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The Basics and short history of the game. Positional play to follow.
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Rugby union (sometimes referred to as just rugby or union, occasionally Rugby Football Union) is team sport played between two teams of fifteen players, and seven substitutes, each. It was developed from the rules used to play football at Rugby school in England. The game is played on grassy field which is approximately 115 metres long and 69 metres wide. A match lasts 80 minutes (two halves of 40 minutes each).

At the end of the field, on the try line and in the centre, are posts which have a cross bar which is 3 metres off the ground and is 5.6 metres wide. The posts usually continue for several metres before ending, occasionally with a tiny flag on top. The bases of the posts have soft, protective shields so players do not get injured if they come in contact with them. Each team will try and score points by, either kicking the ball over the posts via a conversion, penalty kick or a dropped goal, or scoring a try by grounding the ball with control in the in-goal area.

Players clutch a prolate spheroid ball in their hands or arms, and may pass it backwards or laterally across the pitch, or kick it in any direction. Opposition players attempt to halt the ball-carrier by tackling him or her with their arms and bodies. They can also gain possession, in general play, by intercepting a pass, charging down or smothering a kick, or by gaining possession of a loose ball. When tackled, the ball carrier must release the ball, at which time a contest for possession of the ball commences (either a ruck or a maul).

The sport is closely related to rugby league. The main differences to rugby league is the number of players per side (league has 13, union 15), the number of tackles allowed before a change of possession (league is limited to six, union has no limit), and league's use of the play the ball rule. Rugby union is also related to rugby sevens, which the game's governing body the IRB also runs as well as American football and Canadian football, which are directly descended from rugby football.

Rugby union has established itself as the national sport in New Zealand and Wales and is a popular sport in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Australia and South Africa. Rugby is also gaining popularity in Italy and Japan, following Italy's acceptance into the Six Nations and Japan's unsuccessful bid to host 2011 Rugby World Cup, which will be hosted by New Zealand.


The International Rugby Board (IRB), founded in 1886, governs the sport and also publishes the game's laws. Its headquarters are in Dublin, Ireland. There are currently 95 full members and 8 associate member countries. The IRB controls the Rugby World Cup, the Women's Rugby World Cup, Rugby World Cup Sevens, IRB World Sevens Series, Under 21 World Cup, Under 19 World Championship, and the Super Powers Cup. It will hold votes to decide where these events shall be held.

Game laws and methods:

Rugby union differs from association football in that the hands can be employed to move the ball. However, a player can only pass the ball backwards or laterally (i.e. not forward) to another player, or kick it. This means that the majority of progress made by an attacking team occurs through a leap frog cycle of passing the ball, running to make ground, being tackled and repeating this process. Each of these cycles (greatly simplified) is called a phase of play

Playing field:

A rugby union field consists of a maximum playing area of 144x70m on a grassy flat surface. Lines are painted on to the field at regular intervals; dead ball line, try line, 22 metre line, 10 metre line (broken line) and half way. This is mirrored on the other side of the field. Lines are also located 5 metres away from the try line and side line and 15 metres away from the side line. The length from try line to try line is always 100 metres; the only varying distances on a rugby field are the width of the playing field, and the distance from try line to the dead ball line.

Note: in rugby union, unlike association football (soccer), the lines bordering the field of play are themselves regarded as out of play. Thus, a player standing on but not over the touch line is regarded to be "in touch". 



A rugby union team consists of 15 players, eight forwards numbered 1 to 8, and seven backs, numbered 9 to 15. Depending upon the competition, there may be up to seven replacements (substitutes).

The main role of the forwards is to gain and retain possession of the ball. They take part in set pieces of the scrum and the line-out. Generally, forwards are larger than the backs, which makes them stronger but slower. Forwards also have a role in taking the ball forwards, but generally do so by driving into the opposing forwards.

The role of the backs is to move the game forward by running or kicking the ball. The scrum-half will gain possession of the ball from the forwards and usually feed it to the fly half (no.10) who then controls how the attacking team will proceed. The backline will tend to score its tries by focussing on the tactical placement of players, creating holes in the opposition defence line. A successful backline will cause the opposition to commit too many players at strategic points allowing for space to open up for the faster, outside backs (wingers and fullback).


The game is controlled by a referee, along with two touch judges, who decide when player is in touch and may discuss important decisions with the referee, such as yellow carding a player or over the awarding of a try. When stadiums have the facilities, a television match official (TMO) may also be called upon, using replays to decide if a try is legal. The TMO is the only off ground official that may be consulted about a try or a successful kick, and can only be consulted about an event concerning a try or kick at goal.

If a referee is unfit to finish the game, the match organiser will arrange a replacement. However, if the match organiser doesn't not arrange for a replacement, the referee leaving the match will organise a replacement themselves


Match structure:

Before a game of rugby union commences, traditionally, a coin will be tossed to determine which side will kick off and what direction the teams will be running. The coin toss is usually performed by a referee, or by a special guest, possibly a rugbeian or celebrity depending on the occasion.


In most cases, the home side will elect what side of the coin they will gamble with, either heads or tails, the opposing captain will have the opposite side. The winner may choose to kick-off or receive, or decide which direction they will run. A number of elements may become part of the decision making process of a coin winner.


Weather can be a decisive factor, such as the possibility of having a potentially large advantage over an opponent if there is a high amount of wind, it would aid their kicking game. Depending on the time of the game, the sun might be a factor in the decision, being a potential problem to the vision of players, depending on what way they run. A personal preference may be that a team wishes to start the match defending, thus will elect to receive the ball, or vice versa.

Depending on when the toss was performed, both sides will make their way out onto the field, the home team may be greeted by an entourage of support, such as cheerleaders, usually only at club or provincial level. Depending on the nature of the match, a celebration such as a national anthem may be performed as part of pre-match entertainment or tradition. Kick-off will be performed from the centre of the field. The first half will go for duration of 40 minuets. 'Half-time' will generally go for around 10 minuets, allowing for player fatigue and coach interaction as well as other factors, such as time for crowds to access amenities and facilities.

Once both teams return to the field, the direction they were running will be swapped over, as well as what team kicked-off, so any possibly advantage such as wind, may now be in favor of the other side, although it is possible the conditions are no longer present, the second half will also be of duration of 40 minuets. Variations of time and extra-time apply in any number of interpretations of the game, or tournaments.