The rules of Rugby

Rugby is a team sport in which two teams of 15 players each (in the most commonly played form of rugby) compete. The aim of the game is to send the oval ball to the opposite goal more times than the other team. The rugby player's basic kit consists of a shirt, shorts, socks, shoes and protection equipment.

  • Short history
  • Iconic players
  • The game, the rules
  • The positions
  • Glossary


There are several ball games which can be considered as the ancestors of rugby. Among them are harpastum, played by the Romans; and soule, played in medieval France. Later comes hurling, a descendent of soule, introduced to England by the invading Normans. Rugby in its current form was born in the village of Rugby in England. During a football match, William Webb Ellis broke the rules, picking up the ball in his hands and running to the opposing team's goal.

This new game spread quickly throughout England and came to be played in numerous schools. It was not long before it crossed seas and oceans. In 1877, rugby was present in all of the British Colonies, in particular in India. The International Rugby Board was established in 1890 to govern the game. In France, Stade Français and Racing Club de France fought out the first final of the French rugby championship on 20 March 1892.


Ever since its creation, rugby has given us many iconic players, including:

Jonah Lomu
Born in 1975, the New Zealander joined the All Blacks in 1994.

Bryan Habana
Born in 1983, this South African performs well as a wing, taking advantage of both his speed and his power.

Juan Martin Hernandez, aka "El Mago" (The Magician)
An Argentine born in 1982, a highly effective fly half.

Brian O'Driscoll
This 1979-born Dubliner, nicknamed BOD or Drico, regularly plays centre. In Ireland, fans like to give him the slogan, "In BOD we trust".

Johnny Wilkinson
Born in 1979 in Frimley, Jonathan Peter Wilkinson is best known for being the first-ever English player to exceed 1000 points during the 2008 Six Nations championship.


Basic rules

The ball
The ball must be oval in shape, composed of four panels and matching the following dimensions: length in line 28-30cm, end-to-end circumference 76-79 cm, circumference in width 58-62cm, and weight 410-460g. These dimensions may only be reduced for school-age players and rugby schools.

Playing time
A match takes place over two halves of 40 minutes each. After the first half, the players return to the dressing rooms for a 10-minute break. In the event of a tie at the end of the allotted time, two 10-minute periods of extra time are played. Before the 2003 World Cup, this was two 15-minute periods.

Basic moves
Unlike football, in which any use of the hands is forbidden, rugby is a hand game par excellence. Passing consists of a player transferring the ball to a teammate who is either behind or in line with him or her. Passing forwards is not permitted. To score a try, it is sufficient to place the ball behind the goal line. A try is scored when an attacking player is the first to ground the ball within the opponent's in-goal. Playing with the feet is also permitted. This allows strikers to score points, kickers to clear the field, and centres to play short over the defence.

Key phases of play

The line-out is an essential phase in rugby. If a player crosses or steps on the touch line, then the ball has gone into touch, as the touch line does not form part of the playing area. For the ball to come back into play, a line-out takes place. At least two players from each team must take part. One player, usually the hooker, throws in the ball from the spot where it went into touch; his team-mate(s) are tasked with catching the ball. The line-out ends as soon as the ball is caught.

A scrum is ordered by the referee when a team performs a forward pass. S/he arranges the formation of the scrum and the players take their positions according to his orders. Packs of eight players then form a circle around the ball. When the ball is inserted by the scrum half, the hookers from each team try to lead the ball towards their teammates, who pass the ball along the scrum with their feet until it reaches the last player. The scrum ends when the ball leaves the feet of the last player.

Playing without the ball
Tackling is a way of stopping the progress of a player who has the ball. It is a basic element of rugby defence. A player is said to have been tackled when s/he has at least one knee on the ground. Tackling involves the defender grabbing the player with the ball around the waist or legs. The tackled player must release the ball or pass it once he is on the ground.


- Try = 5 points
- Conversion Goal = 2 points
- Penalty Try = 3 points
- Dropped Goal = 3 points


Each player's shirt has a number on the back to make the player identifiable. These numbers each correspond to a particular position:

Front row

Numbers 1, 2 and 3: props (1, 3) and hookers (2), known as the ‘big men' owing to their large physique. The front row is tasked with winning the ball. The props are positioned on either side of the hooker to form the front row. During the scrum, they are tasked with pushing against the opposing team's props. Props also support their team-mate during line-out. The hooker, meanwhile, makes the throw-in during line-out.


Numbers 4 and 5: Locks are traditionally the tallest members of the team. During the scrum, they exert great their pushing strength. They must also catch the ball during line-out and demonstrate powerful jumping ability. They also contribute to the match by performing numerous tackles and ensuring the continuity of play.


Number 6, 7 and 8
The blindside flanker (number 6) pushes the scrum leftwards, and the openside flanker (number 7), rightwards, while the number 8 takes a central position at the back of the scrum. These are the players who do the most tackling throughout the match. They assist their teams when they have the ball and should also fill any gaps in defence.


Number 9
The scrum-half occupies a strategic position and lines up between the front and back rows. This player's kicking is precise and useful for clearing the field.


Number 10
This player is the leader of the game, a true tactician who directs play and takes decisions for the team.


Number 11, 12, 13 and 14
The centres (12, 13) have a role that is defensive and offensive in equal measure. They attract as many players to them as possible, to free up the wings (11, 14). The wings are there to score and are selected for their speed.


Number 15
The full-back is the last line of defence. This player occupies an important position and must have the ability to both defend and attack.


Conversion: when a player scores a try, s/he can convert it by kicking the ball between the two goalposts, earning an additional two points.

Drop: consists of dropping the ball on the ground and kicking it after it bounces.

Haka: a ritual dance of the Maori people, performed by the All Blacks at the beginning of all of their matches.

Hand-off or Fend: consists of pushing an opponent away with the hand while holding the ball in the other hand.

Line-out: a throw-in to bring the ball back into play, taken from the touch line.

Place kick: an attempt at a penalty or conversion where player places the ball on the ground before kicking it.

Scrum: a scrum describes 8 forwards from one team taking on 8 forwards from the other

Sidestep: Sudden transfer of weight during a run, to evade a direct opponent.

Tackle: consists of a player bringing an opponent to the ground by trapping the opponent with his or her arms.

Tee: an object permitting the player to position the ball when attempting a place kick.

Torpedo: when a player positions the ball on the tee before kicking it.

Try: consists of placing the ball behind the opposing team's try line.

Up-and-under: the player holds the ball vertically with both hands, releasing it so that the foot makes contact with the bottom of the ball, resulting in it being propelled high into the air.