The Kalamazoo Mens Rugby Football club  

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Team & Player Positions

The Field & Equipment

Basic Rules & Penalties

Playing the Game

After the Game

Rugby has two major variations, Rugby Union and Rugby League. Union was the first version; League originated from Union and has much different set of rules. Since Union is the version played by the Dogs & the most prevalent throughout the sport, the following material will focus on Union rules.

Some interesting reading on the history of the game will be posted soon sometime on a History of Rugby page.

Teams & Player Positions

The most popular & traditional version of rugby has 15 players per side and is played for 2 40-minute halves. A scaled-down version with 7 players per side & 7 minute halves is common in tournament play. A third and least common version of the game has 10 players per side.

Regardless of the number of players, the positions on the field can be divided into 2 categories: forwards & backs. Forwards tend to be the big & strong types as their roles involve a lot of close-in physical play. Backs tend to be the fast & dexterous types as their roles involve a lot of running & passing. However, a key aspect of rugby is that any player has the same rights & responsibilities in open play. That is, any player can carry the ball, tackle, ruck, maul, kick or just about anything else that the game requires.

Following is a list of all 15 positions, by jersey number, along with a brief role description. Positions 1-8 are forwards, 9-15 are backs.

Position Description
#1 Loosehead Prop Supports the hooker in scrums & the jumpers in lineouts. Called loosehead because in scrums his head is outside that of the opposing prop. 
#2 Hooker Hooks (heels) the ball back in scrums; throws the ball into lineouts. By far the best position name in the game.
#3 Tighthead Prop Similar duties as the loosehead prop. Called tighthead because in scrums his head fits between the opposing loosehead prop & hooker.
#4 Lock Provides the main drive in scrums & wins the ball in lineouts. Usually the tallest players on the field. Also known as "second row".
#5 Lock See #4
#6 Flanker Pursues the ball in loose play & supports the jumpers in lineouts. Some teams designate a right & left flanker, while others designate one to always play closest to the touch side (blindside) and the other to always play the opposite side (openside). Also known as "wing forward".
#7 Flanker See #6. 
#8 Number 8 Provides the scrum-half with clean ball from the base of the scrums & attacks from the same position. Also known as "8 man".
#9 Scrum Half Passes the ball out from scrums & rucks, thus requiring good hands and sharp decision-making abilities.
#10 Fly Half A play-maker who elects to pass the ball to the backs, kick for position, or charge up the field. Often the team's designated kicker at goal.
#11 Left Wing A speed demon whose job is to get the ball on the outside & outrun the opposition to the try line.
#12 Inside Centre A physical back who can advance the ball in traffic, creating holes for his mates to exploit.
#13 Outside Centre Similar to the inside centre, but with more focus on speed vs. power.
#14 Right Wing See #11
#15 Fullback Provides a last line of defense against running attacks & tactical kicks from the other team. Also rushes in to provide an extra attacker when the situation is right.

The Field & Equipment

The rugby field is known as the “pitch”. It measures 100 meters long by 69 meters wide (that’s 108 yards by 75 yards for you non-metric types). A H-shaped goalpost is placed at each try line. The posts are 5.6 meters apart with the crossbar set at 3 meters. The height of the posts varies.

Here is a diagram of a pitch with the important lines marked:

A: Solid line 50 meters from either try line.

B: Dashed lines 10 meters from half-line used to judge kickoffs

C: Solid lines 22 meters from either try line

D: Solid try or goal lines. The crossbars sit on this line.

E. Solid dead-ball lines, 10 to 22 meters behind try line

F: Dashed lines 5 meters parallel to the touch line for line-out zones

G: Dashed lines 15 meters parallel to the touch line for line-out zones

Compared to other contact sports such as American football & hockey, rugby players (“ruggers”) wear very little protective equipment. The mandatory rugby uniform consists of a jersey, shorts, socks & cleat footwear (“boots”). Optional protective equipment includes mouth guards, soft headgear (“scrum caps”), shin guards, and light padding (approx 1 cm compressed) around the torso & shoulders. While many ruggers still forgo the extra equipment (with the possible exception of the mouth guard), usage of scrum caps & shoulder padding is gaining popularity & acceptance.

Basic Rules & Penalties

Despite its appearance as a chaotic game, rugby has many rules, which are known as “laws”. Here are a few which truly shape the game: 

  1. Any player ahead of the ball (i.e., between the ball and his own goal line) may not participate or influence the game. This is known as “offside”. From this law are derived several others:

    1. No forward passes, as the receiver is by definition offside. The ball may only be advanced forward by run or kick. 

    2. No blocking or “obstruction” by the same logic

    3. When the ball is kicked, any player ahead of the kick is immediately offside until they get behind either the kicker or someone who was behind the kicker at the kick.

  2. Dropping or fumbling the ball forward is called a knock-on and is also prohibited.

  3. Only the ball carrier may be tackled.

    1. When tackled to the ground, the ball carrier must release the ball. 

    2. Likewise, the tackler must release the ball carrier.

The full updated laws of rugby union can be found at the International Rugby Board website by clicking here. The IRB is the governing body for rugby union.

A single referee runs on the field following the ball to enforce the laws. The referee is also responsible for tracking game time, stopping the game for injuries, signaling scores, and various other duties. Two “touch judges” working from the sidelines assist the referee by marking where the ball goes out of bounds (“out of touch”), which team controls the subsequent lineouts, the success (or failure) of goal kicks, and other procedural matters.

Minor infractions, such as knock-ons or forward passes, result in a scrum awarded to the other team. The referee, however, may elect not to stop the game if the non-offending team has the ball in a favorable situation at that moment. This is known as playing with “advantage”. The referee may elect to halt play & call the scrum when it appears the advantage is over.

Serious infractions, such as offside & violent/dangerous play, result in a penalty. The referee will indicate a “mark” where the penalty occurred & the offending team must immediately retreat 10 meters. The non-penalized team now has several ways in which to take advantage of the penalty:

  • If the mark is within the team kicker’s range, the kicker may attempt an uncontested place kick. If successful this scores 3 points and play is restarted in the same manner as any other score. If unsuccessful, the penalized team must still give the ball back to the other team by a drop kick from behind its own 22-meter line. This is known as a “22-meter dropout”.

  • They may “tap kick” the ball through the mark & then immediately hand it off to one of their team, usually one of a charging pack of forwards.

  • They may kick the ball out of touch & receive the ball for the subsequent line-out.

Penalties involving violent or dangerous play can earn a more serious punishment: the referee may send the offending player off the field for a time (the “sin bin” - during which his team must play short-handed), or he may eject the player from the game altogether.

Playing the Game

Game Start: The game begins with one team kicking off to the other. The ball is kicked from the 50-meter line & must travel at least 10 meters & land in bounds. From that point, the game is continuous & will restart as soon as possible after any stoppage of play. There are no timeouts in rugby.

Halftime: at the end of the first half, the referee stops the game for a 5-minute break. The teams switch sides and the team that received the ball to start the game kicks off to start the second half.

Scoring: there are only 2 ways to score in rugby: by carrying the ball across the goal line & touching it to the ground (known as a “try”) and by kicking the ball through the goal posts.

  • A try is worth 5 points, and the scoring team is allowed to attempt a conversion kick after the try for an additional 2 points. The conversion kick is made from the 22-meter line (see pitch diagram) from a point perpendicular to where the ball was touched down. Therefore the total scoring potential from a try is 7 points.

  • Any other kick (whether by drop kick or penalty kick) through the posts is worth 3 points

  • After a score, the scored-upon team kicks the ball off to the scoring team (except in Sevens matches).

Rucks & Mauls: as the ball carrier runs upfield, he will likely be tackled fairly quickly. At the point of tackle, either a ruck or a maul will develop as one or more players from each team attempt to push the other team back & keep or gain possession of the ball. The primary difference between the two situations is whether the ball is on the ground (ruck) or off the ground (maul). Ideally, a team’s forwards will do most of the rucking & mauling, freeing the backs up to establish an attack line or a defensive line against the other team’s backs. However, as noted above, both forwards & backs must be skilled in rucking & mauling.

With either a ruck or maul, an imaginary offside line is created behind the last player from either team in the ruck/maul. Any player who is not already bound into the ruck/maul may only enter the play from behind this line. Failure to observe this rule results in a penalty awarded to the other team.  

Following is a diagram of a ruck with the offside lines indicated:

The orange player in the upper left wishes to join in the ruck but he is currently offside. In order to enter the ruck, he must circle behind the last man and bind in from the back side. 

On the other hand, the blue team is winning possession of the ball and wants to set up for an offensive phase of play. The blue player at lower left must set up for a pass behind the offside line; anyone ahead of the line cannot take a pass or influence the game unless he is onside.

Scrums: if anything is the signature play of rugby, it’s the scrum. Done properly, it’s a wonder of power, leverage & teamwork rolled into one. Here’s how it works: the 8 forwards (known as the “pack”) from each team bind together in a very specific manner (see diagram below). The other team’s pack does likewise. Upon the referee’s command, the two packs slam into each other at the front line of each pack (props & hooker). As the packs maintain constant pressure, the scrum-half from the team awarded the scrum rolls the ball on the ground into the tunnel between the two front lines from his loose-head prop’s side. As the ball enters the tunnel, both packs attempt to drive the other backward while the hookers attempt to heel the ball backward. As it becomes clear which pack is winning the scrum, the scrum-half from that team will run to the back of the pack to pick up the ball & resume play, usually with a pass out to the fly-half.

The scrum establishes the same kind of offside line as does a ruck or maul. That is, any players not in the scrum must be behind the last man in it, which is typically the 8-man. Scrum-halfs are considered part of the scrum.

Following is a diagram of a scrum with the offside lines indicated:

Once again, the blue player in the lower left - let's say it's the fly half - must set up for a pass behind the Number 8 man.

Here's a side view of the Dogs scrummaging vs. the Toronto Boars. Notice the Boars' scrum-half ready to roll the ball in from his loosehead's side. The Dog standing & guarding him (Jay) is our scrum-half.

Lineouts: the lineout procedure is used only when the ball travels out of touch. Once again, it’s a play for the forwards. They line up in two rows perpendicular to the touch line at about an arm’s reach apart. The number of players in the lineout may vary. Once the lines are established, the hooker from the team who did not take the ball out of touch controls the lineout. He will call a signal indicating which person on his team is his target. Then he throws the ball overhand straight down the tunnel between the two lines. Once the ball is in the air, both lines will jump for it.

Back Play: so what do the backs do while the forwards scrum, lineout, ruck & maul? Relax, get some water, chat…no, seriously, they set up for their next phase of play, which may be offensive or defensive depending on which team wins the ball.

In a defensive alignment, the backs form a straight line across the pitch with each man lined up across from an attacking back. When the ball is passed out from the forwards, the defending backs charge toward the attackers while maintaining the straight line. The idea is to shut down the attack as quickly as possible while avoiding the creation of any gaps in the defensive line that the attackers can exploit.

In an offensive alignment, the backs form a diagonal line across the pitch. The idea is that as the ball-carrying back runs upfield, he will have mates running with him to whom he can pass the ball (remember, all passes are lateral or backward). Ball carriers & their teammates can also use stunts to advance the ball. The two most common stunts are the loop and the switch. In a loop, the ball carrier passes the ball & then immediately runs behind & around the receiver in order to receive another pass himself. In a switch, the receiver makes a hard cut toward & behind the passer, effectively reversing the flow of play. Both plays attempt to catch the defenders off-guard & create a gap in the defensive line.

Following is a diagram of two opposing back lines in a scrum situation. Notice the offside lines again. 


The blue pack is winning the ball, so the blue backs line up to attack in the next phase of play. Notice the fullback (15) has moved into the attack line to create an overload. The orange defenders have moved out to cover each attacker from the outside in. Now orange must rely on its flanker to take out the blue fly-half (10). Orange's fullback must remain back in case blue crashes through or kicks the ball deep.

Kicking: we know from reading earlier that the game calls for a kick in certain situations, such as the start of the game & after tries. The team will designate a kicker for these situations. However, rugby also permits kicking in open play – and by any player! Here are a few examples:

  • Grubber – the ball carrier will kick the ball forward on the ground past the defenders who are rushing toward him. Remember, he can’t be tackled without the ball! After the kick, he & his mates will attempt to outrun the defenders to recover the ball. Since the attackers have forward momentum when kicking, this is sometimes an effective way to break through the defensive line.

  • Chip – this has the same tactical purpose as a grubber, but the kick is booted in the air over the defenders instead of on the ground. The kicker will attempt to catch the ball before it hits the ground or on a bounce so that he can maintain full forward momentum.

  • Up & Under – the ball carrier will kick the ball high into the air but not very far. This puts a great deal of pressure on the defenders to catch & hold the ball in the face of the onrushing kicking team.

  • Defensive kick – if the ball carrier is within his own 22-meter line, his team is obviously in a tight spot. Therefore, the ball carrier may kick the ball away to lessen the pressure. If the ball goes out of touch without contact from any players, the other team will get a lineout at the point that it went out. So a kick from behind the 22-meter line will turn the ball over to the other team, but hopefully at some distance away (analogous to the punt in American football). The same play can be made anywhere on the field, but if it’s done ahead of the 22-meter line & goes out of touch without contacting the ground or another player, the other team is awarded the line-out at the point of kick, thus negating any advantage from the kick.

  • Drop kick at goal – a ball carrier may attempt to drop kick the ball through the goal posts while running (a drop kick means the ball must hit the ground before the kicker’s foot touches it). If successful, this scores 3 points. However, this is difficult to do and is rarely attempted in the amateur game.

After the Game

Despite its intense & competitive nature on the field, rugby is a very friendly & social game off the field. Any hostilities developed during the game are left on the field. In amateur rugby, it’s traditional for the home team to host the visitors for food & drinks after the game. During this post-game social event, players rehash the game over a few cold ones and coaches recognize individuals for outstanding play.

Copyright (c) Kalamazoo Dogs 2005

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