Rugby has two major variations, rugby union and rugby league. League is   a game which originated from union but is based on a much different set of principles and is played in a limited number of countries whereas rugby union is played in most countries in the world. Our focus is on Rugby Union.

  1.  General principles of rugby union matches:

Forward passes are not allowed. Dropping the ball forward is also prohibited and is called a knock-on.

The ball can only be advanced by running or kicking the ball forward.

A tackled runner must immediately release the ball; the tackler must immediately release the tackled player.

Play is continuous, all stoppage of play must be immediately restarted (unless there is an injury).

A scrum restarts play after a forward pass or knock-on (ball is dropped forward), a scrum can also be awarded in other situations.

The referee will play "advantage" after a knock-on.  That is he waits to see if the other side gets possession and lets the game continue.

A line out restarts play after the ball travels into touch (out of bounds).

No blocking, normally all supporting players must stay behind the ball carrier.

A Try is awarded when the ball is carried or kicked across the opponents goal line and the ball is touched down in the end-zone with downward pressure. A try is worth 5 points.

2 points is awarded for a successful conversion kick after a try.  The kick is taking from a position parallel to where the ball was touched down.

3 points is awarded for a successful penalty conversion (field goal) or drop goal kick.

After points are scored, the ball is kicked back to the scoring team from the half way line (except in sevens).

The game is governed by laws not rules, the referee is the sole enforcer of those laws. The game clock is kept by the referee on the pitch and is stopped only for injury. The time spent attending to injuries is added to the end of each half and is called injury time.

Two additional judges are utilized on each touchline to signal when the ball has left the field of play, and to assist the referee in various capacities.

The full updated laws of rugby union can be found at the International Rugby Football Board web site at The IRFB is the governing body for rugby union.

2. The Playing Field

The field that rugby is played on is called a pitch. The pitch is expected to be 100 yards long by 75 yards wide. The sidelines are called touchlines and there are two in-goal areas which are expected to be 10 to 25 yards deep with a try line marking the front and a dead ball line at the back. The goal posts are located on the try line and are 18' 6" apart with a crossbar set at 10 feet. The height of the uprights can vary but should not be less than 10'. Measurements are now generally quoted on in meters.

Other important lines on the pitch include the half way mark at 50 meters. A dashed 10 meter line set each side of the 50 meter line which is used to judge kickoffs and a solid 22 meter line marked 22 meters from each try line. Other lines include dashed lines set at 5 meters marked parallel to each touchline. This line is used to mark the front of the line out.  On some pitches a dashed 15 meter line is also marked.  These two parallel lines are used mostly to identify the zones for line outs.

Rugby union is played in different variations depending on the number of players on the field for each team. The typical game is played with fifteen players per side and lasts 80 minutes, with 40 minutes being played in each half. (35 minutes maximum per half for TRU high schools). An abridged version is also very popular and is played with seven players per team over two seven minute halves. A less often played version is called tens and is played with ten players per side.

3. "Fifteens" Players

Teams in a "fifteens" match will consist of two groups of players, the forwards and the backs. Each position has a specific number and responsibilities during the two 40 minutes halves of a match. The players are as follows:


#1 Prop          )                             )

#2 Hooker     ) The Front row     )

#3 Prop          )                              ) The tight forwards               

#4 Lock         )    The Second      )

#5 Lock         )      Row                )

#6 Flanker or wing forward     )

#7 Flanker or wing forward     ) The loose forwards

#8 Number 8 or eight man      )


#9 Scrumhalf           

#10 Flyhalf                      )

#11 Wing                         )

#12 Inside Center           ) The three quarters

#13 Outside Center        )

#14 Wing                         )

#15 Fullback

The following diagram shows the position of each player at a set scrum with the team set up for offense.

The Role & Goals of each position.  

In rugby, especially the modern game, everyone must be able to run, pass, tackle and kick the ball as well as know where to be positionally in support of the player in possession of the ball and what to do in rucks and mauls. General, player attributes are:  PHYSICAL - Speed, Strength, Agility, Acceleration, Flexibility; MENTAL - Mental Toughness, Determination, Composure; OTHER - Discipline to Team Plan, Self Discipline, Knowledge of the Laws.

In addition, each position has a "specialty" as follows.  

The forwards: In general the forwards job is to gain possession of the ball for their team from the set pieces (scrums and line outs) as well as loose play (rucks and mauls).  There are eight forwards in the "pack".  Specific roles for each position are as follows:

Props: (# 1 & 3) form the platform for the front row in scrums supporting the hooker.  In addition, when the ball is put in to the scrum by the scrum half, the loose head prop (always on the left) assists the hooker in trapping the ball with his left foot (the hooker  uses his right foot) and directing it to the back of the scrum.  The props will also provide support in the line outs to the line out jumpers - assisting them by holding them up when they jump and then `binding" on the jumper to protect possession of the ball.

Specific position skills & measurements are: Scrum formation & engagement, Body shape & height in scrum, Lineout support on the our throw, Line out pressure on opposition throw, Body height and angle at the ruck & maul, Drive/impact at the breakdown (rucks & mauls), Mobility in attack & defense, Kickoff support, Effectiveness in tackling, Ball running & retention after contact.

Hooker: (# 2) As described above the hooker's role in the scrum is to ensure that the ball is "hooked" back.

In general the hooker also calls the signals in the line outs and is the one who throws the ball into the line out to one of three jumpers - usually the locks standing 2nd and 4th in the line out and the no. 8 standing 6th in the line out.

Specific position skills measurements are: Line out throws, Line out work on own ball, Line out work on opposition ball, Scrum organization, Hooking, Ball running & retention after contact, Body height and angle at the ruck & maul, Involvement & effectiveness at the breakdown, Drive/impact at the breakdown (rucks & mauls), Kickoff support

Locks:  (# 4 & 5) The locks "bind" together in the scrums and provide support to the front row by pushing between the hooker and props.  The locks are usually the tallest forwards and are therefore the line out specialists who jump high for the ball when thrown in after going out of bounds.  The locks jumping in the line out and the hooker throwing the ball in the line out must have an understanding to effectively time the throw in with the jump to get maximum advantage.

Specific position skills measurements are: Quality and consistency of push in the scrum, Body shape in the scrum, Drive in rucks & mauls, Body height & angle in ruck & mauls, Line out jumping, Reaction to opposition ball in line out, Delivery of ball in line out, Kickoffs & restarts, Number of touches in general play, Number of quality tackles made, Mobility in general play, Impact while carrying the ball & ball retention in the tackle

Wing Forwards: (#6 & 7).  Wing forwards provide support in the scrum by packing their inside shoulder against the respective props and by pushing forward when the ball is put into the scrum.  In addition the wing forwards, by the fact that they are the first to "break away" when the ball comes out and a scrum is over, provide support to the backs by following the ball wherever it goes.  Wing forwards should be the first to a break down after a tackle and try to regain possession.  Wing forward are also marauders trying to disrupt the other side by tackling their players in possession of the ball.

Specific position skills measurements are: Contribution to scrum, Contribution to the line out, Pressure on the opposition in close, Pressure on the opposition out wide, Running line in attack (support play, linking) & defense, Effectiveness in the tackle, Effectiveness at the breakdown, securing ball, Speed of arrival at the breakdown, Relative contribution in front & behind the gain line, Relative contribution on open side & blind side, General involvement in play, Basic skills- running, handling, evasion, Impact on the game.

Eighth Man: (# 8) The number 8 or eighth man's job is similar to the wing forwards.  In addition the No. 8 is a primary link to the backs in both set pieces (scrums and mauls) and loose play.  The No. 8 may also be used as a line out specialist at the 6th position in the line out.  The # 8 is responsible for play variations from the scrum such as picking up the ball at the back of the scrum and running around the blind side or towards the opposing fly half to pull him into a loose maul and then get a quick second phase ball out to his backs.

Specific position skills measurements are: Contribution to scrum, Contribution to the line out, Pressure on the opposition in close, Pressure on the opposition out wide, Running line in attack (support play, linking) & defense, Effectiveness in the tackle, Effectiveness at the breakdown, securing ball, Speed of arrival at the breakdown, Relative contribution in front & behind the gain line, Relative contribution on open side & blind side, General involvement in play, Basic skills- running, handling, evasion, Impact on the game.

The backs:   The role of the backs is primarily to receive the ball from the forwards on offense and to advance the ball passed the defenders through running, lateral passing or kecking the ball ahead.

Scrum Half: (# 9)  The scrum half is the link between the forwards and the backs in the set pieces (line outs and scrums). More than anyone else on the field the scrum half must be at the base of every loose play, (mauls and rucks) to pick the ball up and throw it to the backs (usually the fly half).  The scrum half puts the ball into the set scrums and is usually the player who often restarts play from a penalty awarded to his team.  The scrum half also acts as an extra loose forward and must be able to tackle well and try to regain possession of the ball in loose play.  The scrum half may also use tactical kicking from the base of the scrum, line outs and loose play if the situation dictates it.

Specific position skills measurements are: Service from the scrum, Service from the line out, Service from general play, Kicking, Handling under pressure, Putting pressure on your opposite, Blind side work in attack & defense, Communication with the forwards, Communication with the backs, Variety in ball usage, Field vision, Decision-making, Organization skills, Effective tackling.

Fly Half: (# 10) The fly half takes possession of the ball from the scrum half (and occasionally any other player who picks it up in a loose play situation) and determines whether to quickly pass the ball on to the inside center, throw a skip pass, kick tactically over the heads of the defending backs or run with the ball.  Other set team play variations are often called by the fly half.  The fly half generally is the player who takes the restart kicks from half way or for a 22 meter drop outs.  The fly half will generally run behind his back line in defense to add as an extra defense and will also back up the full back if he is out of position.

Specific position skills measurements are: Starting position, Running alignment & angle, Quality & speed of ball transfer, Support lines & effort, Ability to control game, Kicking quality clearing kicks, Kicking quality - kicks for territory, Kicking quality - kicks for pressure, Organization & bringing up defense, Defense - effectiveness in the tackle, Composure under pressure.

Centers: (# 12 & 13)  Centers can play left and right (that is one is always the left center and one is always the right center) or they can play inside center and outside center (the inside center is always next to fly half in the back line).  Generally the inside center is a strong runner who can also run into the opposing centers and set up for second phase possession.  The outside center will usually be a faster runner. Centers must mark their opposing man in defense and ensure that they do not get passed them.

Specific position skills measurements are: Running alignment, Running angle, Agility & running skills, Quality & timing of ball transfer, Support play, Creativity, Midfield tackling, Chasing of kicks, Counter attack contribution, Communication in defense.

Wings:  (# 11 & 14) Wings are designated left (#11) and right (#14).  The wings are at the end of the back line and their job is to take the ball at speed and try to beat the defense.  Wings must also be able to link back and pass the ball inside to another player and also be able to chip kick the ball ahead and across over the defenders heads when the situation calls for it.  Wingers are usually the fastest backs.

Specific position skills measurements are: Finishing, Involvement on own side field in attack & defense, Involvement on other side of field in attack & defense, Support for the fullback, Communication with the fullback & the other wing, Chasing kicks, Penetration achieved, Positional play from scrum & line out in attack & defense, Counter attack, Receiving kicks & returning or other options, Control of ball at contact, Defensive qualities - tackles made.

Full Back: (# 15) The full back is the last line of defense and must be a good tackler as well as field high kicks from the opposition and determine whether to run back or kick for out of bounds depending on the situation.  The full back also acts as an extra attacking back by coming into the back line in different attacking variations to create an extra man situation.

Specific position skills measurements: Catching & kicking, Organization of the back three (defense, kicks & counter attack), Positional play - defense & attack, Defensive position & tackling, Contribution to penetration, Staying in the attack - support, chasing , Communication skills, Evasion skills.

4. Game Start

A coin toss determines the team which will kickoff first. The kicking team will send their forwards to one side of the pitch at the 50 meter line. The opposing forwards will move in front of their opposites, but spread out behind the 10 meter line in preparation to receive the kick.

The kicker, who can be any member of the team, will set the ball on the ground and start the match on the referee's whistle most often kicking the ball high and short to the opposing forwards (he can also kick it long and deep or away from the forwards if desired). The kick must travel forwards at least 10 meters and land in bounds. The kicker's forwards will charge down the pitch attempting to catch the ball themselves. If a receiving team's forward successfully catches the ball, he will attempt to advance the ball normally running into a large amount of opposition. His supporting forwards will then often bind around him to prevent him being brought to the ground and losing possession of the ball.

The second half of a match is started in the same way except the teams have switched ends of the pitch and the team starting the match kicking now receives the ball.

5. Rucks and Mauls

If the ball is held up off the ground, once more than any two players have bound together a maul is formed. If the ball has gone to ground, then the group of bound players is called a ruck. The very important principle of rucks and mauls is that once they are set, two imaginary offsides lines become present at the back of each team's rucking/mauling players extending from touchline to touchline. Any player running into the zone who is not joining the ruck or maul, from behind this line, before the ball leaves is considered offside and a penalty can be awarded to the other team.

A simple representation of this concept is as follows:

6. Penalties

Offside is the most common penalty during a match. If a penalty is awarded within goal kicking distance of a team's kicker, the team captain may elect to have the kicker take an uncontested place kick at goal for three points from a spot determined by the referee called a mark. If the kick is successful, play is restarted at the 50 meter line with a drop kick back to the scoring team. After an unsuccessful penalty kick, play is usually restarted by a drop kick (a kick executed by allowing the ball to hit the ground before kicking it) to the kick attempting team from the 22 meter line. This restart is called a 22 meter dropout.

Other common penalties include violent play, barging, not releasing the ball, obstruction (blocking) and diving over a collapsed ruck. Other options available to a team awarded a penalty include restarting play by a tap kick through the mark with the opposing team ten meters away or an uncontested kick to touch which is awarded back to the team receiving the penalty award.

For minor infringements such as a foot up in the scrum, a free kick can be awarded. A free kick is just like a penalty kick except it cannot be taken directly at goal and if it goes to touch, the other team is awarded the ball for the line out.

7. More on Running and Tries

If and when the ball is produced from a ruck or maul without penalty, usually by the scrum half, the ball will most often be passed to a forward charging back through the defense or to the fly half who has predetermined a course of action.

The fly half is the person normally determining all moves which the backs will run. Once he has received the ball he will then start a run, make a pass, or kick the ball. All of this must be done very quickly as the opposing backs and forwards will be quickly rushing up to tackle whomever has the ball.

The moves the backs run will include a number of different maneuvers and ploys to put the backs into open running space. Common running tactics include loops, switches, dummies, and miss passes. A loop is where a player will make a short pass to another and then run around to the other side of that player to receive a return pass. A switch is where two players will cross paths allowing the ball carrier to pass behind himself to a runner running on a different angle. A dummy is a faked pass to another runner freezing or decoying the defender. A dummy switch is a switch where the ball carrier does not pass the ball to the crossing runner. A miss pass is a pass which is thrown past the first immediately available supporting player to runners further past him.

When the ball is being run, a player tackled to the ground must immediately release the ball (the defender tackling the runner must release the runner after the tackle) making it available to both teams. Typically the tackled player will attempt to place the ball closest to his own supporting players. Those supporting players will make a decision to pickup the loose ball or drive over the ball and tackled player to bind together into a new ruck. The defending team will do the same thing in an attempt to push the attacking team backwards. If the ball is picked up and advanced again by either side, a maul can quickly ensue if the advance is checked by the defense and the ball does not go to the ground. Each time a successive ruck or maul is set, it is described as a phase of play.

Once a player makes a break over the try line, he must touch the ball down to the ground to be awarded the 5 points for the try. If he loses the ball in the dead ball area, the ball will come out and play will be restarted with a 22 meter dropout. Often a player will cross the try line close to one of the touchlines and will turn back towards the posts before touching down. This is done to provide a better angle for the person attempting the conversion kick. The kick for extra points must be taken from a mark perpendicular to the spot where the try was touched down. Thus the kicker's job is typically made much easier when the try is awarded centered between the posts.

The conversion kick is a place kick taken immediately after the try and worth 2 points. The defending team must retreat behind the try line but can rush the kick once the kicker makes a move towards the ball to kick it through the uprights.

8. Tactical Kicking

Most tactical kicks by the fly half will be to advance the ball up field and into touch. He will take this option most often to clear the ball during heavy pressure. He can also kick the ball forward expecting a fast charging back to recover the ball before the opposition. Any person chasing a kick must have started the chase from behind the kicker or have been previously overtaken by the kicker or someone who was behind the kicker. Thus anyone in front of a kick is offside until put onside by the kicker or someone who was behind the kicker. Another important aspect of tactical kicking is that a kick to touch from behind the 22 meter line is marked at the point the ball left the pitch. A kick taken in front of the 22 meter line must land in field or a touch a player on the field before going into touch, otherwise the line-out is awarded at the location of the kick and not where it went out. A penalty kick in front of the 22 is allowed to be kicked directly to touch.

Other tactical kicks include a drop goal kick, an up-and-under, chip and grubber kicks. When a team is putting good pressure on the opposing side's try line, a player can decide to attempt a drop kick at goal for three points. The ball must be dropped and touch the ground before being kicked through the goal posts to be awarded. An up-and-under is a kick placed very shallow and very high. The idea is to put the receiving opposition players under incredible pressure and give your own players the time to get underneath the descending ball. A chip kick is best utilized in an open field situation by a runner who is about to be stopped. As a player cannot be tackled without the ball in hand, a runner can kick the ball just over an onrushing defender allowing the runner, or supporting runner, to go past untouched hoping to recover the kick. A grubber kick is in principle much the same as a chip kick, but is kicked along the ground.

9. Scrums and Line outs - Scrums

Very often a player will lose the ball forward during a tackle or just while running and receiving a pass, thus knocking-on. If the ball is quickly picked up by the other team, the referee will let play continue to allow the recovering team to take advantage of the mistake. If no advantage occurs, then the referee will whistle for a scrum to be set at a spot he indicates on the pitch also called a mark. The team that did not lose the ball is awarded the ball to put into the scrum. A scrum is also awarded whenever a pass is made in which the ball goes forward.

The typical procedure of scrummaging involves each set of front row players binding and the hookers calling for the locks to join the formation. The flankers join on each side of the locks setting their shoulders below a prop's outside buttock. The No. 8 joins at the back between the hips of the two locks. While this is occurring the captain of the forwards can be calling a move while the backs are shouting out code words signaling what move they will be running. The forward pack with the put in is then allowed the courtesy of initiating the coming together of the scrum. Upon a prearranged signal between the hooker and scrum half, the scrum half will roll the ball into the tunnel underneath the two locked together front rows. Each of the hookers will then attempt to push the ball behind him with a sweep of his foot. All of this is occurring while each pack is attempting to push the other backwards driving themselves over the ball.

If the ball is won cleanly, most often the scrum half will run to the back of the scrum to retrieve the ball from in front of the No. 8's feet and pass it to the backs, to a breaking loose forward, or make a run or kick of his own. The opposing scrum half will follow looking for a chance to snap up any loose ball. The No. 8 may also decide to pick up the ball himself, and start a back row move from the back or base of the scrum.

Following is a simple representation of how the players will line up at the start of a scrum awarded on the left side of the pitch (for the blue team).   The area between the dotted lines (parallel lines between the last men in the scrum) is the offside zone.  Backs must be behind these lines until the ball exits the scrum.

One exciting aspect of scrummaging is the pushover try. A pushover try is scored when a scrum is set close to the attacking try line. The attacking scrum will keep the ball at the No. 8's feet driving the defending pack backwards across the try line. Once the ball has been dragged across the try line, the No. 8 or scrum half will touch the ball down for the try.  (Note in High School rugby the scrum is not allowed to push further than 1 and ½ meters so a push over try is not a likely option.  Further, the number eight will not be allowed to keep the ball at his feet at the end of a scrum and will have to heel it out to the scrum half or pick it up and run.)

Scrums and Line outs - Line outs

A scrum is called a set piece. The other common set piece in rugby is the line out. After a ball has been kicked or run into touch (out of bounds), the forwards of each team will line up at the spot indicated by the touch judge as the touch mark. Normally, the hooker of the team being awarded the ball will be the person to throw the ball back into the line out. The other forwards will lineup at least 5 meters away from him but no further than 15 meters. The opposing team will lineup to match their counterparts. Someone on the team with the throw-in will call a coded signal indicating who the ball will be thrown to and any subsequent move. At the same time the fly half should also be calling a move. The hooker will then throw the ball to the intended receiver who has jumped into the air. Most often the throw is to the locks who are jumping in the second and fourth positions in the line out supported by the players on either side of them. Once a jumper does jump, these supporting players are allowed to lift him higher into the air and hold him there. Once the ball is secured, most often many of the forwards on both sides of the ball bind together and a maul will ensue until the ball is produced for another phase.

The most typical positioning of attacking players during a line out on the left side of the pitch is as shown in the diagram below.

Both teams backs must be 10 meters back from the line out.  The front forward in the lineout must be 5 meters from the touch line. The last man in the line out must not be more than 115 meters from the touch line.

10. Completion of play

As previously mentioned, any time lost due to injury will be added to the end of each half. Once the referee observes that injury time has expired, he will whistle the end of the half or match upon the next stoppage of play.

 11. Sevens and Tens

Sevens is typically played only during tournaments. A sevens match consists of two seven minute halves and is a much faster game than fifteens due to the smaller number of players on a standard sized pitch providing ample running space. The players on a sevens team are as follows:


#1 Prop

#2 Hooker

#3 Prop


#4 Scrum half

#5 Fly half

#6 Center

#7 Wing

The same general game principles are used except tactics are quite different. Scrums feature only opposing front rows. Rucks and mauls are very fast and small, with defense and tackling of paramount importance to reduce the many opportunities for breaks. One major difference from fifteens is that after a penalty goal or try is scored, the ball is kicked to the non-scoring team from the 50 meter line to restart play.

Tens is played with ten players in combinations of either 5 forwards/5 backs or 3 forwards/ 7 backs. The team with the scrum feed gets to determine the number of forwards in the scrum. The opposing team is required to match them. The tens game is a little slower than sevens and has a flow much more similar to fifteens. Each of the halves is ten minutes long. Tens is also typically only played during tournaments.

This has been a very brief overview of rugby union play. There are many more aspects and facets to all three variations of the game. Training is also very necessary to ensure the safety of play. Check with your local club for practice and match times to learn more.