The Basics of Rugby - The Laws


Ruck... A ruck may sound like a fight in the playground, but it's a very important part of rugby union. If a tackled player goes to ground, they must release the ball immediately. However, the opposition will want to get their hands on the ball, while the team in possession will not want to give it away. So a ruck is formed when the ball is on the ground with at least one player in physical contact with a member of the opposition. To get hold of the ball, both sides will drive over to make it available for their nearest team-mate. But only players on their feet can handle the ball in a ruck. If a player joins a ruck, they can only do so from behind the line of the ball. This means they cannot come in from the sides of the ruck, otherwise the referee will award a penalty to the opposing team. Also, every player must be "bound" in the ruck. This means they must have at least one arm round a team-mate who is involved in the ruck. If the ball does not come out of the ruck quickly enough, the referee will award the team moving forward at the ruck the feed at the scrum. There are very strict rules for a ruck which every player must follow, otherwise they will give away needless penalties. See the rucking and mauling offences section for more details.

Maul... The maul is about physical strength and power. The maul is when at least three players from either side are in contact together, challenging the player with the ball, moving towards a goal-line. But what makes the maul different to the ruck is the ball is not on the ground but in hand. But like the ruck, players can only join from behind the last team-mate bound to the maul. And every player in the maul must have at least one arm bound to a team-mate, otherwise the referee will award a penalty to the opposing team. The team going forwards always hold the advantage. So if a maul goes to ground and the ball does not come out quick enough, they will be given the feed at the scrum. But there are exceptions. If a player has caught the ball from a kick-off or a drop-out and is caught up in the middle of a maul inside their own 22m line, the referee will award the scrum to their side if the ball has not come out in time.

Knock on... Rugby union is is one of the few ball games where the ball can only travel backwards. So that means the ball cannot be passed forwards at anytime. And that includes if you accidentally knock the ball forwards with your hands or arm when you fumble the ball. No excuses in this game. So if you do knock the ball on forwards, the referee will stop play and award a scrum to the other team.

Forward pass... Rugby union is is one of the few ball games where the ball can only travel backwards. So that means the ball cannot be passed forwards at anytime. And that includes if you accidentally knock the ball forwards with your hands or arm when you fumble the ball. No excuses in this game. So if you do knock the ball on forwards, the referee will stop play and award a scrum, with the other team getting the put in.

22m drop out... This is way of re-starting play when the ball has gone over the dead-ball line. For example, if the attacking team kicks the ball too far, beyond the dead-ball line, the defending team will get the ball back. The defending team can also ground the ball in their in-goal area if a player on the other side was the last person to touch the ball. They then must then kick the ball forwards from the 22m line. Often they can put up a high kick for the forwards to get under. But they also have the option of kicking as far as they can down field. However, both of these situations depend on how good your kicker is.

Five metre scrum... The five metre scrum is one of the best ways of putting loads of pressure on your opponent's defence. It's given to the attacking side after one of the defending team has grounded the ball inside their own goal area. But it will only be given if the defender has carried or handled the ball in their own in-goal area. The other way a five metre scrum will be awarded is if the attacking team gets within five metres of the try line, but are held up by the opposition's defence. Because the attacking team has the momentum going forward, the referee will award them the feed at the scrum.

Mark... Calling the mark is a great way of relieving the pressure in defence when the opposition are on the attack inside the 22-metre line. It was introduced to give protection to full-backs and other players trying to catch high up-and-under kicks in pressure situations. A player can only make the mark when they catch a high ball inside their own 22 metre or In-Goal area. As they catch the ball, they shout "MARK!", at the the top of their voice. If they catch the ball cleanly, the referee will give that player a free kick on the spot where they caught the ball. Only the player who has called for the mark can take the kick. They then have the chance to clear their lines, much to the relief of the rest of the team. One thing to note - a mark cannot be called when a player catches the ball direct from a kick-off.

Tackling... Tackling is the only way of legally bringing down your opponent in rugby union. But there are certain laws on how you can tackle an opponent which you must follow, otherwise you will give away needless penalties which your team-mates will not appreciate. If a tackler and the ball carrier go to ground, the tackler cannot handle the ball because they are not on their feet. Only players on their feet can handle the ball. It can be tempting to bring the ball back to your side, but if the referee see this, he will award a penalty to the opposition. As soon as a tackle is made, the tackler must roll away from the player they have just brought down. Referees have been clamping down on this recently because the tackler can often slow the ball up for the opposition, helping their side to re-group in defence. So if the referee believes the tackler has not rolled away quick enough, he will award a penalty to the opposition. When you tackle an opponent, you cannot make contact with their head.

Obstruction... In rugby union, you can only tackle a player in possession of the ball. That means you cannot challenge your opponent at any other time. So if they do not have the ball, you cannot tackle them. Simple. Sometimes, a player will deliberately get in the way of an opponent without the ball because they think the attacker has a good chance of scoring a try. But if the referee sees this, the defender will be in trouble. A penalty will be awarded to the opposition and the defender could find themselves sitting in the sin-bin for 10 minutes after being shown a yellow card.

Sin-bin... This is a place you should avoid at all costs. The sin-bin is the bench where all players who have been bad sit out of the game for 10 minutes. If the referee believes a player has committed a serious foul or shown indiscipline, then he will show them a yellow card, just like in football. However, unlike football, that player must then immediately leave the pitch. They then have to sit in the sin-bin for 10 minutes while the game continues without them. This is music to the opposition's ears because they have one more player on their side.


Try... Score a try and your team-mates, teachers and coach will be your best mates for ever. Alright, maybe not for that long, but you'll definitely be among the popular players in the team. The reason why is because a try is worth five points - the maximum number of points you can score in one go in rugby union. A try is scored when a player puts the ball on the ground with "downward pressure" (very important) inside the opposition's in-goal area between the try line and dead-ball line. Aim to score as many tries in one game as possible.

Conversion... A conversion kick is a great way of getting two bonus points after your team after have a try. The kick is taken from a point level with where the try was scored. A conversion is successful if the ball goes between the opposition's goalposts and above the crossbar. Conversions are taken from all parts of the pitch, so if you are trusted to score the extra points, practice kicking from all corners of the pitch.

Penalty... A penalty kick is a brilliant way of annoying the opposition after they have committed an offence. The referee will award the penalty from the spot where the offence occured. Your team has the choice of kicking for goal or kicking for touch. If you are not too far from the opposition's goalposts, a kick for goal is worth three points if you are successful. But to be successful, the ball has to go through the opposition's goalposts, above the crossbar. Once it does that, you get three points onto the scoreboard. But if you are too far out to kick for goal, a kick to touch is a good way of gaining ground. Better still, your team gets the throw at the line out. So don't give too many penalties away, OK?

Drop goal... A drop goal not only looks spectacular, it is also a handy way of adding three points to your team's score from open play. A drop goal is scored when a player kicks the ball from hand through the opposition's goal posts, above the crossbar. However, the ball must touch the ground between being dropped and kicked. So no cheating, otherwise the referee will have a few words to say to you.


Click on one of the links below for more information about the game of rugby.

The Basics
The Positions
The Scrum
The Lineout
The Ruck / Maul
Common Mistakes