The basics of rugby is probably one the hardest things to explain: especially since I have found, through my own experience, it is easier to learn while playing or watching. The most simplistic way to explain it is to call it a mixture of both soccer and football: except it is immensely better than those two. It wonderfully blends the fast intensity of soccer and mixes it with the gritty physicality of football minus the pads.

In normal rugby union play, a game takes roughly 80 minutes — two 40-minute halves of continuous play. There are 15 players to a team: eight forwards, who are the heftier strongmen on the field, and seven backs, the lighter skill positions responsible for a lot of the kicking and ball handling. Depending on the rules, each team is allowed to have a certain number of substitutions: international play only allows seven, but some places have as many as eight. When a player is substituted, like soccer, he is not able to return, unless it is a blood-sub, where a player leaves to fix an open wound.

Now, the most basic rule is that players can only pass backwards. Though kicking forward is allowed — mostly for positioning — passing can only be done laterally or backwards. If players pass it or drop the ball forward, the referee awards the opposing team a penalty. On most occasions, a knock on or forward pass results in a scrum. The scrum is when the eight forwards from both sides come together, bind in three rows and battle for possession of the ball. This is the most unusual aspect of the game — what people most associate with rugby, even if they have no idea how to explain it.

Next when a player is tackled, the tackler must wrap up: meaning all the illogical shoulder throwing in football is disallowed. On top of this, tacklers are not allowed to hit anywhere near the neck up. If they do so, it is a penalty: depending on the devastation of the hit, the referee could even award the hitter with a yellow or red card. The yellow card means the specific player has to sit out for ten minutes: and, like soccer, a red card results in an ejection from the game.

Now, when a player is tackled, a “ruck” forms over the tackled individual. This is basically just another way to contest possession: if the offensive team does not provide adequate support, the opposing players can poach the ball. It is a test of strength, with the offensive forwards making sure they keep possession to do another phase.

If a ball is kicked or the carrier is tackled out of bounds, then the opposing team immediately gets possession. This rule is probably the hardest to adjust to if you have played football. After, the team with possession must get the ball back in play with a line-out: this is the cheerleading part of the game, where bigger forwards lift smaller ones to capture a throw in from the hooker. It is the “hooker’s” job — yes, it is a real position — to chuck the ball straight down the lane between both teams.

And finally, to score, players have to ground the ball in the try zone. This results in the team scoring five points: but the kicker must kick the conversion from wherever the team scored — so if the player scored all the way in the corner, the kicker is allowed to back up, but has to make the conversation from that corner, which is worth two points. On top of this, a team has the option to kick when the opponents are penalized or could attempt a drop goal: both equal three points.

This is pretty much the basics. If it sounds complex, just wait until you learn about all the different penalties. Again, the best way to truly understand the game is to play or watch it. It will sound like a foreign language at first, but the more you log in hours, the easier it is to understand. In the end, rugby is a wonderfully physical sport — have fun, play smart and you will have the time of your life.

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