From New World Encyclopedia
A rugby union scrum.

Rugby union (short for rugby union football and often referred to as simply rugby, to a lesser extent football, or union in countries familiar with rugby union and rugby league), is an outdoor sport played by two teams of 15 players each with a oval ball on a rectangular grass field. It is one of the two main codes of rugby football, the other being rugby league. The code is administered globally by the International Rugby Board (IRB) and currently played in over 100 countries on 6 continents. Rugby union claims to have formed the first football clubs and the sport is still played today traditionally between local clubs administered by local or provincial unions. Today, the highest level of Rugby Union is played between some of the 100 nations playing the game. These matches between national teams are called "Test" matches. The Rugby World Cup is held every four years between the major national rugby union teams. The tournament claims to be the third largest international sporting event in the world behind the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics. Rugby Union is also played by women's teams and there is also a quicker seven-a-side variation called rugby sevens, which exists in both forms. Rugby union has been a men's medal sport at the modern Summer Olympic Games; it was played at four of the first seven Olympic competitions. The sport debuted at the 1900 Paris games, featured at the London games in 1908, the Antwerp games in 1920 and the Paris games in 1924. Shortly after the 1924 games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) cancelled rugby union as an Olympic sport. The modified sevens version of the sport is now played at some large international competitions such as the Commonwealth Games.


A Rugby Union Pitch or Field.

An adult-level rugby union match lasts for 80 minutes, consisting of two halves of 40 minutes each plus time added on for injury, and is controlled by a single referee, two touch judges, and in most professional matches, a television match official (TMO), commonly called the video referee.

The object of the game is that each team of fifteen players score as many points as possible; the team scoring the greater number of points is the winner of the match.

Points may be scored by either scoring a try or a goal. A try is scored when the ball is grounded within the in-goal area and is worth 5 points. A goal is scored by kicking the ball between the uprights and above the crossbar of the goal posts. There are 3 ways to score a goal: a drop goal (scored in open play where the ball must hit the ground immediately before it is kicked, i.e. a "drop kick"); a penalty goal (awarded after the opposing side infringes against the laws of rugby and may be kicked from a stationary position on the ground or by a drop kick); or a conversion (awarded after a try has been scored) by either a drop kick or a place kick. A penalty or dropped goal is worth 3 points and a conversion is worth 2 points.

The pitch must be no more than 100 meters in length, not including the in-goal area. The length of the in-goal area can vary but must be at least 10 meters and no more than 22 meters. The width of the pitch may also vary but must be no more than 70 meters wide. The goal posts are situated on the center of the goal line with the upright posts placed 5.6 meters apart and the crossbar is placed 3 meters above the ground in an 'H' shape. The overall height of the goal posts must be over 3.4 meters.

A typical passage of rugby takes the following form: the team in possession of the ball moves the ball up the field in an effort to ground the ball over the opponents' goal line in order to score a try until such time as the ball carrier is tackled. They then form a ruck in order to win the ball back. This process repeats until one team makes a mistake that violates the Laws of the game, moves off the field of play or a try or goal is scored.

A Line Out

The team in possession of the ball may choose to advance by kicking the ball forward. The ball may be passed from one player to another as long as the ball does not travel forward. Rugby union is one of the few ball games where the ball cannot be passed forward. Any team mate nearer the opposition goal than the ball carrier is offside and out of the game, and must not interfere with play, meaning that American football-style blocking is forbidden.

The team not in possession attempts to stop the ball carrier by tackling them, which consists of grabbing hold of them and bringing them to the ground. A tackled player must pass or release the ball, allowing the opposition to contest possession of the loose ball. Play does not stop unless there is an infringement of the laws, or the ball / ball-carrier leaves the field of play.

If the ball goes into touch (out of the field of play), the game restarts with a line-out. If the game stops due to an infringement, play restarts with either a scrum, free kick or penalty kick (depending on the severity of the infringement) to the non-infringing team.

The attacking team may score by kicking the ball between the posts and above the cross-bar. The ball may only be kicked from the ground: either from a place kick following the award of a penalty or from a drop kick in open play. A successful kick at goal is worth three points.

The attacking team may also score by grounding the ball in the in-goal area. This is called a "try" and is worth five points. After scoring a try, the attacking team are awarded a free kick at goal, called a conversion, worth two points if successful, from a point directly in line with where the try was scored, and any distance away from the posts along that line.

Tries are the main form of scoring, and the primary aim of most teams is to score tries. Drop goals and penalty kicks are usually augmenters, a safer option against a steadfast defense or to punish ill-disciplined opposition. On some (usually rare) occasions, a team may be awarded a penalty try, if their opponents commit a foul which is deemed by the referee to have illegally prevented a try, or if they have persistently stopped play close to the try line through foul play.


A rugby union team consists of 15 players: eight forwards, and seven backs. All members of the starting 15 wear jerseys, numbered from 1 to 15, and keyed to their positions. The first eight players are known as "forwards" or "the pack," play in the "scrum." The forward's jerseys are numbered 1 through 8. The remaining seven players are the backs with jerseys numbered 9 through 15.

Depending upon the competition, there may be up to seven replacements (substitutes or reserves). Professional rugby contains seven reserves, with a player being allowed to be substituted only once, unless they are a front-row specialist player and are replacing an injured front-row player.

The main role of the forwards is to gain and retain possession of the ball. They take part in set pieces of the "scrum" and the line-out. Generally, forwards are larger than the backs, which usually makes them stronger but slower. Forwards also have a role in taking the ball forward, but generally do so by driving into the opposing forwards. Increasingly back row forwards such as flankers and the number 8 are becoming athletic and fast, staying out of the breakdown to participate in running moves with the backs.

The role of the backs is to move the game forward by running or kicking the ball. The scrum-half will gain possession of the ball from the forwards and usually feed it to the fly half (no.10) who then controls how the attacking team will proceed. The backline will tend to score its tries by focusing on the tactical placement of players, creating holes in the opposition defensive line. A successful backline will cause the opposition defense to commit too many players at strategic points creating space to open up for the faster, outside backs (wingers and fullback).


Forwards or Scrum:

Number Position Alternative Name for Positions
1 Loose-head Prop Prop Forward
2 Hooker Rake, Hook
3 Tight-head Prop Prop Forward
4 Second Row Lock
5 Second Row Lock
6 Blind-side Flanker Wing Forward, Breakaway, Flank Forward
7 Open-side Flanker Wing Forward, Breakaway, Flank Forward
8 Number 8 Eightman


Number Position Alternative Name for Positions
9 Scrum-half Inside Half, Half-back, Scrum Off, Scrummie
10 Fly-half Outside Half, Out Half, Stand-off, Five-eighth, Fly, Pivot
11 Left Wing Wingman, Wing Three-quarter
12 Inside Center Second Five-eighth, First Center, Second Five or Center
13 Outside Center Centre, Centre Three-quarter, Second Center
14 Right Wing Wingman, Wing Three-quarter
15 Full Back Custodian



A traditional rugby union kit consists of a collared jersey (often imitated by fashion labels and called a "rugby shirt"), shorts, long socks and boots with studs (or cleats). Some modest padding is allowed on the head, shoulders and collarbone, but it must be sufficiently light, thin and compressible to meet IRB standards. Players also may opt to wear a mouthguard.

Famous Rugby Jerseys, early 1920s boys magazine illustration of the playing strips of the top clubs and countries

Rugby shirt and shorts

Rugby shirts need to be able to take plenty of tugging and pulling. They also need to be lightweight, comfortable and strong–all at the same time. Modern shirts use new lightweight water-resistant, synthetic fibers. The tight forwards wear shirts that have panels for their team-mates to grab onto.

The back of a jersey will usually have the player's position number and sometimes their surname printed above it. The team logo traditionally will be placed on one side of the upper chest. Sponsor logos and club competition logo may also be included in the design. Most rugby teams will have two jersey designs, one for home games and a different design for away games.

Rugby shorts are traditionally made from cotton, designed to take the strains of rugby union. Second row forwards now use special line-out shorts which have reinforced stitching to help them to get lifted in the line out.

Boots (cleats)

Generally there are two types of boots (or cleats) worn: the 8 stud or the 6 stud. The 8 stud is most often worn by the tight forwards (props, hooker and locks) to provide them with extra grip for scrummaging and mauling. The 6 stud is worn by backs as it allows for more agility and quicker movement around the field. Plastic "blade" studs, common in soccer, are an increasingly frequent choice among backs.

Body protection

Padding and protective vests are now becoming more commonly worn by players. Predominantly the padding gives protection to the bony prominences of the shoulder and clavicle, but also provides additional protection to the biceps and the chest. Padding must be approved by the IRB. Players may use fingerless gloves (a.k.a. "mitts") to better grip the ball. Hard plastic or metal are prohibited in a rugby kit. Any protective equipment that may cause injury to another player is prohibited. No form of metal is allowed in any rugby kit, except for studs on boots. Spectacles are prohibited for play; many players wear contact lenses.[1]


The headgear, also called a "scrum cap," is usually made from light plastic materials capable of taking impact. Protective headgear is becoming popular due to the perceived protection from cuts and head injuries that can occur, particularly by the boots of players involved in rucking. Headgear also helps reduce the growth of cauliflower ears. Scrum caps have not been shown to reduce concussive injury.


An essential part of the safety equipment needed for rugby is the mouthguard. It protects the teeth and gums and can reduce both damage around the jaw and the chances of getting a concussion. The best mouthguards are made by a dentist. A mold of the mouth is first taken and then the mouthguard is cast around this mold, providing a tight fit in the mouth and around the teeth. Unmolded rubber mouthguards, which one can mold in hot water, are also available.


Webb-Ellis at Rugby, 1823, A more modern version of the great moment when he picked up the ball and ran with it

The origin of rugby football is often credited to William Webb Ellis, a young man who "took the ball in his arms [i.e. caught the ball] and ran" while playing a form of football at Rugby school in 1823. However historians have questioned the authenticity of this story, beginning with an official investigation by the Old Rugbeian Society in 1895. Nonetheless, the trophy for the Rugby World Cup bears the name of "Webb Ellis" in his honor, and a plaque at the school commemorates the "achievement." Playing football had a long tradition in England, and football games had probably taken place at Rugby school for 200 years before three boys published the first set of written rules in 1845. However, the game they presented resembled "Hurling to Goal" a variant of the Celtic sport of hurling, described by Richard Carew in his 1602 work, 'Survey of Cornwall'. Cornish hurlers traveled to London to play 'demonstration matches' of the sport several times in the seventeenth century.

Until the formation of the Football Association (FA) in October 1863, opposing football teams agreed on a set of rules before each match. Teams that competed against each other regularly, tended to agree to play a similar style of football.

Rugby football has claim to the world's first "football clubs": the Barnes Club (as it was known), formed in London in 1839, and Guy's Hospital Football Club (1843). However the continuity of these two clubs has not been established by documentation. Dublin University Football Club, formed in 1854, is the world's oldest documented football club in any code. It currently plays rugby union in the All Ireland League Division Two. Likewise Edinburgh Academical Football Club was formed in Scotland in 1857-58. Blackheath Rugby Club was founded in 1858 and is the oldest documented rugby club in England. It was a founding member of The Football Association. When it became clear that the FA would not allow running with the ball in hand and to "charge, hold, trip or hack him, or to wrest the ball from him" ('hack' meaning to kick opposing players' legs, a feature of the rugby game at the time), Blackheath withdrew from the FA, just over a month after the initial meeting. Other rugby clubs followed this lead and did not join the FA.

For the next few years rugby clubs continued to agree on rules before the start of each game as they had always done, but on January 26, 1871, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) formed, leading to the standardization of the rules for all clubs in England that played a variety of the Rugby school laws.ref>>Black and White and Grey.</ref> Soon most countries with a sizable rugby community had formed their own national unions. In 1886, the International Rugby Board (IRB) became the world governing and law-making body for rugby. The RFU recognized it as such in 1890.

The introduction of rugby into New Zealand was by Charles John Monro, son of Sir David Monro, then speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives. The younger Monro had been sent to Christ's College, East Finchley, in north London, England. That school had adopted rugby rules and Monro became an enthusiastic convert. He brought the game back to his native Nelson, and arranged the first rugby match, between Nelson College and Nelson Football Club, on May 14, 1870. In North America, rugby developed into American football and into Canadian football.

The 1890s saw a clash of cultures within the game, between working men's rugby clubs of northern England and predominantly middle-class southern clubs, a dispute revolving around the nature of professionalism within the game. On August 29 1895 22 clubs split from the RFU and met at the George Hotel in Huddersfield to form the Northern Rugby Football Union, commonly called the Northern Union. NRFU rules gradually diverged from those of rugby union, although the name rugby league did not become official until the Northern Rugby League formed in 1901. The name Rugby Football League dates from 1922. A similar schism opened up in Australia and other rugby-playing nations. Initially, rugby league in Australia operated under the same rules as rugby union. But after a tour by a professional New Zealand team in 1907 of Australia and Great Britain, and an Australian Rugby League tour of Great Britain the next year, rugby league teams in the southern hemisphere adopted rugby league rules. For clarity and convenience it became necessary to differentiate the two codes of rugby. The code played by those teams who remained in national organizations which were members of the IRB became known as "rugby union." The code played by those teams which played "open" rugby and allowed professionals as well as amateurs became known as "rugby league."

On August 26 1995 the IRB declared rugby union an "open" game and removed all restrictions on payments or benefits to those connected with the game. A committee of the IRB concluded that it was the only way to end the hypocrisy of Shamateurism and to keep control of rugby union (there were rumors that Rupert Murdoch was planning to finance a Southern Hemisphere professional league). The move from amateurism to professionalism has arguably increased the quality of play. However, professionalism has meant a huge increase in the gap between the top nations and the second tier. Alongside the success stories there have been some famous rugby clubs which have not coped well with the new era. Increasing popularity in recent years has led to diversification; women's rugby is increasingly popular in the United States and Canada.

The professionalization of rugby union has created a larger and more international support base than before and very large crowds in international competitions. Sponsorship and club attendance is also increasing in rugby union, with many English premiership clubs seeking to expand their existing ground capacity. Attendances for major international rugby union matches are generally sell-outs. As rugby union has grown, the increased funds generated have allowed the opportunity for big money deals bringing top-level rugby league players over to rugby union.

Rugby union worldwide

Rugby union has established itself throughout the world as a highly popular sport, particularly in Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, Fiji, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Romania, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Tonga, Uruguay and Wales. Rugby union is also gaining popularity in Italy, following its acceptance into the Six Nations, and Japan, which bid to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup, losing out to New Zealand. One of the attractions of rugby union is the great diversity in playing styles that have been adopted by the various countries that play the game. This diversity of styles of play is due to the varying interpretations of the laws of the game. [2]

The International Rugby Board (IRB), founded in 1886, governs the sport worldwide and also publishes the game's laws and rankings. There are currently 95 full members and eight associate member countries. According to IRB figures, rugby union is played in over 100 countries spanning six continents by men and women of all ages. The IRB controls the Rugby World Cup, the Women's Rugby World Cup, Rugby World Cup Sevens, IRB Sevens World Series, Under 21 World Cup, Under 19 World Championship, and the Super Cup. It holds votes to decide where all of these events shall be held, except in the case of the Sevens World Series. For that competition, the IRB contracts with several national unions to hold individual events.

Records of women's rugby go back over 100 years–the first mention of the game being in New Zealand in 1891 and France ten years later. In the past 30 years, however, the game has expanded greatly and (according to the RFU) it is now played in over 100 countries worldwide.

Major International Tournaments

World Cup

The Webb Ellis Cup.

The most important tournament in rugby union is the Rugby World Cup, a men's tournament that takes place every four years between the elite national rugby union teams. The tournament is one of the top three international sporting events in the world; only the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics are larger. [3][4] The fact that four different nations (Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa) won the first five World Cups (Australia was the only dual champion) confirms the level of competition in the tournament, creating intense interest from supporters, the media and major sponsors. The winners are awarded the Webb Ellis Cup, named after the Rugby School pupil credited with the game's invention. Rugby World Cup (RWC) is the financial engine which drives the development of the game world-wide. The revenues generated by the Rugby World Cup provides the IRB with the funds necessary to assist the Member Unions with expansion and development of the game. It is estimated that the 2003 Rugby World Cup had a world-wide television audience in excess of 3 billion. The first Rugby World Cup was hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand with successive World Cups alternating between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Women's World Cup

Women's International Rugby began in 1982. Over six hundred women's internationals have now been played by over forty different nations. As well as the women's World Cup event (which takes place every four years), there are also other regular tournaments, including a Women's Six Nations Championship run in parallel to the men's competition.

Sevens World Cup

The Rugby Sevens World Cup is the world's premier international contest in the Sevens version of rugby union, first held in Scotland in 1993 and held every four years thereafter. The prize is the Melrose Cup, named after the Scottish town of Melrose where the first Sevens game was played. The first Rugby Sevens World Cup (1993) was won by England with Fiji (1997), New Zealand (2001) and Fiji (2005) winning the following competitions.

Year Host Final Third place match
Winner Score Runner-up 3rd place Score 4th place
Australia &
New Zealand
New Zealand 29–9 France Wales 22–21 Australia
England Australia 12–6 England New Zealand 13–6 Scotland
South Africa South Africa 15–12
New Zealand France 19–9 England
Wales Australia 35–12 France South Africa 22–18 New Zealand
Australia England 20–17
Australia New Zealand 40–13 France
New Zealand

Other Tournaments

Major international competitions in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere are the Six Nations Championship and the Tri Nations Series, respectively.

Six Nations

The Six Nations is an annual competition involving England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The modern tournament traces its roots to the first ever international game, when England lost by one goal to Scotland at Inverleith Park, adjacent to Raeburn Place, Edinburgh in 1871. In the 1880s, Wales and Ireland joined to create the Home International Championships. France joined the tournament in the 1900s and in 1910 the term Five Nations first appeared. However, the Home Nations (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) excluded France in 1931 amid a run of poor results, allegations of professionalism (rugby union was officially amateur until 1995) and concerns over on-field violence. France then rejoined in 1939-1940, though World War II halted proceedings for a further eight years. France has played in all the tournaments since World War II, the first one of which was played in 1947. In 2000, Italy became the sixth nation in the contest.

Tri nations

The Tri Nations is an annual international rugby union series held between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The IRB has been brokering a deal which could see Argentina admitted to the competition in 2008.[5] Amid all the rugby union competitions there are additional Tests between international teams, which usually take place between September and December and then June and August. These are played by the major rugby union nations on a home or away basis.


Rugby union was played at four of the first seven modern Summer Olympic Games. The sport debuted at the 1900 Paris games, featured at the London games in 1908, the Antwerp games in 1920 and the Paris games in 1924. Shortly after the 1924 games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) cancelled rugby union as an Olympic sport. There have been numerous attempts to bring the sport back to the Olympic program. The most recent have been for the inclusion of the sevens version of the sport, which is played at similar competitions such as the Commonwealth Games. The IOC however, has thus far not re-instated any form of rugby union. The sport was introduced by Pierre de Coubertin, who is famous for reviving the modern Olympics. He also helped to establish rugby in France. Rugby union would not be featured until the second Olympiad.

In 1900, France won the gold, beating Great Britain 27 points to eight. Rugby union was not played at the 1904 games in St. Louis, nor at the 1906 Intercalated Games, but was included in 1908, when the Olympics were held in the sport's native country of Greece. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) was involved in the organization of the sport at this edition of the Olympics. In 1908, three teams entered: Australasia (representing Australia and New Zealand), France, and Great Britain (which included the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland). Australasia defeated Great Britain, claiming the gold medal, winning by a score of 32 points to 3. At the 1920 games in Antwerp, the U.S., featuring many players new to the sport of rugby, caused a shock by winning the only match eight points to zero, with all points scored in the second half. The sport was again included in the subsequent 1924 games in Paris, with the U.S. team defeating France 17 to 3, becoming the only team to win gold twice in the sport. The IOC removed the sport following the Paris Games. Pierre de Coubertin stepped down after 1925, which may have also hurt the sport's chances for inclusion. At the 1936 Games in Berlin, there was an exhibition tournament held, with France, Germany, Italy and Romania competing. In 1976, 22 African countries and Guyana boycotted the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, after their demand to have New Zealand excluded was not met. A New Zealand rugby team had toured South Africa, which had been banned from the Olympics since 1964 because of its apartheid politics. Since Rugby union was not an Olympic sport, the IOC declined to exclude New Zealand.


  1. [1] IRB list of approved equipment. International Rugby Board accessdate 2007-02-26
  2. Garth Hamilton Black and white and grey,2007-06-18 The Roar accessdate 2007-08-31
  3. amlinkevents.comEvents Amlink Technologies. accessdate 2007-03-17
  4. Tim Harcourt. From the World Trade Organization to the Rugby World Cup: how the Wallabies can help Australia exports
  5. Nick Cain. 2007-02-25 [2] Ambitious Argentina poised to secure TriNations place. The Sunday Times. accessdate 2007-02-26

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External links

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