The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    The Rookie’s Guide to sports: Rugby

    Normally, a guy my size – 5’11’, 150 lbs – wouldn’t be considered a top candidate for a violent game like rugby. My scrawny arms waving in the wind would always guarantee I was picked last in gym class football, and now, several years later, I felt just as insecure as I stood on the sidelines of the Ade Olson addition in McPhee, nervously waiting for my first lesson on the English-invented, full contact frenzy.

    I had seen the basics on TV: players starting the match in relatively good health, then closing it out with bloody lips, bloody eyes, bloody arms … bloody everything, really. The thought of it alone was mortifying to me.

    Thankfully, my lesson – praise heaven – wasn’t nearly as brutal as I thought it would be. I actually ended up leaving with a decent understanding of the game’s ins and outs. So for all you people unfamiliar with phrases like “scrum,” “maul” or “ruck,” I encourage you to read on: this is rugby 101.

    (Disclaimer: To the actual rugby players that may be reading, please ignore any errors – I’m still new to this.)

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    The skinny

    Rugby, like American football, is played on a 110 yard field – called a pitch – with two end zones and goal posts on either end. The ball is similar to an American football, only fatter – sort of like a lemon on steroids. All players on the field must run, pass, kick and tackle. A typical match consists of two forty-minute halves.


    Teams are made up of 15 players, with seven on reserve. The number each player wears signifies their position. Numbers one through eight are forwards, and tend to be the stronger, larger players on the team whose main objective is to win the ball. Numbers nine through 15 are the backs, whose goal is to move the ball (sort of like a running back or wide receiver in American football.) These players tend to be the smaller, more agile ones on the team.


    The point of the game, as you may have guessed, is to get the ball into the opposing team’s end zone, which is known as a “try” (worth five points.)

    The game begins with a kickoff to the opposing team from midfield.

    Rugby’s play is continuous like soccer; there are no downs, and teams are not required to reach ten yards and stop.

    Instead, players move the ball down the field by running, passing or kicking. Here’s a brief breakdown of how each technique is executed:

    Running: Players continue to run the ball until they are tackled. Once tackled, the player must release the ball and roll out of the way, allowing other players to pick it up.

    Passing: Unlike American football, passing must be made backwardly or laterally – so no Hail Marys here. This is done most smoothly by lining up in a forty five degree angle with two or three teammates, then running and passing to the player behind you and continuing the pattern down the field.

    Kicking: A player may kick the ball forward at any time. Once it’s kicked, any player – regardless of their team – can gain possession. Kicks are used sparingly; usually as a way obtain better field position.

    Rucks and Mauls

    Rucks occur when a player is tackled. Once down, that player must make the ball available immediately so the play can continue. One player from each team congregates over the ball – they bind each other and attempt to push the other backwards. Once the ball emerges from beneath them, it may be picked up by another player. This ends the ruck, and play is continued.

    Mauls, on the other hand, are formed with a similar gathering of players. In this case, though, the player in possession of the ball is held up by an opponent, and one of their own teammates converge upon them. This creates “offside lines” at the feet of the last player on each side. Similar to a ruck, the maul continues as the players push from both sides, and finally ends when the ball emerges.


    As I mentioned earlier, five points are awarded for each try (or “touchdown” for the American in you.) Unlike American football, though, the ball must be touched to the ground inside the end zone for the try to count.

    Following a try, the kicker has an opportunity to score a conversion, which is worth two points. (This is like an extra point in American football.) The kicker makes the attempt at least ten meters out from where the ball was touched in the end zone.

    Penalty kicks can be attempted after a major violation, which is worth three points.

    Players can also drop kick the ball at any time through the arches – this is also worth three points.


    To me, this odd congregation has always stood out as the sport’s most intriguing element.

    A scrum – a bit like an American football line of scrimmage – is used to restart the game after a violation has been issued (sort of like a face-off in hockey … only much more intimate.)

    Similar to a ruck, a scrum consists of a set group of players from each team forming a tunnel. A player from the non-offending team rolls the ball into the middle of the tunnel, and each team pushes the other team forward until one player is able to “hook” the ball towards the back row with their feet. The back player, known as the “scrum half,” picks up the ball and puts it back into play.

    Whew … that was a lot of information. And believe it or not, there are still some parts I left out (namely, for the sake of space in this paper.)

    In any case, I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t yet checked out the sport to give it a shot. This was only a brief, brief introduction, and I’m sure someone with more knowledge of the sport than me (meaning anyone who isn’t me) would be happy to give you a hand.

    The main things to remember are this: it’s a full contact sport, the lingo is a bit odd and a personal space bubble doesn’t exist. It’s an overall fun game, as long as you don’t mind your teammates and opponents being all up in your business.

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    The Rookie’s Guide to sports: Rugby