Rugby For Beginners – What is Rugby?

What is rugby? How does rugby work? These are all common questions from people who have seen rugby either live or on TV, the rugby bug sparked interest, but due to the often complex nature of rugby the interest of new fans soon disappears due to what may seem like an overwhelmingly complex game. In this post we will try to give an explanation of rugby in its most basic form, hopefully clearing up a lot of the confusion new viewers might face when trying to follow a game of rugby.

In its most basic form rugby consists of two teams trying to attack the other opponents’ goal line while defending their own. That is pretty much rugby in a nutshell for you! Within the above there are many rules, however here we will cover the most basic parts.

Number of Players And Different positions explained

A rugby team consists of 15 players on the field with 8 substitutions allowed on the side-line in case of injury or a strategical substitution. Each of the 15 players has a number on his back ranging from 1 – 15, since there are 15 players in a team.

Unlike most sports rugby players can’t choose the number on their back, each number is linked to a certain position.
Out of the 15 players there are two different units on the field at all times, which is referred to as the forwards and the backline respectively.

If American Football is your sport think of the defensive unit and the offensive unit, the difference with rugby is, is that both these units are on the field together at all times.


Number 9 – The Scrumhalf

The scrumhalf is usually a small and agile player. Communication between the scrumhalf and the Flyhalf is vital for a successful rugby team. When placing wagers you always want to compare the scrumhalf and flyhalfs’ ability to the opposition’s scrumhalf and flyhalf since these 2 positions are vital in dictating a match result.
Think of the scrumhalf as the running back in American Football.
Number 10 – The Flyhalf

Certain positions play a massive role in dictating the result of a match. One such position, and arguably the most important position in a rugby team, is number 10, also known as the flyhalf. Think of number 10 (flyhalf) on a rugby team as the quarter back of American football. The flyhalf dictates most of the play on the field, making calls on offensive patterns, deciding whether to kick, or run the ball.

Number 11 and 14 – The Wingers

The wingers are the fastest players on the field, ideally in most situations the players would want to get the ball to the wingers and they would try to wiggle their way through the defence of the opposing team. You can, sort off, compare wingers to wide receivers in American Football


Number 15 – The Fullback

The fullback is another important position in a rugby team. Since you will see a lot of kicking in a rugby match, 80% of the kicks will be fielded by the Fullback. If a team has a bad full back you can expect the opposing team to do a lot of kicking. You can think of a team’s fullback as the punt returner of an American football team.

Number 12 and 13 – The Centres
The centres of a rugby team stands in the middle of the backline, and plays an important role of keeping the backline organized. Centres also play a vital role on both defence and offense.

On offense they will either make strong runs towards the defence or try to spread the ball to the wingers.
On defence centres are essential to stop runs and make tackles when the opposition team is attacking with the ball.

The Forwards

rugby for dummies the scrum

Forwards Forming a huddle, known as a scrum

Number 1 and 3 – The props

The props are the strongest, and heaviest players on the team. The primary responsibility of the props are to scrum and to a lesser extend lift players in the lineout.  Having strong props is absolutely vital to having a good, solid scrum. You can compare props to guards in American Football. Strong, powerful, players using their strength to stop the opposition.

Number 2 – The hooker

The hooker’s primary role in a rugby team is to throw the ball into the lineout.  The hooker is also responsible for “hooking” the ball, in the scrum, hence the name hooker. Hookers are usually small, but powerful players that will often try to bulldoze over opposition players in general play. You can compare a hooker to the snapper in American football

Number 4 and 5 – The Locks

We have touched on the “locks” primary role, when explaining the lineout. Locks are the tallest 2-players on the team. Locks will usually be around 2.0m tall in professional rugby teams.

Number 6 and 7 – The Flankers

Above you can see how the flankers are bound to the locks. With their shoulder pushing behind the props. The number 7 flanker is usually a medium to tall, strong and agile player, with the number 6 flanker usually a little smaller.
The flanker’s primary role is not to scrum however, the primary role of the flanker is trying to steal / poach the opposition’s ball in open play, and make short bursting runs over opposition players.

You can think of flankers as safeties in American Football when the team is on defence and running backs when the team is on attack.

Number 8 – The eigthman

The most specialist position amongst forwards, and arguably the whole rugby team. The number 8 has many roles which varies from situation to situation. Having a good number 8 is crucial. The number 8 needs to have a large variety of different skills.  When the team is attacking with the ball the number 8 will often link up with the backline players trying to create an overlap. On defence the number-8 will either join the flankers trying to poach the ball from the opponents or drop back to assist the fullback and wingers, to cover open field should the opponents’ decide to kick.

A good number 8 should be able to “read the game” meaning he should be able to predict what will happen next, and position himself accordingly.

If you have to compare the number-8 to an American Football position you can say he plays safety, running back, wide receiver and even take the role of quarterback at times i.e. it is a highly specialized position.

General Play

Below you can see a sample Image of the backline unit and different positions there are a few things to take note from in this image, which will be explained below:


rugby for dummiesGeneral Explanation Of Rugby Rules

As can be seen from the image above the scrumhalf, number 9, feeds, throws the ball (*1) to one of the backline players, from the huddle (which is the known as the scrum) (*2)  

  1. No Forward Passing

Notice as the scrumhalf throws the ball to one of the backline players, in the above image, he throws it (the ball) backwards, you are under no circumstances allowed to pass a ball forward in rugby.

Here is an example of some good tries scored. Notice how the ball is passed backwards and the players make darts towards the defending players.

General Infringements

  1. The scrum

rugby for dummies the scrum

As can be seen from the image above there is a huddle, a bunch of players, bundled together. This is known as a scrum in rugby. The scrum consists of 8-players.

Play will stop and a scrum will form when:

  • The ball is passed forward.
  • When the ball is lost, fumbled, and it goes forward.
  • When a team receives a penalty they can chose to scrum.

There are some other instances when a scrum will be formed however I will not dive into that since this is a basic introduction to rugby.  

You may think of the scrum, in the same way as you think of the huddle in American Football.

The Forward unit is responsible for the scrum. It is essential to have a strong forward pack (unit) as they will need to scrum the opposing team away from the ball to get the ball back.

  1. Kicking

In the image above (of the backline) you can see the scrumhalf is passing (throwing) the ball to the flyhalf (number 10) as explained above the flyhalf is one of the most important positions in the team, since he is responsible for decision making and does about 90% of the kicking.

As mentioned above players are not allowed to throw the ball forward, however they are allowed to kick the ball forward Kicking can happen anytime during the match. The Flyhalf usually does most of the kicking but any player is allowed to kick the ball.

4. The lineout.

rugby for dummies - lineout

When the ball gets kicked out of bounds or a player steps out of bound a lineout is formed. With the opposite team who kicked or step out of bounds getting to throw the ball into the lineout.

A lineout can consist of a minimum of 3 players, however there is no limit as to how many players can join the lineout.

As a general rule of thumb there are usually between 5-7 players in the lineout. A player from the forward group will throw the ball into the lineout. The player who throws the ball into the lineout is the player with number 2 at the back of his jersey, known as the hooker, no pun intended! You can think of the hooker as the snapper in American Football.


Players will then jump to catch the ball, as they jump they are allowed to be lifted (assisted) by their teammates.

Usually the players who jumps to catch the ball are the locks (number 4 and 5) although it is common to see other players jump as well.

The opposing team is allowed to contest the lineout, jumping to try and catch the ball.


Having a good lineout is crucial to being successful in a match. Not only because the opposing team is allowed to contest the ball but because a lineout happens on average 15 – 20 times per match.
Generally the key to having a successful lineout is to have a good number 2 (hooker) and good tall locks (number-4 and number-5).


Scoring points:

The Try & Conversion 

When a try is scored, the team managed to ground the ball over the opponent’s goal line, when this happens 5-points is awarded to the team which scored the try. After the try is scored the team gets to kick the ball, known as a conversion attempt. The conversion kick will be attempted, depending on the angle of which the try was scored, as can be seen on the image below. If the conversion kick is successful it will lead to 2 extra points for the team. Thus a try with a successful conversion is worth 7-points.

rugby for beginners scoring points


A penalty is awarded when the opposing team commits a foul, or rule violation. While there are many reasons why a penalty can be awarded the most common reasons are:


There are many offside violations, the most common offside violation happens when a player is in front of the ball. Imagine player A kicking the ball when the ball is kicked and player B is in front of the ball he needs to drop back, if player B continues to advance and try to contest for the ball he is offside. This is very similar to a soccer offside violation. With the difference being a penalty will be awarded to the opposing team.

Another common offside violation happens when a ruck is formed:

If a player is tackled and, let’s say, number-7 comes in for the poach over the ball (to try and steal the ball / turnover), he can do so from any angle as there is technically no offside line. At this point a ruck has NOT been formed. When an opposition player comes in to clear said 7, taking him out of the ruck,  and there is contact/bind a ruck is formed, which includes not only an offside line but a ‘gate’ at the back of the ruck that must be gone through for further players to go through should they choose to compete in the ruck for the ball or to clear out.

A lot of great 7’s and poachers are accused of being offside, and sometimes they are (think Richie Mccaw)! Most of the times though they’re masters of knowing exactly when a ruck is formed and get their work done (turnover the ball) before the offside line is even formed. A handy rugby betting tip for rugby beginners is to compare the strength of the number 7, flanker, to the oppositions flanker. More turnover balls ultimately leads to more points being scored!

High Tackle:

In rugby all tackles needs to be below the shoulders, if a player tackles the opposing player above his shoulders a penalty will be awarded to the team that was tackled high. Depending on the severity of the tackle a yellow card may be awarded, which means the player needs to leave the field for 10-minutes. In severe cases a red card can also be awarded, meaning the player needs to leave the game permanently.

Not Releasing The Ball:

When a player gets tackled he needs to release the ball i.e. a player that is on the ground is not allowed to hold on to the ball, when this happens a penalty will be awarded to the opposing team. This is one of the more common penalties you will see.

Tackling a player in the air:

When a player jumps attempting to catch a ball, and an opposing player tackles or interference with the player trying to catch the ball, a penalty will be awarded to the team that was attempting to catch the ball. This penalty often happens during open play or in a lineout.

tackling player in the air

What happens when a penalty is awarded?

When a penalty is awarded the team to which the penalty is awarded gets a choice of four options.

  1. Kick for goal
  2. Kick for the touch line
  3. Take a scrum
  4. Take a tap kick

1 – Kicking for goal

When a team chooses to kick for goal, the goal kicker,usually the flyhalf, will try to kick the ball between the goal posts (uprights) when this happens it will result in 3-points being added to the teams score who kicked the ball.

Kicking for goal usually happens when the scores are close together and the ball is in the oppositions territory. Teams with good goal kickers are usually successful teams. Rugby for beginners, here is a good rugby betting tip for you. When placing a wager ensure the team you are betting on has a good goal kicker.

2 – Kicking for touch 

When a penalty is awarded the team also has the option to kick for touch, kicking for touch means that the kicker, kicks the ball out of bounds. A lineout will be formed where the ball has been kicked out of bounds. With the team who kicked the ball, having the option to throw the ball into the lineout.

A team will select to kick for touch when they are deep in their own territory or when the goal kicker is not being successful with his kicks, especially if the kick is on a difficult angle.

3 – Taking a scrum 

A team also has the option to select to scrum when awarded a penalty, although this choice is less common than the two options mentioned above it does happen.

A team will select to scrum when awarded a penalty usually if they are close to the opponent’s goal line, on the 5-meter line, and their scrum is stronger than the opponents scrum. By doing this they will try to scrum the opposing team backwards in order for the team to get the ball to their goal line.

4 – Taking a quick tap kick

Taking a quick tap kick means that the team selects to continue play, this usually happens quickly. As rugby has become more free flowing with a greater emphasis on attacking rugby this option has become more popular, especially with teams such as the All-Blacks.

Rugby for beginners – Conclusion

Covered above are some of the most common occurrences in a rugby match, while not conclusive the above should give you a good idea as to the basic rules of rugby. Especially if you are new to the game, however the best advice is to read this post and then watch a rugby match or two to get a feel for the game and the rules. Once you have done that visit our site to go through our rugby betting tutorials, to learn how to make smart rugby wagers.

Finally this infographic, kindly provided by toronto rugby will give you a nice summary of what has been touched above as well as some more basics.


Are you a new rugby fan who would like to learn more about this great game we call rugby? Should you have any further question drop us a comment below and we will do our best to answer your question.

Facebook Comments

Leave a Comment