How to Play Rugby

by Siraj

Two Parts:

  • Before You Play
  • The Basics of the Game

Rugby is a fun-filled, fast paced sport. Playing rugby can lead to all kinds of health benefits like cardiovascular fitness and endurance, strength in upper and lower body, agility, speed, ball handling and kicking skills, weight loss and lots more. It's also a great way to have fun with your friends and make new ones.

Part 1 of 2: Before You Play


Learn the game. It’s a lot harder to play a game you don’t understand. Make sure that you understand the game of rugby before trying to play. There are a variety of ways that that you can learn more about rugby and a thorough understanding and appreciation for the game will make your experience much more enjoyable.

    • Understand the rules and mechanics. Learn how the game is played, in terms of the basic goals, rules, and methods. What type of ball is used? How is the ball passed? How do you score? How can players interact? These are important things to know. You can learn some of these things from this article but you may wish to study further by reading the official game rules or getting a book on rugby. There are also a number of helpful websites which can teach you more about the game.
    • Watch games. This is the best way to learn about rugby. It is also the most fun! Watch local and professional teams’ matches or practices in order to see how the game is played. You can also watch matches on television or recordings such as DVDs. Watching how a game is played in real life or through recordings allows you to see the intricacies of the sport.


Warm up. It is important to warm up before any physical activity. This allows you to increase blood flow and prepare your muscles. Warming up before playing will decrease the likelihood of muscle strain or injury, as well as improve your performance during play.

    • Stretch. Carefully and gently move your muscles in the ways that you will move them while playing. A standing quad stretch, standing calf stretch, and seated thigh stretch are good examples of warm ups for this kind of activity.
    • Run. Running is an excellent way to warm up for rigorous physical activity. Begin by walking briskly for 5 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of light jogging to prepare yourself for running.
    • Coordination exercises. Do coordination exercises in order to improve your performance, as well as improving your day-to-day life. Better coordination helps on and off the field. Coordination exercises include any exercises where one part of your body is moving in the opposite direction from another part of your body or any exercises which include two different simultaneous movements. Jump rope and racquet sports are good examples.  Eye coordination and agility exercises may also be a good idea.
    • Hydrate. Hydration is essential in physical activity. When you exercise, your body sweats in response to the activity. This sweat is largely made up of water. Your muscles also require water in order to work. In order to combat the loss of and increased use of water during exercise, it is important to stay well hydrated throughout the day but especially right before activity. 
    • Get electrolytes. The other essential nutrients used and expelled by your body during exercise are salt and potassium. Together and along with a few other nutrients, these are referred to as electrolytes. Salt especially helps in the regulation of blood pressure, as well as helping to conduct electrical signals in the body. Replenish lost electrolytes during activity by consuming sports drinks or eating particular foods, like bananas, which are high in potassium.


Set up. Prepare players and a field in order to play. You will need a place to play the game as well as people to play with, as rugby is a team sport and not one that you can play by yourself. Be sure that you have all the necessary equipment, people, and a properly sized field before you begin playing.

    • Find a field. Rugby can be played in any large field, so long as it is relatively flat. The size of the field will largely depend upon how seriously you intend to play. If you wish to simply play the game with a few friends, a local park with any large field may be enough. However, if you wish to play a proper match, you will need a field appropriate for this. Contact your local Parks and Recreation department or a local rugby club to find out about proper fields in your area.
    • Get equipment. Rugby requires a certain amount of equipment. Wear clothing which is lightweight and flexible, and cleat-type shoes if possible. More serious players may wish to wear protective gear, such as chest padding, a helmet, and a mouth guard, but this may not be necessary for a simple game between friends. You will also need a ball and something to mark the goals. A proper field may have goals built in but you can use something as basic as rocks or trees if playing a simple game.
    • Gather players. You will want to gather people to play with you. If you want to play a simple game, play with friends or family members. If you are a student, there may be others at your school interested in a basic game as well. If you want to play a more serious game, you can recruit your friends into a proper team or you can contact local clubs to find out about joining or forming a team. Other players can be the same or different ages and genders for informal games. More formal matches may require players to be the same gender or age-group, however.
    • Form teams. Once you have enough players, form two teams. Rugby teams generally have 15 players, so you will need to gather 30 people in total. This number will be necessary for a proper match but may be negotiable for a more informal game. Make sure the teams are balanced in order to ensure a better, more satisfying game.

Part 2 of 2: The Basics of the Game


Field. The rugby field will depend upon what is available to you and the needs of the players. There are, however, official descriptions for a rugby field. There are two goals at either end of a field. The distance between the two goals should be roughly 157 yard (143.6 m) or less, with an in-goal area behind each goal that should not exceed 25 yard (22.9 m). The field should be 77 yard (70.4 m) wide or less. The opening of the goal should be 6.1 yard (5.6 m) across, with a bar located 3.3 yard (3.0 m) above the ground. The field is then further divided by a center line and two sidelines and dead ball lines beyond which the ball is out of play. The dead ball lines are two lines beyond the 25 yard (22.9 m) in-goal area at each end of the field.


Gameplay terminology. There are certain terms for aspects of gameplay which are necessary to know in order to understand the rules and methods of the game. This terminology may be difficult to understand, so don't be afraid to research further.  Video examples can often be found online.

    • Scrums. Scrums are used to restart gameplay, usually after a minor rule infraction, but they can also be awarded after a penalty. A scrum is essentially a test of strength. In a scrum, 8 players from each team weave themselves together in rows to create a unified mass. The two teams then go head-to-head, each pushing against the other, with a tunnel formed on the ground in between them. A remaining member of the team who was awarded the scrum then tosses the ball into this tunnel. The player at the head of each group then attempts to gain possession of the ball by hooking it with his legs and kicking it backwards to be retrieved by his teammates. While these players are attempting to gain possession of the ball, the rest of the players push against each other to attempt to help their team and hinder the other.
    • Rucks. A occurs usually after a tackle. When a player and ball hit the ground, a ruck forms as members of each team crowd around the fallen player to attempt to gain control of the ball. Players may not use their hands to remove the ball from the ruck. Instead the ball must be kicked out towards the other players. It is also important to note that any players beyond the initial two must join the ruck from the back only, not through the sides.
    • Mauls. Mauls are similar to rucks but occur when players are upright, rather than on the ground. If the ball is not making progress, the maul will often end in the awarding of scrum to the team not in possession when the maul began.
    • Line-outs. When the ball is kicked or thrown from the play area, the referee will generally call for a line-out. The forwards of each team form a line, one meter apart, at the point where the ball exited play. Then the ball is tossed between them, usually by the hooker of the team who did not remove the ball from play. The forwards then attempt to gain possession of the ball. Players will often lift each other in order to help gain possession of the ball.


Player positions. Divide the players. Each team should have eight forwards and seven backs. The role of the forwards is to gain possession of the ball and the role of the backs is to move the game forward by running or kicking the ball. Forwards are generally large, heavy and strong. Backs, however, are generally light and fast. These traits allow them to play their positions better than those without these traits. It is in your best interest to distribute your players, as best you can, to these body type positions. The players will be organized in rows when the play begins.

    • Forward first row. The first row contains three players: the hooker, the loose head prop, and the tight head prop. The role of the hooker is to gain possession of the ball during scrums and usually throw the ball in at line-outs. The role of the loose and tight head props is to support the hooker during scrums, support other players during line-outs and provide strength during rucks and mauls.
    • Forward second row. The second row consists of two locks. These are the tallest players in the team and are generally used in line-outs to gain possession of the ball. They are also used for forward power in scrums.
    • Forward back row. The back row of forwards consists of three players: two flankers and a number 8. These players make up the back row in scrums and serve mainly to control the ball once a hooker has gained possession.
    • Half-backs. This consists of two players: the scrum-half, who acts as a middleman between forwards and backs, and the fly-half who generally serves as the team’s goal kicker.
    • Three quarters. There are four three quarters positions. All four serve to tackle attacking members of the opposite team, as well as complete tries and other maneuvers.
    • Fullbacks. There is a single player in this row, the fullback. He serves as his team’s last line of defense, catching balls kicked by the opposition and well as tackling any member of the opposing team who manages to break through the previous lines.


Starting the game. This is traditionally started by coin toss, in order to determine which team will have first possession of the ball. You can toss coins or decide who starts in some other manner. Positioned at the center of the field, the team which has first possession will then kick the ball towards the opposition. Players then proceed to attempt to gain possession of the ball and score points.


Offense. The goal of the offense is to score points. They will attempt to advance the ball towards the opponent's goal line. Players will move the ball across the field by passing or kicking to teammates, but it is important to note that the ball can only be passed backwards. The ball must also be released upon tackling.


Defense. The driving idea of rugby defense is that if the other team has the ball, get them. It is largely about getting and keeping the ball in one's team's possession. Tackling is permitted but players are only allowed to tackle the person currently in possession of the ball.


Scoring. Points can be scored in a few different ways. One method is by scoring a try. Worth five points, a try is scored when a player grounds the ball between the goal line and the dead ball line. The other methods involve scoring a goal. A goal is scored when a player kicks the ball through the goal, passing between the uprights and above the crossbar. There are a few methods of scoring a goal:

    • A conversion occurs after a try. If a try is made, the team is awarded a free kick. A conversion can be from either a drop-kick or a place kick. This type of goal is worth 2 points.
    • A dropped goal is when the ball is kicked through the goals during open play. With this type of goal, the ball must hit the ground immediately before it is kicked. This type of goal is worth 3 points.
    • A penalty goal is awarded to a team after the opposing team has committed an infraction against the rugby laws. This kick can be made either from a stationary ground position or by a drop-kick. This type of goal is worth 3 points. 


Penalties. There are several ways in which a penalty may be earned. Some minor infractions will likely result only in a scrum being awarded to the other team. Others may cause a referee to take more serious action, such a removing a player.

    • Common offences include incorrect tackling, collapsing a scrum, ruck or maul, holding the ball when on the ground, and entering rucks and mauls incorrectly.
    • The team awarded the penalty has several options. They can take a kick or punt, which will allow them to gain field position. They can also take a free kick at the goal or they can take a scrum.


Winning. A rugby match is 80 minutes long and is divided into two 40 minute sections (teams switch field sides at halftime). Time is stopped during injuries and timeouts. Whichever team has the highest number of points wins the game.