Hi guys. Rugby World Cup is here and many people wants to follow the action, but rugby can sometimes just look like a big bar fight between a lot of men who wear pyjamas.
Well do not fear, because I will explain the game to you in a simple way and give you some nice secrets to watch out for so that you can enjoy it too.
I will keep it quick, and split it into just a few simple things:
- How To Score Points.
- Get the Ball & Use the Ball!
- The Four “Games-Within-The-Game” Of Rugby.
- The Players.
In rugby you must try to wrestle the ball from the other guys, and when you have it, you must try to get points with it. There is three ways to get points:
1. If you can put down the ball over your opponents try line you get 5 points. That is called a Try. Then you can get a extra two points if your kicker can kick the ball over the poles after. That is called a Conversion. You have converted the 5 points in to 7.
2. If during the game your opponent do something illegal, you can choose to place the ball where the infraction happen and try to kick it over the poles from there. It is called a Penalty, and it is worth 3 points.
3. The final way to get points is called a Drop Kick. At any time if you have the ball, you can drop it on the ground and then kick it as it bounce back up. If it go through the poles you get 3 points. But it can be difficult! Joel Stransky famously do it to win the World Cup for South Africa in 1995.
That’s it. That is how you score points. And any player on the field can score points.
2. GET THE BALL, THEN USE THE BALL!
In rugby, you are trying to get the ball away from the other team. Then when you have it, you will attempt to score a try. But now you must be careful, because the other team will do everything they can to get it back…
A rugby team consist of 15 guys. But we can actually divide that 15 guys into two different groups. Broadly speaking, one group have the job of fighting the other team for the ball. And the other group have the job of then using the ball to score a try.
First, there is the Forwards. They bigger, stronger and uglier. Their job is to fight the other team for the ball. On their jersey you will see numbers from 1 to 8. Just think like it is a lower IQ ;)
Then we have the Backs. If the forwards can get the ball for them, then the backs must take the ball and attempt to score a try. That is why they are faster and more athletic and more pretty. On their jersey you will see the numbers 9 to 15.
3. GAMES WITHIN A GAME…
Rugby is the most interesting sport in the world to watch because it is actually a few different sports roll into one. It is one of the lest one-dimensional games you can watch. Like chess on grass. You will see a variety of different type of players try to overcome a variety of different tests, together. Small battles within a bigger war… Best part is, even though rugby have this wonderful depth, it is simple to understand :)
Here are the four “games-within-the-game” you will see in rugby:
I’m sure you have seen this. It look like guys trying to push a tractor out of the mud. Why do scrums happen? It’s simple. After a player make a mistake or do something illegal, naturally the referee will blow his whistle to stop play. But afterwards, play must somehow restart again. And it will be boring if the ref just throw the ball into the air and say, “Carry on chaps!”. So the scrum was invented as a way to get play going again. It is a way to restart. The ball is fed in between the two packs of forwards (obviously not by the team who make the mistake) and then both teams must push to win it.
In a scrum, all 8 forwards from one team pushes against all 8 forwards from the other team and then the ball is put between the middle of them to see who can get it. This is the most basic test of strength and will in rugby, and it is often in this battle that the seeds of victory is sowed. Because if my strongest guys can push back your strongest guys, then I have made a statement that will reverb through your whole team… It is like a cowboy who walk into a bar and put his gun on the table and make everybody scared. Think of a scrum as a statement.
2. LINE OUTS
This is another way to restart play. If the ball go off the field, of course the referee will blow his whistle and play will stop. But how do we get the ball back ON to the field? Like I say, it will be boring if the ref just throw the ball into the air, so the Lineout Battle was invented.
At the lineout the taller players now comes into their own – this is aerial combat! The ball is thrown in by one of the players, and the tallest forwards from each team will leap up, or even be picked up very high, so that they can try to get it. But this is a game of trickery and deception… watch how the players shuffle and move around to try and fool the other guys. They are like Oscar actors who pretend they are going to catch, but then the ball go somewhere else. It is a world of secret codes that the players call out, with the opposition players desperately trying to break the code.
Any time a guy get tackled, and the ball is now on the ground, that is called a Breakdown. Obviously this happen a lot in a match! But even this is a game-within-a-game… because other players will now arrive and try to fight for that ball on the ground. But there are some rules here. Players cannot just jump in from any side. A player cannot just hold onto the ball forever. And you cannot just dive around like you are a happy little boy on this jumping castles. It can be dangerous.
Let’s look at this picture. The Bald Green 5 have tackled a Red guy. This red guy is still holding onto the ball. But we can see another Green guy is bending over to try and steal it – that is called “poaching”. Now, Red 3 is trying to stop that Green guy from getting the ball because that will be a disaster. You don’t want to lose it! Maybe Red 9 can help push the Green poacher away? I think it is too late. The Red guys did not arrive in time for this fight, so the Green guy will happily steal this ball away. By the way, you can see that the Red guy on the ground is holding onto the ball, even though the Green guy have manage to get to it. This is illegal – the Red guy cannot just hold onto the ball forever, that will make rugby boring. So the referee will blow his whistle.
4. KICKING THE BALL
So I just told you that if we want to win then we must get the ball. But the truth is that we must also kick the ball away in a tactical manner sometimes… When you see people just kicking the ball back and forth, what you are actually watching is chess. If I can kick the ball behind you, maybe I can make you panic or make a mistake. Then you kick it back and test me.
I push you and pull you around with my kicks to different areas. Maybe I can make your team lose its shape. Maybe with all the kicking, one of your players is now out of position, and then I can strike… Tactical kicking is just probing for weakness, and attempting to manipulate your opponent. People hate it, but it can be fascinating to watch guys try to win territory with kicks, or try create panic, or kick the ball up high to create a battle to catch the ball in the air.
That’s it! That’s the basics of rugby. Of course there are more small rules that governs all this, but don’t worry about it. You will pick it up over time, and understanding them is not crucial to enjoy the game. (One rule I will quickly add – in rugby you cannot throw the ball forwards. If you throw it to your friend, the ball must go lateral from you, or backwards.)
In the TV show of The A-Team there was a tough guy, a clever guy, a pilot and a handsome guy. They all bring different skills together, and so it is with rugby. This is the rugby A-Team from numbers 1 to 15 and this is what they all do…
1, 2 & 3 – “The Front Row”
These first three guys is called the Front Row. Their main job is in the scrums. Yes it is the job of all 8 forwards to push in the scrum, but these are the three guys who is in front at the scrum. And they have all their friends pushing behind them. Can you imagine the force? That is why they are short and fat guys. Incredibly powerful and sturdy. They are like a little hippopotamus. Sometime they also run with the ball because they are difficult to stop, even though they are not fast. They also have important role to play at the breakdown. If one of his friends is tackled, and it look like the opposition is trying to steal the ball, this little hippo must run in and smash that guy away. We also see these guys lift up other guys in the lineout to catch the ball. They are maybe short, but they are strong!
4 & 5 – “The Locks”
The next two guys, they are called the Locks. They are the tallest giants in the team. Their main job is play chess in the lineouts, to jump up and try to get the ball. They also have big role to play in the scrum because they pack down just behind the hippopotamuses and then push with all their might.
They will also run with the ball sometimes, like slow giraffes. Like the hippo’s, they must also fight the other team for the ball, make big tackles, and smash thieves away from the breakdown.
6, 7 & 8 – “The Flanks”
The last three forwards is called the Flanks (and the number 8 is called the 8th man). They are called flanks because at the scrum they push on the flanks (the sides) of the scrum, as you can see below
Of all the players, Flanks is the busiest guys on the field. They are like the handyman who must run around and fix everything. They will especially make a lot of tackles, stopping the other team whenever they are trying to run. So they must be tough and strong, but speed is also important so that they can get to the problem areas in time.
The 8th man have a slightly different role, which is to link up with other players. When the pretty little backs run with the ball, they will need the help of their big brother, and that is why the 8th man is there. He will be running close by, ready to take a pass. Or he will be close by to get ready to fight if his friend get tackled.
And the number 7 have a very interesting speciality… He is the burglar in the team who must cause problems at the Breakdown we spoke about earlier. He is the thief who will try to steal the ball after a tackle is made, or maybe just frustrate the other team.
These guys is called “jackals” or “poachers” or “fetchers” and they often has a low centre of gravity so that they can bend down low and rip the ball way from someone, even if the hippo’s and giraffes from the other team try to smash him away. In South Africa this guy will wear the number 6 jersey.
9 – “The Scrumhalf”
This is the first Back we will talk about. He is called the Scrumhalf, and he is usually the smallest guy on the field. He have a incredibly important job to do, because once the forwards have won the ball, this guy must pass it very quickly and accurately to the waiting Backs who want to go and score a try. No surprise this player is able to pass the ball better than anyone in the team.
And believe it or not, this little guy is also in charge of all the big tough forwards! You will see him follow the forwards around like a little Jack Russel, waiting for the ball to come out. But the whole time he is communicating with them… Maybe he see a weakness and he will tell a hippopotamus to run with the ball and make a hole. Or the ball will come out and he will make a quick dangerous tactical kick that catch the opposition by surprise. Or in some cases he will just take the ball and run by himself like a fast little mouse that is hard to catch. So you can imagine he must be a intelligent guy, with vision.
10 – “The Flyhalf”
Next is the guy we call the Flyhalf. He is the most important player on the field, because after the forwards fight for the ball, the scrumhalf will usually give it to this guy. He must then make a decision about what the team is going to do now. He is the general on the field, reading the play and making tactical decisions.
He is thinking – should we run? Where will we run? Should I kick? Where should I kick? Must I just run and attack them myself? When he get the ball he will look around for weakness or space in the opposition and direct play in that direction. And he is also usually the guy who will kick the ball for the poles, so he is a very skilled player.
12 & 13 – “The Centres”
These guys is called the Centres, and they stand next to the flyhalf in the center of the field. If they get the ball then obviously that mean that the flyhalf has given it to them because he wants the team to run, so they will run. This is where we see many tricks and sexy moves as they try to create uncertainty in the opposition. They will work together to find a way through.
Conversely, they must be on their toes when the opposition centres has the ball, and is making sexy moves and running towards them. And they must be strong enough to tackle the other guy and stop him in his track.
11 & 14 – “The Wings”
They are called this because they stand on the outsides and they are FAST. They are the most dangerous weapon in the team and we want to get the ball to them so they can move like lightning to get across the tryline. Hopefully we have done some hard work elsewhere on the field, so that these guys have some space that they can unleash. In fact, many strategies in rugby is purely to do this… to create space somehow on the outsides so that the wingers has space to strike.
But wings must be careful of their opposition wing! These two cheetahs will stand opposite from each other and watch carefully. They are almost the only guys who is fast enough to catch each other, so they also have a important defensive role too. And sometimes the opposition will kick the ball high in the air above these guys to see if the cheetahs can jump…
15 – “The Fullback”
Like his name says, this guy stand right at the back. He is like a goalkeeper in soccer and he is the main defensive player in the team. You see I have put him in a red circle below. He is the last man at the back, so if the other guys get through he is the last man who can make a tackle to stop them.
He will also get chased around by the opposition who pull him around with kicks to get him out of position, so he must be a clever guy who must make sure he is there to catch the ball. And then he must be able to kick it back, with either foot if necessary! If he does not do this well then your team will be stuck in the mud. He must also be able to jump high and challenge in the air for high kicks, because he will be tested. If our team is attacking, sometimes our fullback will run up to join in this attack. That now mean that the opposition has one more player that they must worry about.
OK so after all that, here is what they all look like on the field together!
That’s it guys! That is rugby and the cast of characters who run out to do battle with each other. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it help you understand the game a bit better.
And please share this with somebody who you think will be interested!