Playing the Game

Although the overall intention is to move forward towards the opponent's goal line players cannot pass the ball forward. Play will be stopped if the ball is passed forward and a scrum will be awarded to the non-offending team. A scrum will also be awarded if a player accidentally spills the ball forward; this is called a knock on.

The Tackle

A tackle is made when a player carrying the ball is stopped and brought to the ground by an opposition player. A tackle should only be made on a player carrying the ball. The tackler must be made below the shoulder with the arms wrapped around the body or legs of the tackled player. If this is not achieved the tackler can be penalised and if their actions are considered dangerous they could potentially be shown a yellow card.

Offload: When a player passes the ball to his team mate out of a tackle

When a player with the ball is tackled they must release the ball immediately. Holding onto it will result in a penalty to the opposition. Other members of both teams can come and help the ball carrier and the tackler to try and gain possession of the ball.

Going forward: Usually relates to the maul.

The team which is attacking builds up momentum and works towards the opposition try line. Players coming into the tackle area must be on their feet and stay on their feet before playing the ball and enter from behind the tackle. If any player enters the tackle area and does not remain on their feet they may be penalised by the referee and again, depending on field position may incur a yellow card.

The Ruck

If a tackle is made and the tackled player releases the ball a ruck can form when at least one player from each team come into contact with each other over the ball. The ball must not be handled in the ruck (this is a penalty offence) but must be worked to the back of the ruck only using the feet. Any further players joining the ruck must do this from the back of the ruck on their own side or again they will be penalised.

Open play

The movement of the ball and the players once the set pieces are over and the players and the ball are moving on the field.

The Maul

A second option at the tackle is for a maul to form. This is when the player is unable to get the ball away from the tackle area - but is not brought to the ground. If the tackled player is then joined by at least one player from each team it is classed as a maul. Again any further players joining the maul must do this from the back of the play on their own side or again they will be penalised. The ball can be worked from a maul into open play using the hands but if it is brought to the ground or the ball fails to appear quickly the referee will award a scrum to the side going forward.

Playing the ball

It is usually followed by the words 'on the ground' and results in a penalty for the opposition. Once a ruck has formed, players are not allowed to play the ball on the ground.

The scrum

A scrum is set on the position where the offence takes place and will consist of the eight forwards from each side. The forwards bind on to each other and try to push the other team backwards and off the ball. Players cannot push before the ball is in the scrum as this will result in a penalty. The ball is put into the scrum at the legs by the scrum-half. Players must remain bound until the ball comes out however if the ball is at the feet of the hindmost player, (generally the number eight) they may unbind, pick the ball up and continue playing. The only time fewer than eight members of the team are in the scrum is if a second row or flanker has been sin-binned sent off or left the field due to injury and no replacement is available.

The props and hooker comprise the front row and are specialist scrummagers. The scrum is formed by the hooker putting an arm around either prop, with the loosehead prop binding on the side of the scrum where his scrum half would put in the ball and the tighhead prop engaging his opponents between their hooker and loose head prop. The two-second rows then place their heads into the spaces between the hooker's hips and the props' hips. The flankers bind on to the second rows with the number eight locking the scrum at the rear.

The scrum half of the side who won the scrum, has the 'put-in' and gently throws the ball straight into the channel between the two front rows. The ball can come back out of the scrum via any route, as long as it passes through the legs of a prop. Once the ball is out of the scrum, play carries on as normal.

Uncontested scrums

If a team loses a front row player and cannot provide a qualified and trained replacement the referee will order uncontested scrums. The packs will scrum down as usual, but are not allowed to get a shove on - the side that put the ball in will win the ball back. A referee can also order uncontested scrums if he feels the set piece is becoming dangerous, whether the front row is qualified or not.

The lineout

If the ball is kicked or passed into touch from the field of play a lineout is awarded. A lineout is also awarded if a player carrying the ball steps onto or over the touchline at which point a lineout will be awarded to the opposition. There is only one exception to this - when a team are awarded a penalty they can kick to touch and will then receive the put-in to the ensuing lineout.

The lineout sees a number of forwards line up between the five and 15 metre lines in two parallel rows with a one metre gap between the sides. The number that lines up is determined by the side throwing in and can be anything from 2-24 but the norm is seven. The hooker then throws the ball straight into the gap between the lines. The forwards are allowed to lift their colleagues in an attempt to win possession. Sides can be penalised for not throwing straight into the lineout, or for interfering with opposition players as they attempt to secure possession.

Red card

Shown to a player who has been sent off for serious foul play. A player shown the red card will watch the rest of the game from the sidelines. A player receiving two yellow cards for any offence (including technical infringements) will also be sent off.

The penalty

When a side is awarded a penalty they have several options. They can kick to touch to gain field advantage (remembering they will have the throw in at the line out), they can kick to goal (with a successful kick worth three points) they can simply tap the ball onto the foot and run, or they can opt for a scrum if they feel that this would give them an advantage.

How can you give away a penalty?

  • Failing to release the ball after being tackled.
  • Not staying on your feet in a ruck.
  • Being offside and not making an effort to move to an onside position.
  • Tackling an opponent above shoulder height. Tackling an opponent who does not have the ball.
  • Hitting a ruck or maul from the side.
  • Obstructing an opponent from tackling the ball carrier.
  • Not retreating ten metres after a penalty has been awarded against you.

Yellow card

Shown by the referee to a player who has been cautioned and suspended for ten minutes playing time.


Generally a player will be offside in open play if they are in front of their teammate who is in possession of the ball. Should players find themselves in an offside position they must not interfere with the game until they are back onside. If a player should kick the ball ahead, their teammates must remain behind the kicker until the kick is made. However if a player is offside when the ball is kicked the kicker running past them once the kick is made can put them back onside. An opponent can also put them onside if the opponent runs for 5m with the ball, kicks or passes the ball.

Players not involved in a scrum, ruck or maul must remain behind the back most foot of the scrum, ruck or maul to remain on side, while at a lineout the offside line is ten metres back from the line out position.

Sin bin

The designated area in which a player who has received a yellow card must remain for the ten minutes.


The referee can decide to play advantage if an offence is committed but the side that would have been given a scrum or penalty are seen to gain some form of advantage without the award being made. This advantage can either be territorial (better field position) or tactical (e.g. a strong attacking platform is achieved.).

If the referee decides that an advantage has been gained, play will carry on and the need for a scrum or penalty will be obviated. If the referee decides otherwise, the play is brought back to place where the original offence took place position and the scrum or penalty is awarded.

Knock-on: When the ball travels forward after a player loses possession

The ball can be knocked on when a player hits or propels the ball forward with a hand or arm and the ball either touches the ground or another player before the original player can recover it.


Despite it being used more and more to describe a try, a touchdown is in fact when a player from the defending side touches the ball down behind his line. This can happen when a kick from the attacking side rolls into the in-goal area. If a defending player touches it down, the game is restarted with a 22. However, if a defending player takes the ball in to his own in-goal area and touches it down, a five metre scrum is awarded to the attacking side.

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