Legend has it that in 1823, during a game of school football in the town of Rugby, England, a young man named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran towards the opposition’s goal line. Two centuries later, Rugby Football has evolved into one of the world’s most popular sports, with millions of people playing, watching and enjoying the Game. At the heart of Rugby is a unique ethos which it has retained over the years. Not only is the Game played to the Laws, but within the spirit of the Laws. Through discipline, control and mutual self-respect, a fellowship and sense of fair play are forged, defining Rugby as the Game it is.

Before playing Rugby, it’s important to understand the equipment you’ll need. Firstly, you’ll need a sturdy pair of boots with studs or cleats which are appropriate to the conditions. These are essential to providing the purchase you’ll require, especially in contact situations. It is recommended that you wear a mouth guard to protect the teeth and jaw, and some players choose to wear approved head gear and/or padded equipment, worn under the shirt.

A rugby pitch should be between 94-100 metres long, and between 68-70 metres wide. The length is from try line to try line, and does not include the dead ball area beyond the try line, which can be 10-22 metres deep.

You can score different numbers of points depending on what you do in the game.

Try – 5 points – A try is scored when the ball is grounded over the opponents’ goal line in the in-goal area. A penalty try can be awarded if a player would have scored a try but for foul play by the opposition.

Conversion – 2 points – After scoring a try, that team can attempt to add two further points by kicking the ball over the crossbar and between the posts from a place in line with where the try was scored.

Penalty – 3 points – When awarded a penalty after an infringement by the opposition, a team may choose to kick at goal.
Drop goal – 3 points – A drop goal is scored when a player kicks for goal in open play by dropping the ball onto the ground and kicking it on the half-volley.

Rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes and that is one of the sport’s main strengths and attractions because the sum of a team’s parts is always greater than any one individual. In rugby there are forwards, whose role and job it is generally to win the ball from the opposition and compete at most of the more contact-driven areas such as the scrum, the line-out, the ruck and the maul. Forwards tend to be heavier, more powerful players and also taller for winning the ball at the line-out and the restart.

There are also backs, who tend to be a bit faster and whose game is based more on taking advantage of the space created by the forwards’ hard work. Even among the backs there are players who need to be better at passing, kicking, strategizing and simply running, so whatever size or shape, age or gender you are, there should be a position ready-made for you.

It’s worth pointing out that in the Olympic sport of Rugby Sevens – where there are seven players on each team – there are also forwards and backs. These players still perform distinct jobs, but in general the players are of a more similar size and shape overall because the non-stop nature of the game leads to a different kind of fitness requirement.

There are also non-contact forms of Rugby such as touch and tag, meaning that there really is a form of the Game for all abilities, shapes and sizes.

Rugby is a physical sport, but a sport that delivers significant social and health benefits. Player welfare is the number one priority for World Rugby and its Member Unions and education of the best-possible techniques to train and play is important for being physically and mentally prepared. You also need to understand how to play safely. The World Rugby Rugby Ready programme, and other national union programmes, educate, aid and support players, coaches, match officials and Unions on the importance of sufficient preparation for training and playing in order for Rugby to be played and enjoyed while reducing the risk of serious injury.

I am reaching my twilight years in terms of playing (32) but still want to be involved in the sport can you recommend what I could do next?

There are other disciplines of Rugby which are designed to allow anyone to start playing, or continue to play, with more or less emphasis on skills, running, handling, evasion, support play and contact. Examples of these variations include Tag, Touch, Tip, Flag and Beach Rugby. As an example, in Tag, players wear tags which hang from a belt. Removal of one of these tag constitutes a tackle, and the ball carrier must then pass within three seconds. One of the key attractions of these versions of Rugby is that the non-contact nature means that people of all ages, both sexes and of any fitness level can play together on a variety of surfaces, without the fear of getting hurt. In addition, the simple rules for all formats of modified Rugby, as well as the need for minimal equipment, make the different game variations an ideal introduction for beginners wishing to get involved in the sport.

Whether it’s for your own involvement, or because you’d like to introduce your son or daughter to the Game, your nearest club is the best place to start. Your national Union should be able to provide a list of clubs in your country. Click here to find yours .

In rugby you need to move forwards to score, by carrying the ball over the opponents’ goal line and forcing it to the ground to score, but it’s true that you are only allowed to pass the ball backwards by hand. A player may pass (throw the ball) to a team mate who is in a better position to continue the attack, but the pass must not travel towards the opposing team’s goal line. It must travel either directly across the field, or back in the direction of the passer’s own goal line. By carrying the ball forwards and passing backwards, territory is gained. If a forward pass is made, the referee will stop the game and award a scrum with the throw-in going to the team which was not in possession.

This apparent contradiction creates a need for fine teamwork and great discipline, as little can be achieved by any one individual player. Only by working as a team can players move the ball forward towards their opponents’ goal line and eventually go on to win the game. The ball can be kicked forwards, but even then the kicker’s team mates must be behind the ball at the moment the ball is kicked.

These are often grouped together as they often happen in quick succession, but they are actually distinct areas.

Tackle: Only the ball-carrier can be tackled by an opposing player. A tackle occurs when the ball carrier is held by one or more opponents and is brought to ground, i.e. has one or both knees on the ground, is sitting on the ground or is on top of another player who is on the ground. To maintain the continuity of the game, the ball carrier must release the ball immediately after the tackle, the tackler must release the ball carrier and both players must roll away from the ball. This allows other players to come in and contest for the ball, thereby starting a new phase of play.

Ruck: A ruck is formed if the ball is on the ground and one or more players from each team who are on their feet close around it. Players must not handle the ball in the ruck, and must use their feet to move the ball or drive over it so that it emerges at the team’s hindmost foot, at which point it can be picked up.

Maul: A maul occurs when the ball carrier is held by one or more opponents and one or more of the ball carrier’s team mates holds on (binds) as well (a maul therefore needs a minimum of three players). The ball must be off the ground. The team in possession of the ball can attempt to gain territory by driving their opponents back towards the opponents’ goal line. The ball can then be passed backwards between players in the maul and eventually passed to a player who is not in the maul, or a player can leave the maul carrying the ball and run with it.

Sometimes, during a game, an infringement of the Laws may be committed where a stoppage in play would deprive the non-offending team of an opportunity to score. Even though the Laws state that the non-offending team should be awarded a penalty, free kick or scrum, the referee can choose to play ‘advantage’, giving the non-offending team the opportunity to continue with open play and attempt to score a try. In this instance, the referee will allow play to continue rather than penalise the offence. If no ‘advantage’ is gained, then the referee blows the whistle and goes back to the infringement.

Rugby’s offside Law restricts where on the field players can be, to ensure there is space to attack and defend. In general, a player is in an offside position if that player is further forward (nearer to the opponents’ goal line) than the team mate who is carrying the ball or the team mate who last played the ball. Being in an offside position is not, in itself, an offence, but an offside player may not take part in the game until they are onside again. If an offside player takes part in the game, that player will be penalised.

Televised matches have an official who uses replays to advise the referee on decisions according to what the replays show. However you choose to watch the Game, don’t just focus on the ball, try concentrating on the alignment of attackers and defenders and the positioning of certain players, e.g. fly half, number 8 and full back.