How to Play Rugby: Rules & Positions

Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

In this lesson, you will learn how to play the exciting sport of rugby. You will learn a little bit about the history of rugby, its basic rules, and about the different positions you can play.

Rugby Basics

Rugby is an exciting game in which you try to throw a ball to your teammates and advance down the field to score a drop goal or a try. But watch out because the other team is ready and eager to tackle you hard to the ground. Rugby shares some similarities with American football. The ball looks a bit like a fatter version of an American football, and both sports are very physical. But rugby has continuous running play and tackling. Plus, you can't pass the ball forward!

Rugby World Cup field
Rugby World Cup Pitch

Rugby History

Back in 1823 in Great Britain, a 16-year-old named William Webb Ellis was playing soccer at Rugby School and decided to pick the ball up and run with it. That's the legend anyway, and ever since then, the sport has been called rugby after the school. The trophy won at the Rugby World Cup is called the Web Ellis Cup in honor of the sport's founder.

Webb Ellis Trophy
Webb Ellis Trophy

The Rugby Football Union was founded in 1871 in London. Rugby is still especially popular in British Commonwealth countries such as Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand. The sport, however, is gaining popularity around the world. In fact, there have been major gains in the popularity of women's rugby around the world. About 40% of rugby players in the United States are women.

Women playing rugby
Womens Rugby

Different Codes

For a long time, the only type of rugby was what is now known as rugby union. But the players had to remain amateurs and could not be paid. This became a real financial burden for players who had to forgo work and wages to play for their national side. Eventually, rugby league was born in 1895 with the Northern Union of England, a collection of rugby unioners who wanted to be paid. Now rugby league is a thriving and separate code of rugby.

Rugby was played in some of the first Olympic games but then dropped. In 2016, rugby sevens made its Olympic debut in Rio. Rugby sevens is a code played with seven players per side and two seven-minute halves. It's fast-paced and high-scoring.

Rules and Important Plays

At first, rugby didn't have too many rules, and it wasn't until 1845 that a few players decided to write them down. The most fundamental rule is the offside rule. No offensive player can be in front of the ball. Remember, no forward passes! It's all lateral and backward passes.

Trying Hard

In rugby, you score a try. A try is worth five points. You score a try by a literal touchdown, getting across the end line and grounding the ball. Lots of times you'll see players sliding head first to put the ball over the line on the ground.

You can score an extra two points with a conversion kick through the goalposts after the try.

You can also win three points during the run of play if you earn a penalty kick, which is a set piece like the conversion kick, or a drop goal through the goalposts when you drop the ball to the ground in the run of play and kick it through the goalposts.


Originally, there were so few rules about tackling that strangling was a common way to bring down your opponent! Even though it has always been a rough and tumble sport, teams didn't use substitutes for the first 130 years. Players used to carry on playing with broken bones and bloody faces -- and some still do!

Nowadays, you cannot tackle someone above the shoulders. Once a player has been tackled and brought down, both players need to get up. The tackler gets up and moves back, and the ball carrier gets to set the ball down or pass to a teammate.



A scrum happens when the ball needs to be restarted if, for example, someone is caught offside. Eight players from each team get to join the scrum. On the referee's whistle, they engage and grab one another, and it's like a big shoving match until someone is able to hook the ball with his foot and pass it back to his teammate.



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