines marked.

As for positions, a rugby team consists of 15 players, divided into ‘forwards’ and ‘backs’. The eight forwards, also known as the ‘pack’, engage in scrums and are generally the heavier, stronger players. Their roles primarily involve gaining and controlling possession of the ball. The seven backs are typically faster and more agile, responsible for capitalizing on the ball possession to create scoring opportunities. Each position has a specific role, uniquely contributing to the team’s strategy and objectives. As you delve deeper into rugby, understanding these positions and their interplay will become second nature.

Remember, rugby is a game of continuous flow where both teams vie for control and territorial advantage. This dynamic nature makes it a thrilling sport to play and watch.

Essential Equipment for Playing Rugby

Like any sport, participating in rugby requires the right equipment to enhance your performance and ensure your safety on the field. Rugby is a contact sport, and while it’s an exhilarating experience, it’s essential to be adequately protected. First and foremost, you’ll need a rugby ball. It’s oval-shaped, similar to the balls used to play American football, but slightly larger and designed for easier carrying and passing.

For personal gear, starting from the top, headgear is recommended, and a gum shield or mouthguard is absolutely essential. It protects your teeth and reduces the risk of concussion. Rugby shirts are typically made of durable material to withstand the game’s physical nature, and some players may opt for shirts with thin padding for additional protection. Rugby shorts are designed to be tough yet offer enough flexibility for high-intensity running and movement.

Rugby boots are specialized for the game, with studs on the sole to provide better grip on the grass field. The type of studs you choose might vary depending on your position. For example, forwards often prefer boots with eight studs for better traction during scrums, while backs might choose boots with six studs for greater speed and agility.

Lastly, while not mandatory, many players wear headgear (a ‘scrum cap’), shin guards, and padded undershorts for added protection. It’s important to remember that while the right gear can enhance safety and performance, the best protection comes from learning and adhering to the game’s rules and respecting your fellow players.

Basic Rules and Gameplay in Rugby

The basic rugby rules and gameplay can seem complex when starting with rugby, but they will become second nature with time and practice. One of the fundamental rules in rugby is that the ball cannot be passed forward, it must only be passed laterally or backwards. Any forward pass results in the ball being handed over to the other team. Similarly, a ‘knock-on’ is when a player loses control of the ball, and it travels forward, this also results in the ball being handed over to the defending team. The concept of ‘offside’ in rugby is also crucial. In general play, a player is offside if they are ahead of a teammate carrying the ball or ahead of the last foot in a ruck or maul. Offside play results in a penalty to the opposing team.

Now, let’s demystify some of the unique terms in rugby. A ‘ruck’ is formed when the ball is on the ground, and one or more players from each team are on their feet and over the ball. A ‘maul’ occurs when one or more opponents hold the ball carrier up off the ground, and one or more of the ball carrier’s teammates bind onto the ball carrier, if the attacking team is unable to recycle the ball from this maul, then the ball will be lost to the opposition. ‘Lineouts’ are a way of restarting play after the ball has gone out of bounds over the sidelines, where players from each team line up, and the ball is thrown down the middle. ‘Scrums’ are another form of restarting play, where eight players from each team interlock and push against each other, and the ball is thrown into the middle. Scrums most commonly happen after a knock-on occurs.

Lastly, the match officials in rugby include the referee and two touch judges. The referee controls the game, makes decisions, and awards penalties. The touch judges assist the referee by signalling when the ball is out of play and can also advise on other matters at the referee’s request.

Fundamental Skills Required in Rugby

Rugby is a game that requires a diverse set of skills, and whether you’re a forward or a back, there are some fundamental skills that every player should master – passing, catching, running, tackling, and kicking.

Passing in rugby is unique as it mainly involves lateral or backward passes. Practicing the ‘spin pass’ is crucial, where the ball is spun out of the hands to reach a teammate quickly and accurately. A ‘pop pass’ is another essential skill to pass the ball to a nearby teammate.

Catching is equally essential, and always remember to keep your eyes on the ball and your hands ready in a ‘W’ shape. Practicing different types of catches, such as high and low balls, will improve your versatility as a player.

Running in rugby isn’t just about speed but also about agility and evasiveness. Drills that focus on changing direction swiftly, such as ‘zig-zag’ running or ‘ladder’ drills, are highly beneficial.

Tackling is a defensive skill that requires technique more than strength. The key is always keeping your head to the side of the player you’re tackling, never behind or in front and always tackle a player at chest height or below. Practice safe tackling techniques regularly to ensure player safety and effectiveness.

Kicking is another skill that can give your team a strategic advantage. Whether it’s a ‘punt kick’ for distance, a ‘drop kick’ for a quick field goal, or a ‘grubber kick’ to advance the ball on the ground, honing your kicking skills is crucial.

To enhance hand-eye coordination, a fundamental requirement in rugby, drills such as ‘throw and catch’ can be beneficial. Start with a stationary catch, then progress to running and catching. You can also try juggling the rugby ball or passing against a wall and catching.

Remember, these skills may seem challenging initially, but you’ll find them becoming second nature with practice. The key is consistent practice, refining each skill until it becomes a natural part of your rugby game.

Teamwork, Communication and Strategic Play in Rugby. A Formula to win rugby matches

Rugby is a sport that highly values teamwork and strategic play. Unlike sports where individual brilliance can often decide the outcome of a game, rugby is a game where success is more often than not a result of a team’s effort. The power of teamwork in rugby lies in the understanding that every player has a unique role and that these roles must be performed in harmony to move the ball, defend, and score points effectively.

Forwards and backs, though having distinct responsibilities, must work together seamlessly. With their strength and power, the forwards secure the ball and create a platform for the backs. With their speed and agility, the backs exploit the space created to advance the ball and create scoring opportunities. This interdependence fosters a profound sense of camaraderie and respect among teammates, one of rugby’s hallmarks.

Effective communication and collaboration are crucial elements of successful rugby play. Players must continually communicate on the pitch – calling for passes, identifying defensive gaps, or coordinating tackles. This communication isn’t just verbal; it’s also about reading your teammates’ body language and understanding the game’s ebb and flow.

Collaboration in rugby is more than just working together; it’s about understanding each player’s strengths and weaknesses and how these fit into the team’s overall strategy. For instance, knowing which teammate is the fastest can influence strategic decisions, like who should chase a kick. Similarly, understanding who is the strongest tackler can determine defensive formations.

Ultimately, the most successful rugby teams communicate effectively, collaborate closely, and understand that every player’s contribution is vital to the team’s success. Rugby is a sport that truly exemplifies the saying ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’

Fitness and Conditioning for Rugby Players compared to American football players

The level of fitness required in rugby is exceptional and multifaceted, encompassing strength, speed, endurance, and agility. Rugby players need to be prepared for a continuously moving game, where they might be required to sprint at top speed one moment, engage in a grueling scrum the next, and continue running for several more minutes without a break. This requires a unique blend of both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

Strength and power are essential for the high-impact aspects of the game, such as tackling and scrummaging. Speed and agility are vital for evading opponents and making rapid advances down the field. Endurance is crucial due to the length and continuous nature of the game, as players typically need to keep moving for two 40-minute halves with only a brief break in between.

Comparatively, American football also requires high levels of fitness, but the nature of the sport means that the demands are somewhat different. American football games involve a series of short, intense plays with breaks in between. This means that while strength, power, and speed are highly important, the need for long-duration endurance is less compared to rugby.

Furthermore, the positional specialization in American football can lead to more specific fitness requirements. For example, a lineman would prioritize strength and power, while a wide receiver would focus more on speed and agility. Although there are different positions with unique roles in rugby, every player needs to run, tackle, pass, and potentially kick, meaning a well-rounded fitness base is crucial.

Both sports require a commitment to physical fitness and conditioning. While the specifics may vary, the dedication to fitness is a commonality that rugby shares with American football and all high-performance sports.

Joining a Rugby Team: Where to Start

If you’re ready to leap into playing rugby, joining a team is a great first step. Start by locating local rugby clubs in your area. Many towns and cities have rugby clubs with teams at different age groups and skill levels. You can typically find these through a quick online search or by asking around your local community. Don’t be discouraged if you’re an absolute beginner – many clubs are welcoming and provide training for newcomers to the sport.

When you’ve found a potential club, attend a few training sessions to get a feel for the team and the coaching style. Don’t worry about not knowing all the rules or techniques right away – remember, every player had to start somewhere.

Playing rugby offers numerous benefits beyond just physical fitness. One of the most valuable aspects is the friendships you’ll build. Rugby teams often form close-knit communities, and the shared experiences on and off the pitch can lead to lifelong friendships.

Moreover, rugby is an excellent sport for character development. It teaches respect for others, as fair play is a fundamental aspect of the game. It also fosters resilience, as you learn to pick yourself up after a tough tackle, and perseverance, as you push towards the try line despite fatigue. It can instill a sense of discipline as you commit to regular training and team responsibilities.

Ultimately, joining a rugby team is about more than just the game. It’s about becoming part of a community, embracing a sport with a rich history and tradition, and growing physically and personally. So, take the plunge, join a team, and start your rugby journey!


Is rugby a hard sport to play?

Rugby can be challenging to learn initially due to its unique rules and the variety of skills it requires, such as passing, kicking, tackling, and strategic play. It’s also physically demanding, requiring both strength and endurance. However, like any sport, with consistent practice and a good understanding of the rules, it becomes more manageable and enjoyable over time. It’s worth noting that rugby challenges also contribute to its appeal, offering a comprehensive way to build fitness, teamwork, and strategic thinking.

Is American football the same as rugby?

No, American football and rugby are not the same. While they share some similarities, such as the importance of gaining territory and scoring by carrying the ball into the end zone (in American football) or over the try line (in rugby), they have different rules, equipment, and gameplay structures.

Where do they play rugby in USA?

Rugby is played in many areas across the USA, with clubs and leagues in all 50 states. Major cities often have multiple teams, and many colleges and universities have rugby programs. There is also a professional rugby league, Major League Rugby, with teams in several cities nationwide. Rugby is gaining popularity in the USA, so opportunities to play are increasingly widespread.

J P Myburgh

J P Myburgh

A rugby enthusiast, I bring you news and insights from the exciting world of rugby.

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