Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rugby Anyone? A general explanation of the major rules of the game, with a loose comparison to American Football.

Did you ever try to explain something you really didn't understand, just by reading the rules and trying to restate them in your own words? That is what I just tried to do with rugby, and the below is what I came up with. Holy cow! Not satisfactory in the least! I think I will try to get someone who knows about the game of rugby to do a guest post. But you may be amused by my own attempt, below.

Rugby Football (usually just called "rugby") is named after Rugby School, Warwickshire, where the modern game was developed. However the modern game descends from much older variations of football games. And, descending from modern rugby are Australian Rules Rugby, American Football, and Canadian Football. Rugby Union and Rugby League are the two main variations of the game, and both include professional and amateur teams.

In rugby, ground is gained only by running or kicking the ball; the forward pass is not allowed (as it is in American Football.) The Union version has teams of 15 players; League, 13. (American Football has 11 players.) The following additional rules will refer only to the Union Version.

As with American Football, the ball may be advanced by either carrying it or kicking it. Usually, in rugby, the ball is carried rather than kicked. In American Football, the ball is seldom kicked except in specific situations, leading to the erroneous belief that the rules don't even allow for kicking on any play. In American Football, the ball is either carried or "passed" forward. In rugby a pass may not be forward (advancing toward the goal. In Rugby, a pass means in a non-forward direction. Such a "pass" (sideways or backwards) is called a "lateral" in American Football. Both games allow any number of non-forward passes during a play.

In rugby, play is continuous and possession of the ball is contested after each tackle, and is thus more continually physical, rather than being physical in "spurts" like American Football. In American Football, the possessing team is simply allowed 4 tries to advance the ball 10 yards, and play stops between tries. Although opposing players certainly try to take the ball away from the runner in American Football, if the opportunity arises, the object is more to tackle him before he gains too many yards. (The possession of the ball changes if 10 yards are not gained in 4 tries.)

In rugby, a tackled player must immediately give up the ball, either by passing it or simply releasing it if no pass is possible. At that point the loose ball is contested, just as it would be in American Football if a tackled player were to accidentally lose control of the ball on the way down. An American might go so far as to say that, in rugby, the ball is "fumbled" each and every tackle, and a fight for possession ensues each time.

In rugby, the ball-runner's team mates must stay behind him. Thus American Football-style "blocking" is not allowed in rugby. (In American Football, players may run in front of the ball carrier and "block" defensive players for him.)

Points are scored in rugby (or American Football) by either advancing the ball over the goal line, or by kicking the ball over the goal crossbar. In American Football, and additional method of scoring is allowed by the legal reception of a forward pass while standing in the goal area.

Infraction of rules in American Football are enforced by taking away yardage from the team in possession, or giving yardage to them if the foul was on the defensive team. Different amounts of yardage penalties are assigned for various penalties; 5 yards for minor infractions, 10 yards (rare) for certain specific infractions, and 15 yards (common) for major infractions.
The field: A rugby field (pitch) dimensions are (apparently, according to the rules I read) flexible. "No more than 70 meters in width and no more than 100 meters in length." May it be smaller? Guess so. An American Football field is exactly 100 yards long from goal line to goal line (with an additional 10 yards on each end which serve as "end zones"; and 160 feet wide. A goal post is centered at the very back of each end zone, in American Football. In rugby, the goal posts are on the goal lines (try lines) themselves. I think. And there is an area at each end of the field, beyond the try line, which may not be less than 10 meters deep. Apparently it may be more.

The ball: In rugby the ball is a "prolate spheroid". An American Football is almost a prolate spheroid. (A rugby ball is fatter.) In both cases, the balls are shaped the way they are because that is how pig bladders are shaped, though pig bladders are no longer used.

Conclusion: Rugby is a lot more complicated than American Football.


  1. lol, you need to watch a few games of rugby I think...

  2. My father played rugby.
    My husband played rugby.
    My sons played rugby.

    I have washed kit. I have made teas. I have tended wounds. I have stood and frozen beside windy pitches. I have cheered. I have consoled.

    I hate rugby. But I know a fair bit about it.

  3. Well, for another ignorant American who knows nothing about rugby, this was a helpful comparison.

  4. You know more about it than me, and I was born here.

  5. I don't know much about Rugby, but I like watching it, something about those men in tight shorts...

  6. Caroline, have you heard of les Dieux du Stade? They seem to dispense with the shorts altogether, any clothes at all really. Have you seen the video? I'm just wondering how you get to be a make-up girl there....
    (Oh Max, please don't look, it's not for you. They're French)

  7. Well done, not too bad for a non-rugby player, you described the game quite well. Of course rugby seems more complicated to you because you are used to American Football but I tell you your football seems EXTREMELY complicated to us here in SA.

    You may have noticed from my blog that I am an ardent rugby fan and know the game very well, but there are too many rules to try and explain it to someone who does not follow it, therefore your explaination is great.

    Just remember, in rugby the player HAS to place the ball on the ground in the goal area before the "try" or points will be awarded and we have a person off the field who can ajudicate whether a "try" may be given or not if the referee could not see if it was jotted down.

    I wish you can watch the Currie Cup final between the Sharks and The Blue Bulls this coming Saturday then you will be able to experience the atmosphere of the game.

  8. Oh I forgot to tell you I am a Sharks supporter!

  9. I am guessing I should probably wait till I get home from work to watch the video?

  10. The origins of football....... scattered across the world there are relics of the earlier forms of the game, which were really excuses for a no-holds-barred melee..
    Once, long ago, I lived on The Isle of Axholme, and was introduced to the Haxey Hood game. Rather than attempt to describe it myself, I'll leave a link.
    Suffice to say it is a game played by an unspecified number of combatants, there are no teams, destruction and mayhem follow its path, injuries are many, and everybody has a good time.
    Its origins could well be earlier than the 14th century, source of the explanation most given, one observer says:- "In folklore, when a custom is too old for its origins to be remembered, a story is often devised to rationalise what would otherwise be baffling. The 'official' story of the Hood's origins are unlikely, but strangely enough there are parallels between the Hood and bog burials in Europe.
    The game takes place on the border of bogs where naturally-preserved mummies of prehistoric sacrificial victims have actually been found. The game takes place in midwinter, one of the traditional times for sacrifices, so perhaps the smoking of the Fool is symbolic of a sacrifice? The sticks that the Chief Boggin holds may be a remnant of the sticks frequently found with the bog mummies, but the leather hood may be the most significant link of all - several bog mummies have been found with leather hoods tied to their heads.
    In fact, the origins of this rowdy village battle are obscure. It has similarities to other village combats, such as Asbourne's Shrove Tuesday Football and the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest in Leicestershire."
    Another similar game is The Ba', in the Orkney capital, Kirkwall, played at the same time of year.
    "Librarians have traced the Kirkwall ba' back to the 1650s, but several local legends place its origins even earlier. Many Uppies believe the ba' is the descendant of a game played by Vikings here in the ninth century. Smith and most Orcadians swear the ba' began in the 1400s, when a Kirkwall leader beheaded a neighboring tyrant and residents kicked and shoved his skull across town.

    Ba' players have preserved the game by steadfastly refusing to modernize it. There is no set of written rules, no official organization, no record-keeping of any kind. Even the four-pound, black-and-brown-striped ba's still are made specifically for each game by a rotation of local craftsmen. To survive the scrum, a ba' must withstand the equivalent pressure of a two-ton weight. The craftsmen stuff Portuguese cork into London leather and spend three days stitching the ba' together with 50 yards of eight-cord flax.

    Neither Uppies nor Doonies wear uniforms or distinguishing marks of any kind. Players are supposed to recognize their teammates because their fathers played together, and their grandfathers before that. If anyone should get confused about who's who in the midst of the 300-person tangle of arms, legs and faces, he's wise to keep it to himself. Leaders on both teams said confusing an Uppie with a Doonie often warrants banishment from the next ba' game.

    Since local newspapers began writing about the ba' in the late 1800s, the historical record indicates the game has existed predominantly in isolation and in peace. A 10-person crew of voluntary paramedics and an unwritten code of sportsmanship have limited ba'-related fatalities to one, in 1903. "
    (Washington Post)
    Another such game is in Workington, Cumbria, like the Kirkwall game, they talk of the opposing sides as "uppies" and "downies", two sides of a town, pitted against each other.

    "When two tribes go to war"
    "Workington is home to a tradition known as "Uppies and Downies", an historical version of football, dating to Medieval times. The goals are about a mile apart, one being a capstan at the harbour, and the other the park wall of Workington Hall. There were traditionally no rules, except those suggested by cunning and skill, while brute force is of the greatest importance.
    The 'Uppies' attempt to hale the ball over the park wall; the 'Downies' over the capstan. Whoever is successful in doing so wins a sovereign, given by the owner of Workington Hall. "

    The historical consensus in most of these games is that the original ball was the head of an enemy. Mediaeval lords encouraged such games, as a valuable way of keeping the serfs fit, angry, and aggressive enough to be ready for war.

    Oh, by the way, I think the description of an american football team as having 11 players is a little ingenuous. To us, used to a rugby team of fifteen, with a maximum number of reserves set at seven, the rapidly changing cast in the american game is confusing. I understand teams are permitted to have as many as 46 players, and change personnel on the field as often as they wish.
    Thus most of the team is sitting on the sidelines. In rugby there is no option to go sit down for a while. Players are on the field from start to finish.
    Um. The fifteen... I grew up with Rugby Union. However, the dominant game around here is Rugby League.

    I'll watch it with one eye, but I'd rather read a book. I did not enjoy playing it. It seemed a lot like volunteering to be hit by a train. The tackling we were taught in school is now illegal in the sport, because it resulted in too many paraplegics. (Rugby is played without armour, padding, or helmets).

  11. wow soubriquet that is quite a long comment. in fact that comment I think is longer than the post - and I never knew anything about what your wrote about till just now, so I am glad that you did.

  12. Ooooh, a rugby post. And I can't spot anything in it to complain about - well, except that you mentioned American football too much. And Rugby League too, for that matter.

    Sorry, I'm a Union girl through and through. And an ex-hooker...

  13. Blah Blah - I'm not going to be tested on this, am I?

  14. Wow. Who would have thought rugby had 14 people who were interested in it. Thanks for your comments.

    @kingofankh - wrong again, my friend. Heh.

    @a. - My father played the banjo; me and my son played real football, and nobody washed nothin'. I don't know what a washed kit is and I don't know what a windy pitch is. But like you I am starting to hate rugby but without having ever watched a game. Yo. Ho.

    @Janet - There is no such thing as an ignorant American. It is a rumor started by British and Aussie followers of Obama.

    @Kate - I looked up "here" and came up with Yorkshire. Good for you. Continue to spurn rugby. It is of the devil. Thank you for stopping by. I made a nonsensical comment on your girly blog, so you gotta come back again.

    @Caroline - I have instructed a. to show you pictures of naked rugby players. Sadly, they will only be "pretend" men from France. But they have strong thighs from running backwards.

    @a. - My father played the banjo; me and my son played real football, and nobody washed nothin'. I don't know what a washed kit is and I don't know what a windy pitch is. But like you I am starting to hate rugby but without having ever watched a game. Yo. Ho. And don't expect fresh return comments if you comment more than once. I am not that original. :)

    @frostygirl - I didn't know you were a Sharks fan! Me too!* And, yes I knew about having to place the ball on the ground for a goal. Only I fail to see why you call it a "try" when it is really a "fait accompli" (it turns a. on when I talk French.) P., there is an outside chance I will miss the Curry Cup. Umm... Currie Cup. We don't get the "Darkest Africa Channel" here in New Mexico. Sorry. May I tell you a secret? I really do want to learn about Rugby but everyone is laughing at me instead of teaching me. Thank you for not laughing at me. Do a real rugby post for me, will you? And I still need to ask you something but I keep forgetting. Good to see you here today. Thanks. :) *Yeah. Right.

    @Caroline and a. - please stop using my comments to hold a conversations about naked Frenchmen. Thank you.

    @Soubriquet - that was interesting. Truly. At first I was a little pissed that you don't seem to favor the concept of free substitution, but the other information more than unpissed me. Every time you do this, I say to myself, "No way he is doing this from memory." But I have become convinced over time that you are. Once again I am in awe. Fact. Thank you, my friend.

    @Catherine - You could have saved me this humiliation. But nooooooo. You had to waltz off and get married instead. Do you not realize you are the ONLY female Welsh rugby expert living in Northern Ireland who even comments on this blog? Do you? At least the only one who is a technical writer. Hey, wait up - I didn't know you used to be a hooker. You can't just leave it like that. Give.

    Crap. I just looked it up in my little American dictionary:

    1 informal a prostitute.
    2 Rugby the player in the middle of the front row of the scrum, who tries to hook the ball.

    Great. Another new word. Scrum. Isn't that just like a dictionary to do stuff like that?

    Really? Honest? You actually played? Do girls play rugby? No way! I thought you were just a rabid fan. Tell me about it. Where did you play? (And don't say "On a rugby pitch")

    @Petra - yes you are going to be tested as a matter of fact. Here is your question: Does spiking the ball in the end zone qualify as a try? Or do you have to stand outside the end zone and flop down over the goal line? I'm serious. You come around here mouthing off like a zombie who has forgotten her eye, and expect me to just sit here and take it off you. I have told you before: this is a classy blog. There are honest-to-God Brits who come here and read this shit. K? Now, I know the Sox bit the big one last night, but that is still no excuse to be abusive. And don't think I won't come after you. :)

    @Caroline - please don't try to kiss up to Sobriquet. Just concentrate on the naked French guys, okay? :)

  15. Origins of football: "We wyll playe with a ball full of wynde" just about sums it up.
    It's a while since you played Soubriquet, they may look different, but they do nowadays have helmets and padding for rugby. Not all players, granted.

  16. Rugby is not a sport.. Its much much more than that.. Do yourself a favour.. Watch a few games..

    I am an Avid Rugby fan ..GO SHARKS!
    We are in the finals in the Curry Cup on Saterday and you can watch us eat up the Blue Bulls.. Wahahahahaha!!

    See you there.. bring the beer I got the Boerewors!!

    Whoop WHoop!!

  17. Have put some of the rules of Rugby Union on my blog for you Max though you have done a good job on your post. When I first started watching American Football it took me ages to cotton on to the rules and plays so expect the same the other way. But like someone else said, watch a couple of games, it can be fun.

    Me, I'm at wembley on sunday to see Saints vs Chargers.. who to cheer for? no idea will just have fun.

  18. Max, are you telling me what not to do?

  19. I will give the rugby post some thought and let you know, as South African Sprinboks are the present world champions I supose it will be good to get a SA post on the subject.

    I see I have a fellow Shark supporter in Becauseican, are you going to the shark tank for the game? enjoy, hope we win!

  20. @a - Aye, we wille playe wythe wynde balles.

    @becauseican - hey, little B. It took a rugby post to make you finally show your face, eh? You got the Boerewors? Lekker. Sure, I got the beer. But I ain't bringing it to Dbn. Where the heck do the Sharks play. Anyhow? So let me get this straight - you actually have old fashioned American tailgate parties before rugby games? Really? More info, please. (Thanks bridget. I take it all back.)

    @Sage - I was checking it out on your blog. I am actually beginning to get the drift of some of this, believe it or not. And I am counting on Frostygirl to take me to a new level. Saints and Chargers? Chargers of course. Thanks again.

    @Frosygirl - got to have that post, P. But there was something else too. But the rugby post first, okay? No rush. Tonight will be fine. :)

    @Caroline - No ma'am. I must have lost my head somewhere. I would never think of telling you what to do. :)

  21. A, Yep, I looked it up. Damn
    padded rugby shirts and closed cell foam headguards. What is the world coming to?
    Yes, it's a while since I played. A long while. A very long while. I don't miss it at all, those frosty mornings.... Ha, the communal rugby bath, a sort of mud soup... walking naked and wet across the quad back to the dressing rooms in winter. Yes, the very stuff nostalgia is NOT made of.
    The worst ever thing to happen was forgetting your kit. If you said "I forgot my kit, Sir", the relevant staff member would rummage in a big box and throw random choices of dank, muddy shirt, shorts and socks at you. Old sweat, blood, mouldy patches and inexplicable stains... "Don't just stand there boy! PUT IT ON!!!"
    On the other hand, the feeling of injustice and really not wanting to be there at all made me, though small, a viciously aggressive opponent. I tackled hard and bled copiously. I figured out that if I was nasty enough I might escape. I did. I was switched from Rugby to cross-country running, Hallelujah!

  22. you weren't telling me what to do, you were telling me what not to do...

  23. Go, Caroline! You tell him!
    [ducks, runs, and watches from the sidelines]

  24. I do not follow rugby or American Football, myself.

    I am deeply suspicious of men with funny-shaped balls.



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