Maybe you watched part of a game at your high school, or maybe you’ve happened upon a match while channel surfing. Rugby is much more simple to understand than most people think, and much more fun to play than most people would believe. Following is an explanation of the game in what seems to be the simplest form, by comparison to other sports.We will begin with football, even though in reality football was rugby, but America started changing the rules around 1917. After a few years we changed enough rules that the rest of the world refused to let us play, and football was born. Rugby is best explained as football with four major differences.
First, there are no downs. In other words, the game doesn’t stop between plays and there is no switch between offense and defense. This gives rugby a continuous flow and gives players the opportunity to be active in all aspects of their team.
Next, you cannot block for teammates. This ensures that the man with the ball is competing against every player on the other team. Because of this, your teammates become essential to your success (see rule three) and playing aggressively when confronted and outnumbered becomes the norm.
Thirdly, it is illegal to pass forward. Most people are familiar with this rule. By comparison to football, this rule means there are no “star players.” Players run in a staggered row (see figure one) passing the ball backward; thus, if your teammates aren’t right behind you shouting that they want that ball, then you better prepare to get hit. Teammates rely on one another directly at every turn.
Lastly, there are no pads. This rule sets rugby apart from the other contact sports. A player must wear a mouth guard and is allowed to wear a cup. That’s it! Essentially you are playing against fifteen sets of elbows, knees, fists and cleats (not to mention fifteen skulls) with nothing to protect you but your wits and your team.
With the very basics explained we will move on to some things that you will see in a rugby game that are nothing like other sports you have seen before. There are four, and the thing that may take some getting used to are the names.
A scrum is what begins the game and usually is what the referee will use to continue after a penalty. Eight players, (the big ones) from each team, bind together at the shoulders, (see figure two) and lean forward against their opponents. The ball is rolled through the middle of this human cave and the teams both push against each other to get the ball.
When players run the ball and are tackled, they can’t keep the ball (remember that the play doesn’t stop). They must place it on the ground and is not allowed to touch it until they are back on their feet. This is referred to as a ruck. This means that the ball is up for grabs and players must hustle to get to the fallen player.
Once there, two or more players bind at the shoulders, lean forward and step over their fallen mate. This is a rucking over, and it keeps the other team away from the ball. If the other team is quick, they can form a ruck of their own and compete for that ball; which is basically a small, unorganized scrum. When players are running the ball, instead of tackling, it is legal to grab the player and hold them so teammates can rip the ball out of their hands. Players from both sides can join this weird wrestling match and rip, punch, grab and pull at anything they can find, as the referee cannot usually see what happens inside a maul, to help their team to win position.
A lineout is used when the ball goes out of bounds. This is like soccer, except instead of throwing the ball to a teammate, it must be contested for. Both teams have several players line up (see figure three) and the ball is thrown high and straight between the two lines. Two players from each line lift a teammate by his shorts into the air to try and catch the ball.
Now you know the basics of rugby. See, that wasn’t so hard. You are now equipped with all that is necessary to enjoy a game that is appreciated the world over. What’s more, you now have the chance to understand why rugby players deserve the credit they receive for being such tough athletes. West Chester plays on Saturdays around 1 p.m., so support your team and ask questions. Rugby fans are more than willing to explain anything you may not understand.