The Game

Beginners' Guide

Rugby Union was, if the legend is to be believed first played when William Webb Ellis was involved in a game of football at Rugby School in 1823. The story goes that Master Webb Ellis "with fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game".

Over the following 50 years, laws for the game were formulated and by 1870 the Rugby Football Union had been formed. By that time the game was being played in London, Bath, Bradford, Liverpool and Brighton.

Of course the game that was played 130 years ago varies greatly from the game of today - we no longer see players playing in a monocle and although gloves are used to improve grip on the ball they are very different from the white kid gloves worn by several Victorian players!

However, the basic principles remain the same. The game is played on a grass pitch measuring not more than 100 metres long and not more than 70 metres wide, with a further 'dead ball' area of between 10 and 22 metres at each end. The rugby posts are in the shape of an H. They are 5.6 metres wide with the crossbar 3 metres from the ground. The post height is unlimited, but must be a minimum of 3.4 metres. The ball is an oval shape and just under 30 centimetres long although in the women's game and for younger players the ball is slightly smaller. The ball must be passed backwards between team members or kicked within the boundaries of the pitch. The game is controlled by a single referee on the pitch, assisted by two touch judges on either side of the pitch and for televised matches in the professional game a video referee.

So what's it all about?

The game is now played in over 120 countries throughout the World. There are huge numbers of amateur players, both male and female, across the globe and, since 1995, the game at the highest level has been professional.

Dead Ball

When the ball is out of play. This happens when the ball has gone outside the playing area or the referee has blown for a stoppage.

The game is played between teams of 15 players with eight replacements for each team in Aviva Premiership Rugby. Each player has specific duties determined by their position in the team and at any time during the game a player can be substituted by one of the replacements - however they cannot return to action once replaced, unless they have left the pitch to have a blood injury treated.

Into Touch

When the ball is kicked out - it can either touch the touchline or the ground on or beyond the touch line. The game is restarted with a line-out.

The game is played over two halves of 40 minutes each and the principle is that you need to have scored more points than your opponents to win the match. The game is started by either a place kick or a dropped kick kicked in the direction of the attacking team, from the centre of the pitch. At the kick off the ball has to go a minimum of 10 metres into the opponents half before play will continue. After a score the game is restarted with a dropped kick from half way, taken by the team who conceded the score.

Dropped Kick

The ball is dropped from the hands to the ground and is kicked as it rises up from the first bounce.

There are several ways to score points with the most rewarding being the 'try' - worth five points. To score a try a team member must, within the 'dead ball area' of the opposition team, either hold the ball and touch it on the ground, touch the ball with downward pressure or fall on the ball and exert downward pressure while it's under a players' control.

Plastic Tee

A ring shaped device used to place the ball on for kicks at goal - used instead of a mound of sand.

After each try the scoring team has the opportunity to add an extra two points by kicking a 'conversion'. For a conversion the ball is placed (usually with the aid of a plastic tee) on the ground in a perpendicular line from the point where the try was scored. One team member then attempts to kick the ball between the posts to gain the extra two points.

A game for everyone!

The beauty of rugby is that it is a game for everyone. The structure of the game and the division of the sides into specific positions allows for all shapes and sizes to enjoy the game The game also thrives amongst children with both tag rugby and touch rugby ideal introductions to the game for primary school age children. Tag Rugby is a relatively new non-contact form of the game that is lots of fun to play and is very easy to learn and teach for both boys and girls. Touch rugby involves minimal contact but promotes the fundamental rugby skills of running, handling, evasion and support play.

So do you want to learn more about the game and join in the fun? Visit and you will be able to find out where your nearest club is located. Alternatively, why not participate in one of the Premiership Rugby Academy Camps and learn how to play from the professionals? Click here for more details.

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