Rugby for beginners – An introduction

Rugby is a sport I grew up with. I watched rugby, played some during my school years and today, years later, I only watch rugby. To the untrained eye it might look like a barbaric sport with 15 fully grown, muscle bound men going at the opposing team’s 15 players as if they were sworn enemies. Clashing of heads, bodies, even stamping on another player while he’s on the ground, it all seems very rough and it is! One of the reasons I stopped playing was because I got hurt on many occasions in the short time I played my beloved game. Yet I still love the sport and enjoy watching my favorite teams play. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa and rugby is one of the biggest sports in the country so needless to say, I’m not the only fanatic out there! Naturally, being from Cape Town, my team I support is Western Province (local competition), Stormers (international super 15 competition) and of course my national team, The Springboks. The Springboks were re-admitted to world rugby after South Africa abolished apartheid and they managed to win the Rugby World Cup twice since then (1995 & 2007)! I never miss a match when any of my teams play so yes, I’m a loyal supporter, win or lose! So with this article I hope to explain the basics of the game and hope to encourage the folks who don’t understand it or who don’t like it to maybe have a second look at rugby and try to see where all my passion comes from.

Rugby started in England, while they were playing football, one guy picked up the ball and started running with it. This is how the game of rugby was born. Today it is played in many countries but the top teams/countries are New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, France, Argentina, Wales, Ireland. The biggest tournament is the Rugby World Cup, played every 4 years (next one is in 2015). You also get the Rugby Championship, played every year, between South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina (southern hemisphere teams only). Another big tournament is the 6 Nations Championship, played every year, between England, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy (northern hemisphere teams only) so as you can see, there’s plenty of matches to watch!

Let’s get down to the game itself. Each team comprises of 15 players, from number 1-8 are called the “forwards”. These are the big boys, 6 feet+ tall and weighing 100kg or more, each. Their job is to win the ball in the line-outs, scrums, rucks and loose play. Then you get the 7 “backs” (numbers 9-15). These are the kickers and the fast runners. Their job is to score the points by scoring a try (dotting the ball over the opponent’s try line and getting 5 points) or kicking the ball between the upright posts (3 points for a penalty kick and 2 points for a conversion). Any of the 15 players can score points but usually it’s the backs that produce the exciting running rugby! The forward player’s positions are: loose head prop, hooker, tight head prop, lock (there are 2), open-side flank, blindside flank, eighth man. The backs are: scrum-half, fly-half, inside center, outside center, left wing, right wing, full-back. Points are scored when you dot the ball down behind the opposing team’s try line or by kicking it through the posts. The field is divided by the halfway line, 10m line, 22m line, side lines (touch line) and the try line. These are the main lines on the field although there are other dashed lines as well, I’m not going to talk about them in this article.

Players are allowed to kick the ball forward but not directly into touch (the ball may roll or bounce over the touch line but must not go out directly otherwise the ball goes to the opposing team from where your kicker kicked the ball). The only time you can kick the ball out directly is when you’re inside your own 22m line. Any player may run with ball and can pass the ball backwards to his team mate. You may not pass the ball forward otherwise the opposing team will be awarded a scrum and they will now have possession. So the idea is for your forward players to win the ball during these encounters and the scrum-half will pass the ball to the backs and they will start running (or kick the ball) to attack the opponent’s try line. The opposing team will defend their try line by tackling the attacking players. For safety reasons and to prevent injury, the defender must use his arms to tackle and no shoulders, elbows etc. may be used although this still happens sometimes. If dirty play is spotted by the referee he may give the player a yellow or red card and the player will leave the field and will appear in front of the rugby board where he can get banned. The game has evolved a lot over the years and the rules are always changing to make the game safer and more exciting. There are MANY rules in this sport so I will not be able to cover all that in this short article.

When a handling error occurs, for instance, when a player carrying the ball loses the ball forward, a scrum is awarded to the opposing team. The 8 forwards from both teams will form a scrum and try to win the ball when the scrum-half pops the ball in the scrum. If the ball gets kicked out into touch (over the side/touch line) a line-out is awarded to the opposing team. Once again the 8 forwards from both teams will this time form a line opposite to each other (one player behind the other) and the hooker will throw the ball into the line-out and the team will try to win the ball. When a player has the ball and gets tackled he must release the ball immediately otherwise he’ll get penalized. A ruck is formed where the ball is and the players try to win the ball. The backs will run and attack the opponent’s try line and try to break through the defense and score a try (5 points). The match is played in two halves (40min each half) and the team with the most points at the end is the winner.

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