What is Rugby?
Images of PGR players at the Spring 2022 Nationals tournament at Notre Dame College, featured on The Rugby Breakdown Instagram page.
Rugby - The sport with a role for everyone
Here in the USA, rugby is a sport that many people have not encountered or have only heard of tangentially. If you are not familiar with our sport, don't worry! All are welcome.
Rugby is a contact sport that can played with a variety of team sizes. There are leagues that play with 15 players per team on the field, 13, 10, 7, etc. Penn HS Girls Rugby, like many other teams in the USA, plays both a 15s season and a 7s season. Our 7s season is in fall (Aug-Oct), and our 15s season is in spring (Jan-May).
In rugby, the ball must be passed backwards at all times. The only forward movement of the ball that takes place is when a player runs forward with the ball, or if the ball is kicked. When a player is tackled, players from both teams form what is called a "ruck" over the tackled player to fight for possession of the ball. The ball is then passed from the ground under the ruck to either a line of "back" players, who continue passing the ball to the outside of the field where the Centers or Wing attempt to run around the defense to score, or to a small pod of "forwards," who crash into the defense to drive them back and attempt to break through the defensive line.
When penalties take place, the opposing teams are either called to form a "scrum" or the offending team is ordered to fall back 10 meters from where the referee directs.
For both seasons, we play on pitch with a 7,208-10,080 square meter playing area.
Since rugby is a less known sport in the USA, it can take some time to familiarize yourself with the rules, strategies, and gameplay involved. What we recommend if you are new to rugby is to just watch as much rugby as you can. Women's rugby and Men's rugby are played with all the same laws, equipment, and positions, but gameplay and strategy may look a bit different. If you are a parent or player for girls' rugby, we recommend watching primarily professional women's rugby. Full length women's rugby games from high school, collegiate, club, and professional leagues can all be found on YouTube and similar websites.
Common Terms and Phrases in Rugby
The "Sir" - the referee, regardless of gender; this is more of a lay term than official title
"Boots" - cleats
Scrum - takes place when a penalty is called; see set-piece slide show below
Lineout - takes place when the ball goes out of bounds; see set-piece slide show below
Ruck - When a player is tackled, 1-3 players from opposite teams will step over the tackled player and the ball to attempt to gain or keep possession.
Try - primary method of scoring in rugby; similar to a touch-down in American football, but the scoring player must actually touch the ball to the ground with control on the outside of the uprights inside the try-zone
Try-zone - the In-goal area where players can touch the ball to the ground to score a try (see image above)
Touch - Out of bounds
Touch Judge - Two secondary referees run up and down the sidelines and raise a flag to indicate when the player with the ball or the ball itself crosses the touch boundary, as well as mark the play line for penalties and kick-off. The Touch Judges also raise their flags straight in the air or wave their flags low towards the ground to show if a conversion kick is successful or not. In high school and college, the Touch Judges are most often an assistant coach or experienced parent from each team. If someone is acting as a Touch Judge, it is also referred to as "running touch."
Conversion - secondary method of scoring; after a try is scored, the ball is kicked in between the upright poles from the position of the field that the try was scored (see scoring laws below)
Uprights - the poles at either end of the field that resemble a field goal
Forwards - set of players that make up the scrum, typically stronger, harder hitting players
Backs - set of players that make up the backline, typically faster, more agile players
Scrumhalf - the first Back position; typically the one to pick up the ball from behind scrums and rucks and pass it out. This player is also typically a leader on the field who directs both the Backs and Forwards where to go and calls plays.
Flyhalf - the second Back position; sets up the backline, calls plays, and passes on calls or direction from the scrumhalf
Knock-On - most common penalty in high school rugby: A Knock-On is called when the ball hits a player above the shin and bounces forwards instead of backwards. This penalty usually results in a scrum.
High Tackle - penalty: A High Tackle is called when a tackle is made above the collarbone and is deemed an unsafe tackle by the Sir
Note: PGR coaches do NOT tolerate high tackles. If a PGR player makes a high tackle during a game, they will be subbed out at the first opportunity and may not play for the rest of the half or full game.
Some Laws, Specifics, and Helpful Information
In our spring seasons, we include classroom time for the players each week to learn the rules and strategies of rugby. The button below links to our Spring 2022 slideshow on the 15s team positions and substitution laws, as well as the laws for scoring and on/offsides. Laws for scoring are universal, but the 7s positions and substitutions are reduced to accommodate fewer players on the field. While most laws are the same for both 15s and 7s, the strategies for each can differ greatly. In High School, 15s games can have anywhere from 20–30-minute halves, while 7s games only have 7-minute halves.
Ways to Score
Try - 5 points
Conversion - 2 points
Penalty Try - 7 points (awarded in the event that unfair play prevented a try from being scored that would have otherwise been successful)
Penalty Goal - 3 points
Dropped Goal - 3 points
A try is scored when an attacking player:
Is first to ground the ball in the opponent’s try zone
Is first to ground the ball when a scrum, ruck, or maul enters the opponent’s try zone
Is tackled with the ball short of the try zone and their momentum carries them into the zone and player is able to ground the ball
Is tackled near the opponent’s try zone and immediately reaches out and grounds the ball
Grounds the ball while In-Touch in the opponent’s try zone
When a try is scored, the team receives the right to a conversion, which must be a place-kick or a drop-kick
Uses the ball in play unless it’s defective
Kicks in the field of play along a line through the place where the try was scored
Takes the kick within 90 seconds from when the try was scored
The kicker’s team must stay behind the ball during the kick
The opposing team must stay in their own try zone while the kick is performed and may not yell while the kick is being performed
The goal is counted if the ball is kicked between the uprights
Set-Pieces, Tackling, and Rucks
There are several types of contact in rugby. The most well-known is, of course, tackling. Tackling in rugby has specific guidelines and forms in order to be most effective and safe. Rugby Indiana describes "Rugby Form" with the following conditions:
Athletic stance -> Elbows at the side, feet shoulder width apart, balanced on the balls of the feet, and hands at the ready
Neutral neck -> Head not bent forward, back, or to one side
"Spine in Line" -> a straight, flat back
Bent at the hips and knees -> Instead of a curved back, the body's natural hinges, the hips and knees, are what bend in order to take a low, aggressive stance
All rugby plays take place with that form as the baseline.