Rugby is a sport that captivates millions of fans worldwide with its blend of strategy, teamwork, and physical prowess. However, if you're new to the game, understanding the rules can seem daunting. This comprehensive guide aims to demystify the game's regulations, providing a solid foundation for new players and spectators alike. We'll cover everything from the basic structure of the game, scoring methods, player positions, to more nuanced aspects like penalties and set pieces.

Objective of the Game

Rugby is a highly competitive and action-packed sport that involves two teams trying to outscore each other. The objective of the game is to score points by either carrying the ball into the opposition's goal area, known as a "try," or by kicking the ball between the goalposts.

Scoring Points

There are four ways to score in rugby: a try, conversion, penalty kick, and drop goal. A try, worth five points, is scored when a player touches the ball down in the opponent's in-goal area. After a try, the scoring team has the opportunity to add two more points with a conversion kick. This kick is taken from a point in line with where the try was scored, and it must pass between the upper posts and over the crossbar of the goal.

A penalty kick, worth three points, can be attempted after a rule infringement by the opposing team. The kick is taken from the spot of the infringement or anywhere along a line running from the infringement spot to the kicker's goal line. Lastly, a drop goal, also worth three points, can be kicked during open play. The ball must be dropped and kicked before it touches the ground.

Field and Equipment

Field Dimensions

A rugby field is rectangular in shape and has specific dimensions. The playing area should be no longer than 100 meters and no wider than 70 meters, although there may be slight variations depending on the level of play. The goal area at either end of the field should be a minimum of 10 meters deep, but it can be deeper if space allows.


The equipment required to play rugby is minimal yet essential. Players must wear a mouthguard to protect their teeth and gums during physical contact. It is also recommended to wear a scrum cap for added head protection, although it is not mandatory. Rugby boots with firm studs or cleats are necessary to provide traction on the grass field. Additionally, each team must have a rugby ball, which is oval-shaped and made of leather or synthetic materials.


Team Composition

Number of Players

A rugby team is composed of 15 players on the field at a time. These players are divided into two main groups: the forwards and the backs. The forwards, also known as the pack, consist of players who are typically larger and stronger. Their main role is to win possession of the ball and create opportunities for their team to score points. The backs, on the other hand, are usually faster and more agile. They are responsible for attacking and scoring tries.

Player Positions

Within each group, there are specific positions assigned to players. Forwards are numbered from 1 to 8 and are named according to their position in the pack, such as the props, hooker, locks, and flankers. The backs are numbered from 9 to 15 and include positions like the scrum-half, fly-half, centers, wings, and fullback. Each position has its own roles and responsibilities on the field.


Duration of the Game

Halves and Breaks

A standard rugby match consists of two halves, each lasting 40 minutes. At halftime, there is a break of typically 10 minutes to allow players to rest, receive instructions from the coaches, and make any necessary substitutions. 

Extra Time

In matches that require a winner (playoff matches), a rugby match may require additional playing time to determine a winner. Extra time consists of two periods of 10 minutes each, with a short break in between. If the scores are still level after extra time, the game heads to "sudden death", a ten minute period where the first team to score wins. If the match is still drawn, it will head to a kicking shootout. 

Starting the Game


The game of rugby starts with a kickoff, where one team, determined by a coin toss, kicks the ball towards their opponents. The kicking team must kick the ball forward at least 10 meters from the center of the field. The receiving team aims to catch the ball and gain possession to launch an attack.

Drop Goal

A drop goal is a method of scoring points in rugby. It involves a player dropping the ball onto the ground and kicking it as it bounces off the turf. A successful drop goal is worth three points and can be attempted from anywhere on the field during open play.


A scrum is a method of restarting play after a minor infringement or a knock-on (when the ball is dropped forward). The forwards from each team bind together and contest for possession of the ball. The scrum is formed by the referee calling "crouch, bind, set," and the players interlocking in a manner that maximizes stability and safety. Once the scrum has been formed, the team with possession of the ball (The team not responsible for the infringement) feeds the ball into the scrum for the players to compete for possession.


Basic Gameplay

Passing and Running

Passing and running are vital aspects of rugby gameplay. Players can pass the ball to their teammates either by hand or by kicking it forward. A player may choose to run with the ball themselves, attempting to evade the opposition and gain ground towards the opposition's goal line. Passing and running require good communication, teamwork, and spatial awareness.

Tackling and Defending

Tackling is an integral part of rugby and involves a player bringing an opponent to the ground. A successful tackle occurs when the tackler wraps their arms around the ball carrier and brings them down safely. Defending is equally important and requires players to work together to stop the attacking team from scoring tries. Solid defensive strategies include line speed, communication, and controlled aggression.

Rucks and Mauls

Rucks and mauls are essential aspects of rugby gameplay that occur when a player is brought to the ground while holding the ball. A ruck is formed when one or more players from each team bind together and compete for possession of the ball on the ground. A maul, on the other hand, involves players on both teams binding together while standing, with the ball carrier at the center. Both rucks and mauls require physical strength and technical skill to gain or retain possession of the ball and continue the game.

Penalties and Fouls


Offside is a common penalty in rugby and occurs when a player is in front of a teammate who is carrying the ball or in front of the ball itself. Being offside prevents fair play and creates an unfair advantage for the offending team. If a player is offside, the opposing team is awarded a penalty kick.

High Tackle

A high tackle is a dangerous foul in rugby, where a player makes contact with an opponent's head or neck area. High tackles are strictly penalized due to the risk of injury to the head and spinal column. Referees rigidly enforce regulations regarding tackling height to ensure player safety.

Foul Play

Foul play encompasses a range of offenses that are deemed to be deliberately dangerous or unsportsmanlike. Examples of foul play include deliberately tripping or kicking an opponent, intentionally collapsing a scrum, or striking an opponent with excessive force. Foul play is taken very seriously in rugby and can result in yellow or red cards, suspensions, or other disciplinary actions.

Advantage and Disadvantage

Advantage Rule

The advantage rule is applied in rugby to allow play to continue when an infringement occurs but the non-offending team is still in a favorable position to maintain possession or score. The referee has the discretion to allow the play to proceed, giving the non-offending team an opportunity to gain an advantage. If the advantage is not gained, the referee can go back to the original penalty and award a free kick or penalty kick.

Scrums and Lineouts

When a minor infringement or a knock-on occurs, play is restarted with a scrum. A scrum involves the forwards from both teams coming together and contesting for possession of the ball. Lineouts, on the other hand, are used to restart play when the ball goes into touch (out of bounds). During a lineout, players from both teams compete to catch the ball when it is thrown in from the sideline.

Restarting Play


A lineout is a method of restarting play when the ball goes into touch. The team awarded the throw-in gets to choose where to throw the ball, and players from both teams line up in parallel lines. The throwing team aims to throw the ball accurately to one of their teammates, who then tries to catch it and gain possession.

Restart Kicks

Restart kicks are used to resume play after a try has been scored or after scoring attempts have been unsuccessful. The team that has just conceded a score or failed to score gets to kick the ball from the center of the field towards their opponents. The receiving team aims to catch the ball and launch a counter-attack.

Penalty Kick

A penalty kick is awarded to the non-offending team when a serious infringement occurs. The team can choose to kick the ball towards the goalposts and potentially score three points. Penalty kicks provide an opportunity for teams to score points while also punishing the opposing team for their infringement.

Game Strategies

Set Pieces

Set pieces are specific plays designed by teams to create scoring opportunities or gain a tactical advantage. Common set pieces in rugby include scrums, lineouts, and kick-off plays. These plays require effective communication, timing, and skill execution from the players involved. Coaches and strategists develop set piece plays to exploit the weaknesses of the opposition and enhance their team's chances of scoring.

Attack and Defense Tactics

Successful rugby teams employ various attack and defense tactics to outwit their opponents. Attack tactics can include passing the ball wide to exploit gaps in the defensive line, using powerful forwards to carry the ball forward, or creating decoy runners to confuse the opposition. Defense tactics involve strategies like line speed, coordinated tackling, and creating turnovers. Strong communication and teamwork are crucial in both attack and defense to ensure a synchronized and effective game plan.

Understanding the rules and strategies of rugby can greatly enhance your enjoyment of the game. By familiarizing yourself with the objective, field dimensions, team composition, and gameplay techniques, you will be better equipped to appreciate the skills and athleticism on display during each match. So grab some snacks, settle into your seat, and get ready to immerse yourself in the thrilling world of rugby!

Peter Breen