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The Rugby Cheat Sheet

Gance Vandyke By Gance Vandyke Published on January 28, 2016
This article was updated on February 6, 2017

It’s rugby season again. Pubs rejoice, brightly colored shirts fly off the shelves, and Europe goes absolutely bonkers. The rugby world cup attracts all sorts of folk: Young, buffed-up players who are perhaps stars in their local universities, but not quite pro yet; families that have spent every world cup in recent history in front of the TV with chips and dip; and people like me.

That is, people who enjoy drinking gallons of beer surrounded by boisterous Irishmen bellowing the national anthem. And more importantly, people who have absolutely no idea what’s going on. So I’ve endeavoured to put together a rugby cheat sheet of sorts.

People like to say that rugby is like American football, but without the rules. In reality, the rules are many.

Let’s start with some key terms.

  • Open play: Refers to any phase in the match where the ball is being handled or kicked between teams.

  • Line-out: When the ball goes out of bounds, both teams’ forwards line up opposite each other. A player called “the hooker” throws the ball down the middle, and both teams attempt to steal the ball.

  • Ruck: If one or more players from each team close around the ball on the ground, a ruck is formed. Players must then use only their feet to move the ball until it is pushed away from the other team.

  • Maul: A maul occurs when the ball carrier is restrained by one or more opponents, and one or more of the ball carrier’s teammates holds on as well. The ball cannot touch the ground. A maul marks the end of open play.

  • Scrum: A scrum restarts open play after minor infringements. Eight players from each team bind together and push against each other for possession of the ball.


Still with me?

The object of the game is simple – to carry the ball over the opponent’s goal line and touch it to the ground to score. But in order to go forward, the ball must be passed backwards. The ball can be kicked forwards, but the kicker’s team mates must be behind the ball at the moment the ball is kicked.

The game is split into two 40-minute halves with a 15-minute break in between. At the end of the 80 minutes, the team who scored the highest wins. There are four ways to score:

  • The first and most valuable play to score is a try, which occurs when a player touches the ball down in the opponent’s in-goal area. A try is worth 5 points and earns the team a conversion kick.

  • A conversion kick is a kick taken from the spot where the ball was grounded. If the player successfully kicks the ball through the posts, he earns his team 2 points.

  • Various infringements earn a penalty kick – a kick at the goal – that is worth 3 points.

  • Finally, a dropped goal is worth 3 points, and occurs when the player drops the ball and kicks it into the posts.


Memorize the above, and you’re golden. Somewhat. For preliminaries, at least.

Gance has spent the majority of his adult life wandering aimlessly from town to town, occasionally accepting the odd dinner invitation or foosball challenge. Today, he spends his free time ... Show More