A Primer on Rugby: A Man’s Sport

by Chris on March 10, 2009 · 57 comments

in Health & Sports


Image from paloboza

Rugby as it exists today is one of the most exciting contact sports in existence, a perfect mix of the speed and movement of soccer and the hard hitting physical nature of American football. The Rugby World cup is the third most watched sporting event in the world, trailing close behind the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics. While Americans love our football, the rest of the world loves their rugby. Indeed, the 2003 World Cup had a collective audience of over 3.5 billion, and was broadcast in 205 different countries. Maybe it’s time we Americans see what all the fuss is about…

The following will serve as a basic introduction to the game of rugby, from the history of the game to its objectives and main rules, and will also have some tips on where you can find opportunities to play yourself.

Before going into the details on how to play rugby, a distinction should be made as to what kind of rugby we’re talking about here. There are two main styles of play, known as Rugby Union and Rugby League. While they have many similarities, they are essentially very different games. This article will focus on Rugby Union, which is the more prominent of the two.

Field and Equipment

A rugby ball is most similar to an American football in size and shape, although it is larger and most modern versions have no laces.


As far as personal equipment goes, there really isn’t much. A mouthpiece is mandatory in regulation play, and there is an optional soft-padded head gear known as a scrum cap, the main purpose of which is the protection of the pack player’s ears in the scrum. Scrum caps are very similar to the old leather helmets of American football.

Known as the pitch, a rugby playing field is a large grassy surface 100 meters long and 70 meters wide with uprights on each end. Behind the uprights is the goal area, which has to be 10 meters deep at minimum and is usually 22 meters in depth. Line markings are illustrated in the diagram below.


Players and Positions

Two teams are represented on the pitch, with 15 players per side. The players on a team are broken down into two separate groupings, the pack and the backs.
Generally speaking, the pack consists of larger, more physical players who are equivalent to defensive lineman in American football. The backs are usually the faster, more maneuverable players comparable to the backfield and receivers in American football. Jersey numbers 1-8 represent pack players, and 9-15 are the backs. The diagram below illustrates the breakdown of the fifteen separate positions on the field of play:


Game Play

Rugby game play is not terribly complicated; however, it is extremely confusing to many who are unfamiliar with the game. This can be attributed to the fact that while it does share similarities with other sports, it is vastly different from the other games we try to compare it to (namely soccer and American football). Unlike soccer, carrying the ball is legal, which in many ways makes it more similar to football. However, unlike football, there are no forward passes allowed in rugby, and match play is only stopped for penalties, not between every play.
A regulation length match lasts for 80 minutes broken down into two 40 minute halves with a 10 minute break during halftime. The clock constantly runs and play only stops during the match for penalties. Essentially, the average rugby player is constantly in motion varying between jog and all out sprint. For that reason, rugby demands a high level of physical fitness, and you’re probably not going to see many of these guys on the field:


Objective of the Game

The objective of rugby is to score goals, known as a try, by touching down the ball inside the opposing team’s end zone. Any player may carry the ball and is capable of scoring. A try is worth 5 points, after which a conversion kick is awarded, allowing for the chance to score 2 additional points if successful. There are also other means of scoring, the first being a drop goal. This occurs when a player kicks the ball through the opposing team’s uprights during play, and is worth 3 points. In order for the drop goal to count, the ball must make contact with the ground before being kicked (essentially dropped then kicked, making it a difficult maneuver). A penalty kick can also be granted for certain penalties, allowing for a free kick from the site of the infraction (as long as it is behind the 22 meter line).  The penalty kick is also worth 3 points.
So how do teams go about scoring? There are various elements that occur during play after certain events. By following along with an imaginary scenario of how a match might progress, we can analyze these elements.


At the start of the match and immediately following halftime, there is a kickoff from the 50 meter line. Who kicks off is decided by a coin toss before match play begins. A kickoff also occurs after a team scores a try. This is another area where rugby differs from American football; rugby is “make it, take it,” with the scoring team receiving the following kickoff.

Ball Movement

Upon receiving the kick, players will attempt to advance the ball up the field either by running, passing, or kicking. Any player can run the ball; however, teammates are not allowed to block defenders from tackling the ball carrier, and it is illegal to use your teammates as a shield when carrying the ball. Passing is allowed, but only in the form of a reverse lateral, meaning that the player you are passing to must be behind you on the field of play. Laterals and forward laterals result in penalties. Finally, it is sometimes advantageous for the ball carrier to kick the ball over the defense, allowing himself or another teammate to run it down or receive it (it is acceptable to receive your own or a teammate’s kick).

The Ruck

Let’s assume at this point that the ball carrier is tackled by the defense. What forms out of this is known as the ruck. While being tackled, the ball carrier will attempt to roll so that his back is facing the defense and will shield the ball with his body. All this must be simultaneous with the tackle, as a player on the ground is not allowed to guard or handle the ball at all with their hands. While the tackled player is shielding the ball, pack players from his team (usually 2 or 3) will move over him in an attempt to keep the defense away from the ball, which anyone can take at this point. Assuming the defense has not recovered the ball, another offensive player, usually the scrum half, will come in, retrieve the ball, and pass it out to the backs, allowing play to continue.
There is a perfect example of a well executed ruck at 0:25 of this video:

The Scrum

As play continues, let’s assume there is a penalty. Depending on the violation, the opposing team is presented with options from the official. Many penalties result in the other team being awarded a scrum. A scrum is the most recognizable of the rugby formations, and you have likely seen pictures of it before. It is a set play in which both team’s pack players bind themselves together to form three rows each (3 men, then 4 men, then 1 man). With both teams having created this formation, the two masses face each other and lock shoulder, with a tunnel naturally being created between the front rows. At the official’s signal, the two teams drive against each other and the ball is thrown into the tunnel by the offensive scrum half. The object is then to drive the opposite team off the ball, carrying the ball underneath your own team (no hands allowed) and into the hands of the scrum half, who is now there awaiting it. Assuming this is successful, the ball is the passed out to the backs and play continues. The scrum is generally a very rough place, and is most likely the inspiration of Ralph Waldo Emerson when he wrote:

“Whoso would be a man, must be a non-conformist, and preferably play in the pack.”

A fine example of a scrum:

The Line-Out

As play continues, a ball carrier is tackled out of bounds, known in rugby as into touch. At this point play stops, and the opposing team is awarded a line-out. In a line-out, an offensive player throws the ball above a tunnel formed by the opposing teams, and the lifters lift jumpers up in the air in an effort to grab the ball before the other team does. The lifters and jumpers must be members of the pack. The offensive team has the advantage in that they decide how many players will participate in the line-out, and the defense can only use an equal amount or less. Also, the offense usually employs strategy, with the player tossing the ball at a certain height and distance unknown to the defense. The ball must be thrown in straight above the tunnel so as to give both teams a legitimate chance of taking possession. Once in possession of the ball, the jumper either passes the ball down to the scrum half or is lowered down and hands it off to the scrum half, and play continues.
An example of the line-out:

The Maul

By now the team with the ball is threatening to score. A player receives a pass and drives through several defenders, drawing very near to the try zone. Before he can enter and touch down the ball, however, he is hit by several defenders. But instead of going to the ground, he retains his footing, turning his back on the defenders who are attempting to tackle him and starts effectively shielding the ball. What is happening can now be referred to as a maul. Essentially, a maul is a standing, mobile version of a ruck. Offensive pack players will now rush in and bind onto the ball carrier, driving him forward in an effort to continue to gain ground. While it is illegal once a maul has begun for the ball carrier to ground the ball, he can hand it off to another player. Usually the scrum half will take the ball from him and pass it off to the backs so that play can continue.
An example:

Scoring a Try and the Conversion

The ball has been passed out of the maul and is in the hands of one of the backs, who carries it into the try zone and touches it down, scoring five points for his team. The ball must be touched down in order for points to be awarded. It is also important to consider where the ball is touched down, as the conversion kick is kicked from the same spot on the 22 meter line (or closer/farther back if the kicker chooses).  So, if a player scores a try by touching the ball down in the far right corner of the try zone, the ball will be set up even with that point on the 22 meter line for the conversion, making the kicker’s job considerably harder.


As this is only an introduction, I won’t go into detail on the various penalties too much, but here is a list of some major ones to keep in mind:

    • No forward or lateral passing.
      A dropped pass is known as a knock on, and results in a penalty.
      No tackling an airborne player.
      No tackling by the neck.
      When a ball is kicked, any offensive player ahead of the kicker on the field is considered off sides and may not participate in play until the kicker has advanced past him. Participating in play after a kick while ahead of the kicker results in a penalty.
  • So that’s rugby game play in a nutshell. Of course, like all sports, rugby is much more intricate than what can be written down in one (not so short) article, and this should therefore be considered just “the basics.” Now, let’s have a look at some notable teams and players in professional rugby, as well as some places where you can have the opportunity to play.

    Professional Rugby

    There are several professional levels of rugby. For example, in the U.K. there are various city teams, which are the equivalent of pro football teams in the states. However, above this level, there is also the international level, which can be considered the “big show.” International teams are made up of representatives from city teams within various countries and are the most watched rugby events. Flying from Australia to London to play a rugby match gives new meaning to the term “away game.” Here’s a quick look at a couple of the best international teams.

    The South Africa Springboks
    The current World Cup title holder, the Springboks defeated England 15-6 in 2007 to gain the title. They are always an international contender, and Nelson Mandela himself once called the team “the pride of the entire nation.”

    The New Zealand All Blacks

    “You can go to the end of time, the last World Cup in the history of mankind, and the All-Blacks will be favorites for it.”
    -Phil Kearns, former captain of Australia rugby

    A top contender for as far back as anyone can remember, few will disagree that the New Zealand All Blacks are the most popular team in rugby. With a list of past and present all-stars long enough to fill a couple squads by themselves, this is the team to watch. Plus, they begin every match by facing down the opposing team and performing one of their versions of the Maori war dance known as the Haka:

    While there have been many notable players in the history of international rugby, one All Black stands out above the rest. Considered the first international rugby superstar, Jonah Lomu was a monster on the field. A giant of a man with the speed of an Olympic sprinter, he was known for making the million dollar athletes around him look like playground material. Once, before a World Cup final, an anonymous fax showed up in the All Blacks locker room. It read:

    “Remember that rugby is a team game; all 14 of you make sure you pass the ball to Jonah.”

    Just to put his athletic ability in perspective, the Dallas Cowboys once offered him a six million dollar contract, even though he had never played American football in his life. Here’s an example of Lomu working his magic:

    OK, I’m interested. How can I get involved?

    Depending on your age, there are a couple different options. Most reasonable sized universities now have their own rugby club, most of which are organized and run by students, but some with coaching staff as well.

    For everyone else, men’s leagues are the way to go. These are privately organized teams that fall under the regulating body USARugby. These organizations provide an opportunity for men of all ages to enjoy rugby and some healthy competition. Most decent sized cities have a men’s club, and they are always on the lookout for new players. Teams are financed through small club dues paid by the players (used to finance socials and equipment). A simple Google search will provide you with details for men’s clubs in your area.

    Both types of organizations encourage players with zero experience to apply and will get you up to speed with rugby in no time.

    { 57 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Ethan March 10, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    This was a good read. I’ve always been intrigued by rugby but I have to admit I hardly knew anything about it beyond the “Give Blood. Play Rugby” bumper stickers. This laid it out quite well.

    A couple of questions:

    -I guess this would be more clear when you see a real game, but if teammates aren’t allowed to block defenders when their teammate has the ball, what do they do?

    -How violent does it get in things like the ruck? I imagine its hard for the refs to see into the pile-are there lots of shenanigans going on in there?

    2 Phil March 10, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Bravo! I was a winger and oc for two seasons. Best sport I will ever play.

    Gentlemen with guts. Great Article.

    3 Phil March 10, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Oh, and I just saw that the previous post had questions, well…

    - Instead of blocking, teammates will support the rugger with the ball, meaning they will remain close in order to receive a pass when a defender goes after him. If you watch videos closely, you will see plays by the back line with switches, skips, and loops designed to fake out the defenders and break open a hole.

    - Being a back I didn’t get in big rucks very often, but YES, with only one referee on the field, nasty things happen in those rucks. Usually they involve being cleated, as you try to rake the ball back and don’t really care if the guys on the ground are there.

    4 Rob March 10, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    @ Ethan

    I still have the scars on my hands, knees, arms, and stomach. I blacked out 3 times from concussions, never on the pitch. You will lose more teeth than in hockey, a lot more. And then you have another 79 minutes to play. When they say that the scrum cap is used for ear protection, they mean from getting bitten off. I am not kidding at all. Rugby is not for men, it is more for gentlemen.

    Good basic overview of the game, did you include advantage? Women’s rugby?

    The rules of rugby are very simple, get ball, run to end of field, do not stop. If on the other side, stop them anyway possible.

    Also, you didn’t mention the Pumas, Eagles (USA!), Coques or any of the other teams, what about the Wallabies?!?!? More has to be included, a followup for sure.

    More resources:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvMFHXcd0yQ (though this level of violence is a bit much, those tackles are not well wrapped up for the most part)

    And a shameless plug : http://ucscrugby.com/

    5 Chris March 10, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    In regards to shenanigans…there is a running joke in rugby that is used to explain why rugby shorts have pockets: one pocket for your mouthpiece, one for your brass knuckles.

    6 River March 10, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    As rough as rugby is, it is still a gentleman’s sport. I play at the college level, and here in the Midwest we respect the other team and the Sir as we would our own teammates. That being said, rucks can get quite nasty sometimes. I’ve had to set a few guys straight for continually playing the ball on the ground and throwing punches in the rucks – big no-nos. Even a team that we literally fought on the field, right after the game we all had a social together and had no hard feelings. For the record I play 8 man.

    7 Steve March 10, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Not to be too much of a nitpicker… but:

    1) The conversion kick doesn’t necessarily have to be from the 22… it just can’t be any closer than 22 metres. Kickers can move the tee back if it gives them a better angle.

    2) Kicking at goal on a penalty is NOT from the 22 metre line, it’s from the spot of the penalty.

    And as far as the shenanigans go, at my high school we used to say, football (soccer) is a game for gentlemen played by barbarians, and rugby is a game for barbarians played by gentlemen.

    8 Gerhett March 10, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    I am happy to see this article on this site. I played rugby for the first time this year. Despite, having 3 shoulder dislocations in 3 months, it has been the best team sport I have ever played. I plan on participating in this sport for many years.

    9 Rugger for Life March 10, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    I play collegiate rugby and no doubt it is the best sport ever. I’m a winger, and a rugger til death parts me from this game.

    10 DD March 10, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    A good variation is Rugby Sevens – as it suggests only 7 people, only 3 in a scrum, much shorter duration. It is a much faster, more athletic variant. I just got back from Dubai from the 2009 World Cup Sevens. A tournament can be played in a day, and the bigger teams from the full 15 man Rugby Union don’t have the same advantage on a faster and smaller team. There are proposals to get this into the olympics which i fully support.

    See more at wikipedia:

    11 Jacques Gill March 11, 2009 at 2:22 am

    I quite enjoyed this article, thanks a lot. Although I must say having played both I prefer Rugby League it’s faster and unlike rugby union you are allowed to tackle without putting your arms round the body which can lead to massive hits. Maybe I’m bias coming from a prominent rugby league town, but here’s a video for your troubles.


    12 Samuel March 11, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Just to be clear, number 4 and 5 of the Rugby team are both called Locks (They lock the Hooker and Props into place)

    13 Chris March 11, 2009 at 4:19 am

    @ Steve,

    Thanks for the heads up. With an article this detailed I was bound to miss something. I’ve made the necessary changes.

    14 Joe C. March 11, 2009 at 4:22 am

    actually, the conversion kick can be at any point on a line perpendicular to the try line, along the line of which the try was scored. many kickers, when the try is scored in the middle of the field, opt to make their conversion kicks from ~10-15 metres. i know i did, and i’ve seen the likes of jonny wilkinson, percy montgomery, carlos spencer, etc. do the same.

    again, just small things. i fell in love with rugby at the college level, having never experienced it in any way beforehand. as things are right now, i am unable to play the game (no health insurance). there are, however, a few fun things that i will continue to do until my body no longer allows, and rugby is at the top of that list.

    nice article, hutch daddy. hopefully it will keep fresh new bodies coming and rugby will take a firm hold in america… and finally be shown on tv on a regular basis!

    15 Christopher March 11, 2009 at 4:24 am

    I used to watch rugby clubs play every year at a Highland games festival, I had no idea what was going on, but I knew it was awesome! Now know, thanks for the great summary.

    16 Brohammas March 11, 2009 at 4:25 am

    You failed to mention the standards of American rugby.
    Internationally we are worse ar rugby than we are at soccer, despite being the defending Olymmpic gold medalists. The “Eagles”, America’s national team consists of mostly amateurs competing against proffessionals. As one would expect in such a situation we usually don’t find much success.
    The two brightest spots in American rugby would be college powerhouse, the Cal Golden Bears, and Highland High school in SLC, Utah. Both schools dominate their competition and hold more than the majority of their respective natl. titles.

    Highland High had a “Remember the Titans” style movie releaesd last year titled, “Forever Strong”.
    Great watch for anyone who likes rugby.

    17 Paul March 11, 2009 at 4:34 am

    The New Zealand haka is the most beautiful thing in rugby union and rugby league. (And i say this as an Australian, not a New Zealander.) I get shivers up & down my spine when i see it. The one in the video you linked to was even a little tame by some standards – those guys are scary when they really get going.

    For AoM readers who want to see even higher levels of physical fitness, check out rugby league (closely related to rugby union, and more popular here in .au) and Australian rules football (a cross between rugby union and Gaelic football), which have less stops in play and generally play at a faster pace.

    18 Amanda March 11, 2009 at 4:35 am

    Love rugby. My father played, my sister played, several friends. I’m too chicken. To me its many times better than American football because the action never stops. There are many women’s teams too and they are just as much fun to watch.

    19 Dawson March 11, 2009 at 4:38 am

    This is my first comment on here on AOM, though I’ve been reading for several months.

    I never played rugby, but used to watch the two “clubs” (since they were not allowed to be official teams) at my high school years back. Never really knew much about what was going on, so this primer was great.

    Always seemed like an exciting sport, and since distance and lack of funding has removed me from hockey, maybe I’ll try something a little less equipment intensive and look up a local rugby team.

    Thanks tons for the intro, it was a great primer!

    20 Alasdair March 11, 2009 at 4:49 am

    aha, at last johnny foreigner is learning of the sport of gentlemen! just a heads up that the finest (imho) rugby competition in the world, the 6 nations, is currently happening in the UK. England v France, 15:00 GMT on sunday will be a cracking match of top class rugby fi you can find a way to watch it in the states i highley recomend it, i suspect if your town as an irish pub then atleast the irish games will be on there (and atm ireland are playing magnificently) watch out for chebal the french number 8 – built like a horse and as powerfull as one too,
    watch the tackle about 1minute into this video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k05Lk5ROFI
    I intend to be watching it down the pub with a pint of bitter.. goodness knows whether any of these things exist in the US but they come similarly commended

    21 Parkylondon March 11, 2009 at 5:16 am

    This is one of the best summaries of Rugby I’ve ever read. I played at school here in the UK and then afterwards for a few seasons. It’s a rough tough game and it’s the only one where you can basically be in an organised brawl for 80 minutes and then get completely leg less with the man who you punched (or who punched you) straight afterwards.

    Football (soccer) is a gentlemans game played by hooligans; Rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen.

    A “mouthprotector” is more commonly known as a gumshield here.
    No body armour is usually worn unless you’re an Australian.

    PPS: Breaking News:
    The Australian Rugby Team practice was delayed nearly two hours today after a player reported finding an unknown white powdery substance on the practice field.

    Practice was immediately suspended while police and federal investigators were called to investigate. After a complete analysis, investigating forensic experts determined that the white substance unknown to players was the try line.

    Practice was resumed after special agents decided the team was unlikely to encounter the substance again.

    22 brian March 11, 2009 at 5:41 am

    best sport ever. and this from an american who dislikes american sports. thanks for covering this!

    23 Mike March 11, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Great article, a couple of things changed in the lineout and maul rules this year due to the introduction of new rules, known as the ELVs (Experimental Law Variation).

    Lineout: The Defensive team is no longer required to match the numbers of the attacking team in the lineout. It is now legal for the offensive team to have a 4-man lineout and the defending team to have more than that.

    Maul: It is now legal to bring down a maul, so long as it is a legal tackle (i.e. between the shoulders and the knees).

    An explanation of cards for egregious penalties (similar to flagrant and technical fouls in basketball) and the sin bin may be something else you wish to add.

    24 Kurt March 11, 2009 at 7:22 am

    Great article. There were a few minor errors, but they were addressed above. Also, the pack players are often referred to as forwards. I have been playing rugby mostly as a number 8 or flanker for the past 7 years. I cannot think of a better game.

    And yes, there is often a lot of “shenanigans” in rucks and mauls. By rule, a tackler has to roll away, and get himself out from under the ruck. If a player fails to do so, he is often given the boots. It is very common to see guys with rake marks from cleats in the showers. But, that is all part of the fun of the game. A little self-policing never hurt anyone.

    I would definitely recommend joining your local club, as it can be a very rewarding experience. Rugby clubs are often the best social clubs around. There is nothing like hitting the piss out of each other for 80 minutes, and then buying the other guy a beer in the clubhouse after.

    25 Kurt March 11, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Mike, I have heard rumors of the laws being changed to allow hands to be used in the rucks this year. Any truth to that?

    26 lady brett March 11, 2009 at 7:36 am

    i hope rugby continues to pick up in the states. the first time i ever saw a rugby game was six nations rugby – ireland vs. england in a pub in belfast. it doesn’t get better than that – it was absolutely love at first sight!

    27 Brucifer March 11, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Granted that Rugby is rough and tumble and less wussy than other “sports.” However, it is still lamentable that we find ourselves debating which system of chasing a silly ball around in one’s underwear is more manly.

    Would that men would turn their attention to back martial arts, shooting firearms, fencing, running, obstacle courses and the like. Face it chaps, modern “sports” co-opts male warrior prowess into a shadow-puppet of what once made men strong … and useful.

    28 Ellis March 11, 2009 at 8:52 am

    a note on conversions… they don’t need to be on the 22 yard line… you can take them from 10yards out if you wanted to. as long as its in line with where the ball is placed for the try.

    also… you failed to mention Wales the current six nations champions.

    other than that- this blog has made me very happy

    29 Jeff March 11, 2009 at 9:01 am


    Yes you may use your hands, but only after the referee has declared the ruck won. If the ruck is still under contest, then it is still hands off.

    Great article, BTW. I linked it to my team site for anyone wanting to learn the game.

    30 M March 11, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Great article!

    I was an inside or outside centre throughout highschool, and on my universitiy’s intramural teams.

    A highschool teammate of mine plays for Team Canada.

    31 Picture? March 11, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Is the re supposed to be a picture of Lomu under wher it says
    “Here’s an example of Lomu working his magic:”

    32 Travis March 11, 2009 at 10:52 am

    nice to see an appreciation for rugby

    anyone part of the Florida Rugby Union?

    33 Chris March 11, 2009 at 10:56 am


    We’re having some technical problems with the video embeds. Should be back up shortly.

    34 Liam March 11, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    It’s a great sport, my Stepdad is 48 and still plays for his veteran’s team week in week out. I wish I had played at school, but being a state school we were played football, Every season I promise myself I am going to take it up, but in a country where most rugby players have been playing since they were 5 years old it’s quite hard to get into as an adult. I love going down the club with my stepdad though, especially to watch the 6 nations, always good beer and good banter,

    35 Sam March 11, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Great article, best one on rugby i’ve seen in a long time.
    The sport is one if the most dangerous as well, a few of my good friends play it, they regularly break or injure themselves, but continue to play. The players are some of the most disciplined for any sport. For that, i salute them, i was always rubbish at it, but its a great watch!

    36 Ian Jennings March 11, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Nice article! But one quibble – passes don’t have to go backwards. They just may not go forwards. So if they’re judged absolutely flat (ie “lateral”, in American), they’re ok.

    37 Dion March 12, 2009 at 12:03 am

    I have played rugby of both varieties (i live in Aus), and i have come to the following conclusions:

    Union is a thugs game played by gentlemen. There are a plethora of legal ways to hurt a guy to your hearts content, and it is fun to rip a guy to the ground then legally stomp his head in when he doesn’t let go of the ball (yes i have done this), but as a general rule the guys who play it are really nice, traditionally from upper class families. But i don’t understand how i managed to screw both my shoulders completely in just two seasons. Oh well.

    League is a gentleman’s game played by thugs. It is a lot more structured with more rules to protect the player, but the hits are usually bigger with more head injuries. The players, however, are stereotypically and unruly bunch of beer-swilling, working class meatheads, who play the game because its easier to understand than union. That being said, it is an awesome game to watch, especially the State of Origin games, which players who started out in the states of Queensland and New South Wales battle it out for blood. These three games are watch more than any other league games, and if you only watch one game your whole life, make sure its and Origin decider.

    That’s rugby from the mind of an Aussie youngster.

    38 Tim March 12, 2009 at 7:17 am

    A most excellent article. I played blindside flanker in high school and for my city team (winning the region that year), and was elected captain in HS as well. And although my first dislocation happened in a practice, and has fallen out almost 10 times since, I love the sport even though I can no longer play. The sport is big here in Canada, though that could be due to our strong ties back to the Commonwealth. Much more fun than American Football.

    39 Josh March 12, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Really glad this was posted, I’ve been trying to figure out rugby since visiting Australia and New Zealand two summers (or i guess winters in the southern hemisphere) ago. Never was able to get into sports back here in the states other than MMA. Football was confusing, baseball and basketball both got boring after the first 10 seconds, but this was actually entertaining, even not having a clue as to what was going on.

    40 Kurt March 12, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    That video of Lomu is fantastic. He was a one-man wrecking crew.

    By the way, rugby is one of the only sports that can track it’s origins precisely. The story goes that in 1823, in Rugby, England, William Webb-Ellis picked up football, and ran with it.

    41 Dave March 16, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    GREAT post. Have been meaning to look into rugby for a long time, but never got around to it.

    Does anyone know where online we can watch current matches streaming here in the US?

    42 Ian Jennings March 22, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Dave on March 16th, rugbyzone.com is what you want.

    43 Tim April 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Rugby is by far the best sport ever made.

    To answer the guy below me’s questions:

    You’re not allowed to have blockers. What you do is drop your shoulder and put the tackler on his ass or you get drilled.. Simple as that. If you plow him over, you’ll have another guy shortly after you’ll need to do the same thing to. If you get taken to the deck, you get your ass back up and keep playing.

    The rucks are the best part. My favourite trick is raking guys in the ribs and back with my steel cleats when they’re on the deck and covering the ball. Another regular occurance in the ruck is guys on the deck full on punching each other since the ref can’t see in.

    Awesome game.

    44 Shane August 5, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    When I played rugby in college it was explained to me on the first day that soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans and rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen. Once I played the sport a little I gained a much greater understanding of the game and now it’s one of my favorite sports to watch even though it’s practically impossible to catch on TV here in the states unless you have ESPN 35 or whatever super premium channel it gets rarely shown on. One of my all time top sports watching expreiences occured two years ago when I was in Ireland and went to a pub outside of Dublin to watch Ireland play England in a Six Nations Tournament at Croke Park in Ireland. Croke Park was the site of an infamous massacre of Irish citizen by British soldiers in 1920. Needless to say it was very intense setting. In one of the most exciting games of any sport I’ve ever witnessed Ireland creamed England. I wish that rugby was bigger here in the states so I could watch more rugby rather than the one play and regroup for 10 minutes ass-draggery that is American Football.

    45 Jacob McPherson November 1, 2009 at 4:04 am

    Ya I’ve played rugby on a team and it’s really fantastic. There is a feeling of camaraderie between the teams that you don’t see in any other sport. Traditionally after every game the two teams will either go to the pub together, or for the younger players they share some food and drink at the pitch.

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    47 Tj November 19, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    The fluidity of rugby and mental aspects of rugby are what I believe make it a gentlemens game. With only the captain being able to address the ref and only by “sir.”
    Also, taking the coaches out of it for the most part make me really enjoy playing and watching the game. With the last practice before a game run by the captain and the players calling what happens on the field, it leaves no open oppurtunity to berate anyone else after.
    To see the Haka live at a tri nations match (vs South Africa) was something to remember and then have the player show up to the Holy Grail in Christchurch after was even better.

    48 S A January 27, 2010 at 12:01 am

    You guys are obviously American!

    49 benjamin indwale February 3, 2010 at 6:10 am

    wow this is the best game ever am a 8 man

    50 Rob May 19, 2010 at 6:01 am

    Great Article. With regard to the “make it, take it” kick off rule, it might beworth pointing out that there are benefits to both kicking off and receiving, as the players on the side kicking off are obliged to stay behind the kicker until he has kicked, and the ball must travel a certain distance forwards for the kick to be legal and another restart to be avoided.

    Although kickers will try to get a lot of “hang time” on the ball to give their players a chance to compete for posession imediately after a kick off (and of course to allow them to smash whoever does catch the ball if they don’t get it temselves) the normal result of a kick off is that the team receiving gets posession (good) in their own half (bad). The team kicking off therefore needs to secure a turnover before they have a chance of scoring.

    In 12 years of playing, I’ve seen both receivers take the ball cleanly and run straight to a try, receivers hit so hard they drop the ball and allow the team kicking off to get two trie in twpo minutes and, perhaps most impressive of all, members of the team kicking off take the ball and run it straight under the posts.

    51 cole August 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Great article. I actually started playing rugby back in june at the age of 26 with no experience in team sports. The game and the strange social aspect of rugby is amazing.

    52 Tealoha December 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Rugby isn’t only a guys sports, i’m a girl and I play rugby. Left wing to be exact ;)

    53 chnnak January 14, 2013 at 7:07 am

    in rugby, we play for our brother at our left and right and for the fans at our back

    54 William Bortins November 3, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    I have been playing rugby for the past year in high school and soon I will be playing in college. This is a real sport and the most manly sport of all! I will play until I am dead.

    55 Sammy Stone December 12, 2013 at 4:38 am

    Here’s another primer, based on older rules. (Warning: funny and, if you play rugby, offensive!) http://dandygoat.com/what-is-rugby-a-primer-for-americans

    56 john February 4, 2014 at 1:33 am

    I’ve been playing since I was five yrs old. WINGER ALL THE WAY BRAH

    57 Inner Prop April 5, 2014 at 11:48 am

    This article is old, but I wanted to bump it (if that’s possible here).

    In 2011 the All Blacks won the World Cup. In 2014 they won the Trinations (now called Championship Rugby) which they have won every time since Argentina was added a couple of years ago.

    The next World Cup is in 2015.

    I’ve been playing since 1985.

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