Types of Rugby
There are two major types of rugby, Rugby League and Rugby Union. Rugby Union is what most of the world plays and is the only form of rugby that the Georgia Tech team plays. The differences are in the number of players on the field, what happens when a player is tackled, and the general pace of the game. This page will only cover the laws of Rugby Union.
Rugby Union also has two major versions, 7s and 15s. The biggest difference in these two games is that 7s is played with 7 players per side and 15s is played with 15. Most of the other rules are the same, but the strategy is very different. The traditional style of play is 15s, where the bigger players collapse the defense close to the ball with short runs and then the ball is passed out to the faster players who try to find holes and score. Games are 80 minutes long, with two 40 minute halves. The Georgia Tech team usually focuses on this style in the Spring. The game of 7s is gaining popularity in the the U.S. quickly, partly because of it's new inclusion into the 2016 Summer Olympics. Sevens is a much faster version of the sport, with scoring on average every 90 seconds. The game is played on the same size field as 15s but with half of the players, meaning there is a lot more space for players to move around. The game is played at a full out sprint, and thus the games are only 14 minutes long, with two 7 minute halves with a two minute halftime. Tech focuses on 7s in the Fall and plays some tournaments in the Summer.
The rest of this introduction to rugby will focus on explaining 15s, but much of what is covered is similar in 7s.
The regulation field is 100m long and 70m wide, slightly longer and much wider than a typical football field. Each end has a try zone between the try line and the dead ball line. The sidelines are also called touch lines. When the ball is taken out of bounds, it is frequently called "going into touch."
Scoring is similar to American football. Players can score tries, similar to touchdowns, by touching the ball down in the try zone at the end of the field. A try is worth 5 points and there is an opportunity to convert the try with a kick for 2 points. While in football the kick conversion is taken from the center of the field, rugby kick conversions must be taken from the place where the try was scored. In a rugby match, you will typically see players already in the try zone run to the center of the posts before touching the ball down. This is because it's much easier for the kicker to make the kick if they can take it from right between the posts than if they had to take it from the corner.
If a penalty is committed by the opposing team and your team is within kicking distance of the uprights, you are also about to kick for points. This is similar to a field goal in football and is worth 3 points. At any time during the run of play, players can also try for a drop goal for 3 points. In this situation, the ball must hit the ground before the kick is made.
Play begins with a kickoff from midfield. The kickoff is a drop kick and the kick must go 10 meters. Unlike football, both teams can contest for the ball at all times, so many teams will kick the ball short and attempt to catch their own kick. Kickoffs are also used to restart play after a team has scored. In rugby 15s, when you score a try the opponent kicks off to you, rather than you kicking to your opponent like in American football.
Moving the Ball
The ball can be moved in three ways: running, passing, and kicking. Any player can run the ball forward and the defense attempts to stop this forward progress by tackling the player with possession. Players can also pass the ball to teammates, however forward passes are not allowed. Teammates must be behind the ball to receive it from their team. Blocking is illegal as well, meaning players cannot interfere with the person with the ball being tackled. Players can also kick the ball forward using a punt or a drop kick.
When a player is tackled, play does not stop. The player must release the ball and they typically present the ball back to their team. Once the ball has been taken to ground, a ruck forms. Players on offense step over the ball and try to protect it from the other team. Players on defense can try to pick up or poach the ball from the tackled player. The defense can also counterruck the offense and drive them back over the ball to win possession for their team. While the ruck is formed, an offsides line is drawn between the two teams and players cannot cross over the line without drawing a penalty. Once the ruck is stable and one side has won possession, the scrumhalf (similar to a quarterback) from the team with possession digs the ball out from the ruck and passes the ball back to their team. Play continues from there until the next player is tackled a new ruck forms over the ball.
One of the great parts about rugby is that there is a position for every body type and skill set. The two main categories are forwards and backs, with the forwards being the bigger, stronger players and the backs being the smaller, faster players. The forwards are the workhorses and frequently engage in contact situations. They need to be strong, constantly looking for ways to contribute, and have the endurance to work consistently for 80 minutes. The backs need to be smart and able to read the defense to execute plays. The back line does more of the scoring and is always looking for ways to put their fastest players through holes in the defense.
The forwards, also called the pack, are typically the bigger and stronger players who do more of the grunt work. Forwards spend most of their time close to the ball, trying to collapse the other team's defense so that their is more open space for the backs to work with. Forwards do a lot of rucking and tackling, and are the players that form scrums and lineouts.
The eight players of the pack are divided into two groups: the tight five and the loose forwards. The tight five are typically big, strong, and fearless and the loose forwards are generally fast, muscular, and fit. The tight five consists of a tighthead prop, a loosehead prop, a hooker, and two locks. The loose forwards are an eight-man and two flankers.
A lineout is how play is restarted after the ball goes out of bounds on the touch line. Both teams line up perpendicular to the sideline, with a meter-wide channel between the two teams. The hooker from the team awarded the lineout throws the ball down the channel and each team lifts a player to contest for the ball in the air. It is similar to a soccer throw in, but there is a distinct offsides line between the two teams.
The back line consists of 6 players plus a scrumhalf. The scrumhalf is essentially the connector between the forwards and the backs. The scrumhalf directs the run of play, reads the defense, and gets the ball out to the backs once the forwards have done their job. The back line consists of a flyhalf, and inside center, and outside center, two wings, and a fullback. The flyhalf usually has a great rugby mind, calls the plays, and feeds the ball to the rest of the backs. On most teams, the flyhalf also does a lot of the kicking. The centers use a combination of intelligence and athleticism to find holes in the defense. The wings are the fastest players on the field and stay out at the end of the back line. If the rest of the back line does their job, they should be able to get the ball out wide to the wings who make a sprint for the try line. The fullback is similar to a football safety on defense. They stay back and tackle any opposing player who manages to break through the defensive line. On offense, the fullback will insert into the back line to exploit holes and confuse the opposing defense.