It’s officially summer, which means baseball watching season for most sports fans. Don’t get me wrong, baseball is great, but it doesn’t start heating up until the playoffs in October. I’m here to tell you there are alternatives, specifically rugby. There are a few sports referred to as rugby around the world, this article will cover rugby union. Here’s your guide to watching rugby union:
Rugby is the most complex simple game you’ll ever watch. At its core, rugby is one team with the ball running into another team defending, until the offensive team scores or loses the ball. However there are many rules that govern the teams’ interactions, and this is what confuses most newcomers to the game. I’m not going deep into the rule book here, just enough to make a rugby watchable for a first timer.
The Basic Rules
Knock-On/Forward Pass – The ball can not travel forward off a player’s hands. That means no forward passes or dribbling. The two ways you can advance the ball is kicking the ball or carrying the ball forward. Passes have to be either lateral or backwards. Result of breaking this rule: Scrum for the opposing team.
Maybe the most commonly asked question is: What is that thing with all the guys mushed together in a big blob? That’s a scrum. On each team, eight of the 15 players, known as the forward pack, bind together. Three in the front, four in the middle and one at the back. They push forward in the same formation, while the team that didn’t commit the foul puts the ball into the scrum, hoping it comes out at the back of the scrum on their side. Around 90 percent of the time, the team that puts the ball in gets the ball back. Have a look at this video of scrums if you’re still confused.
Tackling – When one player tackles another there are three rules for the tackler. 1. Don’t tackle around the neck or above. 2. Don’t pile drive opponents head into the ground into the ground like you’re spiking a football. 3. Tackle with your hands and shoulders, not just your shoulders. Here’s a collection of big, but legal, hits.
Ruck – Once the player with the ball has been tackled, they must release it. What’s called a “ruck” is formed and the ball is up for grabs — the two teams have to fight for possession of the ball. Rules governing the contest for possession often vary referee to referee, but the basics are: stay on your feet, enter the ruck from your side of the field and don’t touch the ball until it’s secured by one team or outside of the ruck. Here’s a good explanation of rucking.
The goal of every rugby team is to score a “try.” There is an infinite number of ways to score tries, but they all involve crossing the goal line and touching the ball on the ground. One try is worth 5 points, after which the scoring team has the opportunity to kick the ball off the ground for a “conversion” worth two points.
The difficulty of a conversion depends on where the try scorer touches the ball down. Touch the ball down underneath the uprights and the conversion will be a chip shot, that most of you reading could make. Score next to the sideline and even good kickers will only make this conversion half the time. The only other way to score is off penalty kicks. A penalty kick is exactly like a conversion, but are awarded after foul play instead of following a try.
A rugby game is 80 minutes long with 40 minute halves and stoppage time similar to soccer. Draws are allowed but rarely occur in competition.
Where to Watch?
You have two options. Go to a British or Irish pub during a game or watch online live at a vaguely illegal site you didn’t get from me. Also, there are plenty of full games on YouTube and occasionally on NBC Sports. I would recommend watching international matches. My favorite competition is (besides the World Cup) the Rugby championship between New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina that starts in August. If you can’t wait try the Super 15, which features 15 regional teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
That’s it for your guide to watching rugby union. Try it out when the dog days of summer get you down.