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Introduction to the Sport and Culture of Rugby

Objectives and Rules

If you are extremely interested in the rules and regulations of rugby, the International Rugby Board (IRB) has a great website with all the information you could ever need.

For the casual fan, though, here's an overview:

  • 15 Players for each team.  Substitutions are permanent, unless made for injury
  • Two 40 minutes halves are played. The team with the most points at the end of play wins.
  • The objective of the match is to advance the ball and touch it down with-in the try zone, called a try.  Similar to football. After this try, the scoring team has an opportunity for a conversion kick.
  • Tries are worth 5 points. Conversion Kicks are worth 2 points
  • Penalty kicks/Drop kicks are worth 3 points.
  • Play is continuous, stopping only for penalties, injuries, scores, and in cases of out of bounds
  • Players are not allowed to block, screen, or obstruct a defender from tackling another player.
  • The ball must be passed backwards/laterally, unless it is kicked forward. Forward means towards the try zone the attacking team is trying to reach. A forward pass/mishandling of the ball that causes it to go forward is called a knock-on
  • Minor infractions, like knock-ons, result in a restart of play called a scrum. Out-of-bounds play results in a line-out
  • In scrums and line-outs, a straight line between the competing teams forms the tunnel. The ball must travel straight down this tunnel
  • If a team receives a major foul/penalty, they are required to retreat 10 meters.

If you are at a match, and don't understand the gameplay, ask someone near you. Nothing makes an old rugger happier than explaining a game, especially if there's an opportunity to tell a personal story.  

Is it Soccer? Is it Football?

Rugby is the link between soccer and football

Soccer features a round ball and 45 minute halves played continuously.  Most of the world calls it football because it's played primarily using the feet.
American Football features an oblong, pointed ball, and is played in 6 second increments.  How can a sport played primarily using the hands and arms be called football?
The answer is the sport that links them: Rugby. 
If a school ball game in Rugby, England hadn't been modified one day in 1823, maybe people would have come to know that game as Rugby football.  One boy at the school, William Webb Ellis, is reputed to have played the game differently: he picked up the ball and advanced it in his arms.
Fast forward a few decades, a few rule adjustments, add a ball that is a little more lemon-shaped, and Rugby Football, became very popular throughout all British-influenced societies.  British colonialism guaranteed the popularity of rugby, even in America.  In fact, rugby predates football as one of the oldest collegiate sports played in the States.
Just like those young English students changed a ball game into rugby, young American students changed rugby into football.  In rugby, one must touch the ball down in the try-zone to be awarded points.  The football equivalent of reaching the end zone is called a try.  In rugby, play can be re-started from a scrum, the football equivalent of a restart of play begins at the line of scrimmage.
Rugby is the link between soccer and football, combining many aspects of both, and involving certain components of wrestling.