This week is a big one for Brooksbank’s Rugby League Teams.  Year 10 play away in London at Hinchley Wood on Wednesday, and Years 7 and 9 play their Yorkshire Cup finals at Featherstone Rovers on Thursday.

For those who support our talented teams but don’t have much of a clue about the rules of the game, this one is for you.  The rules of rugby can be complicated for the uninitiated and we hope you enjoy this beginner’s guide to the essentials of this great game.   

There are four key rules that stop the game from falling into chaos are:

1.  The Fundamental Rule

The ball must never be passed or knocked forwards from a player’s hands.  It can be thrown sideways or backwards, or it can be kicked in any direction, but the ball must never passed forwards.  If it is, the referee will award a scrum to the opposition.

2. Onside and Offside

Staying onside is crucial and should be the aim of every player.  Whenever the ball is in play, any player who finds himself ahead of a team-mate carrying the ball, and who then actively attempts to play the ball, is deemed to be offside and likely to concede a penalty.  Penalties are taken from the place the offence was committed. (The offside rule also comes into play at set-pieces and when rucks and mauls are formed, though this falls under Really Advanced Rules of Rugby and will only complicate matters here.)

3.  Penalties and Foul Play

Penalties are generally awarded for fouls, many of which will go unseen by those watching from the stands or on screen.  If a referee spots a foul he will award a penalty as a punishment.  Fouls fall into one of four categories: obstruction, unfair play, repeated infringements or dangerous play/misconduct.  The severity of fouls can lead on to disciplinary action.

4.  Disciplinary Matters

Cards are dealt to any player who engages in the foul play.  A yellow card is a final warning.  Any player receiving one is sent to the side-lines for ten minutes, leaving his team a player light and cursing his name.  If, on his return, he commits another offence worthy of a caution, that player then sees a red card and is sent off for the remainder of the match.

Scoring Points

There are four main ways to score points and win a rugby match. They work as follows…

1.  A Try

A try is the showpiece approach to point scoring.  It typically involves a player throwing himself full-length over the try line, having charged half the length of the pitch to reach it!  Alas, it doesn’t always work out that way.

To score a try (worth five points), the player must simply place the ball on the ground with downward pressure in the in-goal area – the zone behind the goalposts, between the try line and the dead ball line.  If any part of his body crosses the touchline (the white line marking the edge of the pitch) the try will not count.  Crucially, the player must also be in control of the ball as they ground it.

Tries may also be scored in a number of other ways including: a pushover try (scored by driving the opposition’s scrum back over its own line); a momentum try (where a player slides into the in-goal area, providing he does not make a ‘double movement’ to get the ball over the line); and a penalty try (awarded when a team illegally obstructs an opponent to prevent them scoring an almost certain try).
Unlike in association football, an ‘own try’ cannot be scored.  If a player touches the ball down in his own in-goal area, it is usually an act of defensive desperation and results in a drop-out where the defending team drop-kicks the ball back down the field to restart the match.

2.  A Conversion

If a team scores a try, they are awarded a place kick that allows them to convert it into an extra two points if it sails between the posts and above the crossbar.  A conversion can be taken from any distance in line with the spot where the try was scored.

3.  A Penalty Kick

This is a kick at goal that comes as a result of an infringement, with the ball placed where the infringement took place, or from where the ball landed if the player is obstructed after he kicks it downfield. A successful kick is rewarded with three points, providing it sails over the crossbar and between the posts.

4.  A Drop Goal

A further three points are awarded for a drop goal, which can be scored from anywhere on the pitch as long as the ball touches the ground between being dropped and kicked, and as long as it also passes over the crossbar and between the posts.

Set Pieces

You will soon notice that the shrill toot of the referee’s whistle is a regular sound in rugby.  It signals that the ball has gone out of touch or that the referee has spotted an infringement by one of the players or teams.  When this occurs, he’ll restart the match with a set piece – either a lineout or a scrum. Now these are crucial, so concentrate hard here.

1. The Lineout

This, essentially, is a jumping contest to win possession of the ball.  The two teams line up past the five-metre line with a metre between both lines.  The hooker of the team awarded the lineout throws the ball towards a player on his team, primed to rise and catch the ball.  A carefully choreographed game of bluff and deception, the player rising will choose his moment to jump, lifted by his team-mates and hanging high in the air for what seems like an eternity.  When he catches the ball, that ball is very much back in play.

2. The Scrum

Perhaps the most confusing element of the game to the uninitiated, a scrum most often results from play being stopped for a forward pass, a knock on or for accidental offside.  To the uninitiated the scrum is a complicated feat of brute force between the two forward packs.  The ball is ‘fed’ into the scrum, straight down the middle of both packs, and the more dominant pack retrieves it by heeling it towards the back of the scrum and into the hands of their hooker, and flowing play resumes.

4. The Tackle

Only the player in possession of the ball can be tackled, otherwise the game would degenerate into a lawless free-for-all.  Tackles must be made below chest height and the player must release the ball after he hits the ground.  Neither he nor the tackler can play the ball again until they are back on their feet.

5. The Knock-on

In Rugby, the ball cannot be passed forwards, only backwards and sideways, towards the opponent’s dead ball line.  Likewise, if the ball is knocked on by a player while attempting to catch or pick it up and the ball hits the ground, it’s a knock-on and the referee will sound his whistle indicating an infringement.  However, if the player fumbles the ball during any of the above, but catches it before it hits the ground, it is not a knock-on.

A knock-on will result in a scrum being awarded to the other team. One key exception to all of this is if a player knocks on during a charge-down (the act a player charging down an attempted kick downfield by an opponent).  If he knocks on here, it is not a knock-on and play continues, possibly as reward for the on-rushing player risking the ball being kicked firmly into his face.

6. Rucking and Mauling

These two crucial elements of the game are similar, yet different.

The Ruck

This occurs when a tackled, ball-carrying player goes to ground.  They must release the ball immediately, at which point the race is on to gain possession of it, providing it remains in play and on the ground.  The tackled player’s team-mates will quickly arrive and bind together over the ball and push their opponents’ back, using their feet to ‘ruck’ the ball back to their side.  Players joining the ruck can only bind on from the back, never the side.

To gain possession, both sides must try to drive over the ball to make it available for their team-mates behind them.  If the ball disappears and does not come out of the ruck after five or so seconds, the referee will likely award a scrum to the team he considers to have had the greater forward momentum in the ruck.

The Maul

The maul is very similar to the ruck, only the player carrying the ball remains on his feet, allowing his team-mates to bind on and push their opponents back.  A maul begins when there are at least three players, the ball carrier and one player from either team.

And that concludes this beginner’s guide to this action-packed game.  You should now have a better understanding of what our players are up to when they are charging around the field intent on scoring points and winning silverware! 

Good luck to our teams who are playing this week.

Thank you to Nick Harper at Coca-Cola for the information in this article.