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A Guide to Rugby

All About Rugby

Rugby has often been called the 'Father of Football' - and it may even be true! Fans who watch both sports will easily be able to see many similarities, but the fact is that the two games have evolved to be very different. The following guide is aimed at helping football fans, players, parents and coaches understand the basics of rugby and how it is both similar to and different from football.

A Practical Introduction to Rugby

Quick Comparison: Football vs. Rugby


American Football


Protective Gear



Shoulder Pads

Chest Protector

Leg Pads

Other Padding/Protectors







Time Limit

4 x 15 minute quarters

Hafltime Intermission

2 x 40 minute halves

10 minute Halftime Intermission


Game Clock

Frequent stops between plays

Continuous clock, stops only for serious injuries


Game Play

Series of set plays


Continuous play

# of Players






At the highest levels of the game, up to 7 substitutions are allowed; once pulled from play, a player cannot return unless there is an injury and no other substitutions are available



3-6 plus booth review

3 (one field referee, and two assistant referees who act as line judges); professional matches will also have a TMO (television match official) to review tries that the field referee cannot see



Touchdown: 6 points

Point After Kick: 1 point

2 Point Conversion: 2 points

Field Goal: 3 points

Try: 5 points

Point After Kick: 2 points

Penalty Kick: 3 points

Drop Kick: 3 points


Scoring Method

Carry the ball across the opponents’ touch line; kicking the ball between the goal posts; safety


Carry the ball across the opponents’ touch line and touch it to the ground under control (Try); kicking the ball through the goal posts (point after kick, penalty kick, drop kick from play)

*Scrum-caps are worn to protect the ears (cauliflower ear is common in rugby) and not for concussion protection. Many players simply tape their ears down with electricians tape.

The Run of Play in Rugby

  • Like football, the objective is to beat the opposition by scoring more points. This is done mainly by scoring tries (5 points), kicking extra points after a try (2 points), or by penalty kicks or drop kicks from play (3 points each).
  • A try is scored by grounding the ball (under control) in the opposition’s in-goal area. Simply carrying the ball across the line is not sufficient.
  • Like football, the game is commenced with a kickoff. In rugby, however, the kickoff must be a drop-kick. The ball must go a minimum of 10 meters forward and not go out of bounds.
  • During general play, any player may carry the ball; in the course of a match, all players are virtually certain to carry the ball.
  • Tackling is highly disciplined, with the objective of breaking down the opponent’s attack and presenting an opportunity to contest for possession. 
  • A tackle must not take place above the shoulders; it is illegal to push, shoulder-charge, horse-collar or trip an opposing player. Spear tackling (or dump tackling), where a tackler lifts a player and then drops or forces them into the ground head first, is deemed to be particularly dangerous and a player performing this type of tackle would typically be sent off.
  • Egregious or repeated fouls may result in a yellow card or a red card. A yellow card means a player is sent off the field of play for 10 minutes (being ‘sin binned’); a red card results in permanent expulsion. In both cases, the carded player may not be replaced; his team must play a man short.
  • Once a player is tackled, he may not hold the ball but must release control of the ball – ideally backwards to his own team.
  • The team with possession of the ball may carry, pass or kick the ball. 
  • However, all passes must go laterally or back – forward passes, or even knocking the ball forward without control is a penalty and will result in a turnover to the opposition.
  • There are no downs, and no distance requirement for carrying the ball in possession. Nor is there any restriction on the time a team may possess the ball.
  • Players without possession of the ball may tackle, hold push or grasp the ball carrier – but must not obstruct or tackle any player who does not have the ball.
  • The team in possession of the ball may not obstruct or block the opposing team’s players – no blocking.
  • Play is continuous. There are no time-outs, and play generally only stops for penalties, line-outs and injuries.
  • When there is a penalty, the referee may allow play to continue of the team who has been infringed upon has the advantage.
  • The average rugby player runs approximately 5 miles each match; this is true for all 15 players on the pitch.
  • Unlike football, when the ball goes out of bounds (‘out of touch’), possession of the ball is given to the opposition. For example, if a player runs (or is pulled or knocked) out of touch by the defense, his team loses possession of the ball.
  • Possession of the ball is always contestable by both teams; there is no offensive squad or defensive squad. All 15 players attack and defend together. As a result, all players must be skilled in both attacking and defensive play.
  • Key technical phases of play are scrums, rucks, mauls, restart kicks, penalty and free kicks, and line-outs. 


Rugby Positions



Position (Number)


Front Row

Loosehead Prop (#1)

Hooker (#2)

Tighthead Prop (#3)


Second Row

#4 Lock (#4)

#5 Lock (#5)


Loose Forwards

Blindside Flanker (#6)

Openside Flanker (#7)

Number 8 (#8)



Scrum Half (#9)

Fly Half (#10)



Left Wing (#11)

Inside Centre (#12)

Outside Centre (#13)

Right Wing (#14)

Fullback (#15)