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Rugby for Dummies

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MARCH 11, 2013

With Cal’s rugby season going as spectacularly as it is, it’s hard to not get caught up in the excitement of watching our team win every single game. Unfortunately, many of the fans that show up to these rugby matches only come to watch the fast paced colliding of clavicles and understand little of the scoring or rules. Rugby is a very complicated sport, incorporating aspects of football, soccer, wrestling and even gymnastics. We’ve created a short introduction to rugby, in order to give some clarity to the madness that is rugby.

The Objective

There are four ways of scoring in rugby:

A try — Similar to a touchdown in football, except in rugby, the players have to literally touch the ball to the ground in the other team’s in-goal area or goal line. If a team is able  to accomplish this, they also get a chance to score points with a conversion kick. A try is worth 5 points.

The Dropped Goal — Given the shape of the rugby ball, this is very difficult to accomplish. The player has to drop the ball on the ground and kick it after it bounces. Worth three points if successful but more often than not it only results in the other team getting the ball.

The Conversion Kick — Kind of like a field goal, except worth two points and kicked from the last place the ball was grounded. The ball just has to go between the uprights to count as a goal.

Penalty Kick — Like a penalty kick in soccer, awarded for various infractions of the rules. Worth three points and identical in form to the Conversion kick.

The Four “Events”

So now that we understand what the objective of the game is, the players have a few ways of getting to where they can score points. While the majority of the game is played by someone carrying the ball, trying to force his/her way past the defense to the goal, complexity arises when the ball is out of play or in contested possession. Two important thing to note is that tackling in rugby requires the tackling player to release the player they tackle, who then releases the ball. Also, offside is called when a player is in front of a teammate who last played the ball or behind the ball when the opposite team has it. Infractions of these and other rules results in the following:

Lineout — Very much like a throw-in in soccer, a line-out takes places when the ball gets out of bounds. Both teams line up on opposite sides of the field and the ball is thrown down the line in between them. Then gymnastics comes into play when each team lifts up one of the players (often the lock) to try and get the ball.

Maul — Capturing the very essence of rugby, a maul is just one man holding the ball while two opposing players are holding him. Then players on both teams latch on to this amorphous group of arms and try to push the ball in the direction of the other teams goal line. So much fun to watch, but not so much fun to be the ball carrier in the middle.

Ruck — When one or more players from a team come into contact and the ball is on the ground, the players can no longer use their hands to get the ball. They must remain standing and use only their feet to gain possession.

Scrum — After minor infractions, a scrum determines who will get possession of the ball. Eight players from each team bind together and push against the other team, and the ball is rolled on the ground between the two teams. The hookers of each team try to use their feet to gain control of the ball while it is on the ground. Watching this play is just plain scrumptious.

The Positions

The Backs

These guys are like the defensive wall and their job is to stop the other team. They are usually smaller and faster than the forwards, because they have to be able to catch anyone who is running to get a try (more on that soon). They are:

The Fullback — For the football enthusiasts, this guy is exactly what he sounds like. The last line of defense, he has to be faster than a hummingbird and pack a bigger punch than a rhinoceros.

The Wingers — Positioned on opposite sides of the field, they must also be extremely fast, to prevent the other team’s forwards from getting any gains.

The Centers — They serve as defense on the inside of the Wings.

The Halfbacks — The brains of any execution, their job is to support the forward while maintaining the first line of defense.

The Forwards

Also, known as the pack, they are the team’s scorers. They are normally bigger and stronger and rely on force to push to the goal line. They are:

The Rugby Union went and got really creative in naming him. Number 8 is … The Eighth-man! His duties involve adding his weight to a scrum, jumping or lifting during a line-out and carrying the ball in attempts to break the other team’s defensive line.

The Hooker — Please refrain from making any kind of prostitution joke about the Hooker. As the center man in the front row of the scrum, he is huge and he will hurt you. In a scrum, the Hooker’s job is to “hook” the ball with his foot. The Hooker also throws the ball in from a line-out.

The Props — The Props support the Hooker, aiding in a scrum by applying force at the Hooker’s long arms. Together, they form a kind of battering ram to break the other team’s defensive line and gain meters. Yes, meters. Yards are for football.

The Flankers — Their primary goal is to tackle the opposing ball carrier and try to steal the ball. In a scrum, they bind loosely to the sides, and stop the opposing team’s eighth-man from making a break away on the blind side of the scrum.

The Locks — They are tall, and have to be able to catch. Their most important duty is catching the ball in a line-out.

So there you have it. Now the next time you go to a rugby game, you’ll know exactly why Cal is the best, or you can at least pretend you know what you’re talking about by throwing out some of the fancy terms we introduced. And you’ll know better than to walk up to the Hooker and ask, “how much for a throw?”

Image Source: ghirson, under Creative Commons


Contact Kamin Kahrizi at 


MARCH 10, 2013