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Rugby Union

Updated on October 24, 2010

Rugby Union is a football game played with an oval ball by two teams of 15 players each. It derives its name from Rugby School in England, where the game was first played in 1823. It was an outgrowth of soccer football, its chief difference being that the players may use their hands in moving the ball up and down the field, which is not permitted in soccer. Rugby is played in many parts of the world, although it is most popular in British Commonwealth countries. American football, as played in the United States, and Canadian football both evolved from rugby.

Playing Positions and Equipment

Each team is made up of eight forwards, two halfbacks, four three-quarter backs, and one fullback. Players wear lightweight jerseys, shorts, stockings, and boots. They rarely wear helmets or padding. The ball is about 11 inches (27 cm) long and about 30 inches (76 cm) in circumference and weighs about 14 ounces (400 grams). The rugby field is called a pitch.



The object of the game is to score points in any of four ways: A try, worth three points, is scored when a player touches the ball down in the opponent's in-goal. A goal, worth two points,,is scored when a player kicks the ball over the crossbar and between the uprights after a try. A dropped goal, worth three points, is scored when a player drops the ball on the ground and kicks it on the half-volley over the bar. A penalty goal, also worth three points, is scored by a place-kick following an infringement of a law. A mark, allowing a free droplock or place-kick, is awarded to a player who makes a clean catch of the ball from an opponent and shouts "mark," meanwhile making a mark with his heel, before he is tackled.

Playing Procedure

Play starts with a place-kick from midfield. The defending side must remain behind its own 10-yard line until the ball is kicked. Once the ball is in play, it may be kicked or carried in any direction, but it may not be thrown or knocked forward, only backward or sideways. Only the ballcarrier may be tackled, and he must immediately drop the ball when he is brought down.

The game is divided into two periods of 40 minutes maximum, and the teams change sides at halftime. Substitutions are not permitted; if a player leaves the game because of injury or penalty, his team must continue undermanned. The ball remains in play until a try is scored, a penalty is called, or the ball goes out of bounds. The ball is brought back in bounds by a line-out. In a line-out the forwards of each team line up alongside each other at right angles to the sideline at the point where the ball went out of play. The forwards jump for the ball, each trying to seize it and pass it back to other members of his team.



Penalty kicks are awarded for such offenses as being offside, handling the ball after a tackle without first playing it with the feet, handling the ball in scrum, illegal hooking in the scrum, and rough play. After a minor infringement, play is resumed with a set scrum, or scrummage. A set scrum is formed by the forwards of each side getting down in rows, usually of three, then two, then three again, and pushing against each other. The front three forwards of each side form a tunnel through which the ball is thrown by a member of the nonoffending team. The center man of each front row, called the hooker, tries to hook the ball with his feet back through the forwards to teammates waiting behind the scrum.


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