We’re talking about Rugby this week so it seems right to actually explain how its played. No, Rugby is not Football without pads. Yes, it is rumored to have its origins on a soccer pitch at Rugby College in England. Actually, versions of the game go back hundreds of years despite only being codified in 1845.
Despite being even less popular in the USA than soccer, it is a surprisingly simple game to be able to follow as a spectator. The best way I know to explain it is to imagine 30 grown men, on a big field, playing an organized version of kill the man with the ball. The basics are simple. With the ball in your hand you can run wherever you’d like, generally your teammates will be disappointed with you though if you run any direction other than forward toward the goal (called a try) zone. You can kick the ball forward as well but you can never throw the ball forward, only backward. You’re free to kick the ball backward as well but again, your teammates will be very angry with you if you do that. When you have the ball and are tackled (again, your teammates will have preferred the ball to have been passed backward to someone else) you are allotted one quick motion and must let go of the ball almost immediately. If no one is around you are more than welcome to pick the ball up again and continue running but chances are that this is not the case. Some of your teammates are probably right behind you (having been looking for that pass) and some of the opposing team are in front of you as you lays helpless on the ground. Pretty soon these two groups of big, burly men will run into eachother, forming a ‘ruck’ right above you, as you lay trying to protect your helmet less head and face from the array of steel-toed rugby cleats.
One group (hopefully your teammates who if your lucky have forgiven you for not passing the ball and making them ruck/work) will push the other out of the way and someone else will pick up the ball and the cycle will start again, hopefully with a little more passing this time.
This is how the game is played. Cycle after cycle, ruck after ruck. It is grueling but it is a good time, exceptional workout, and a phenomenal way to geft out frustration. At any time, any player on the field can carry the ball, tackle, ruck, kick, pass, or bounce the ball to drop-kick it through the uprights for a 3 point field goal. To score a 5 point try you must not only get the ball to the opposing teams try-zone (just like in football) but you must also touch the ball to the ground. If you get tackled first, tough luck. If you touch the ball way out by the sideline, guess what, your team’s kicker has to kick for the 2 point conversion (think extra point) from just as close to the sideline as you touched the ball down to the ground. This means that merely scoring will not leave your teammates happy with you if your team needed all 7 (that’s 5 and 2) of those precious points.
But that’s not all there is to the game. Sometimes the ball goes out of bounds and needs to be thrown back in. To do this in Rugby the team that didn’t take it out of bounds gets to throw it but the thrower must throw the ball straight down a one meter “tunnel” between the two teams. The thrower must throw it straight, no favoritism, but can throw it as far as he wants which means only his team knows how far its going. Both teams will hoist players into the air to fight and contend for the ball with the ground remaining far below. Sometimes players do stupid things like throw the ball forward, or just miss catching it and knock it forward with their outstretched fingers. There are tons of penalties that can be called and when they are one of two things happens. Either the other team gets the ball with a free 10 meters to run before the offending team can touch them, or there is a scrum. A scrum is a more organized form of the ruck where half of each time literally butts shoulders with the other. Like I said, this is organized even though it might not look it. One player, the scrum-half, on the team awarded the scrum (the non-offending team) places the ball into the middle of the scrum on the side of the scrum that gives his team the advantage in hooking the ball. The player front and center of of each teams scrum is the hooker and the hooker with his leg hooks the ball once its thrown into the scrum toward the back of the scrum. In the back of the scrum the scrum-half again is the one to touch the ball, taking it out and passing it to his teammate when he sees fit.
Generally, Rugby is a surprisingly simple sport to both watch and play. It can get confusing when watching scrums and line-outs (the ball being thrown back in bounds) for the first time but hopefully this far from complete outline helps you to think of rugby as more than just football without pads.