Rugby, the name is after the town of Rugby in Warwickshire, England, where it was first played. A student at the Rugby School called William Webb Ellis picked up the ball in hands and started running. This popular story about the derivation of the modern Rugby football is said to have happened in 1823.
English clubs established the RFU (Rugby Football Union) in 1871. The formation of the NU (Northern Rugby Football Union) was followed in 1892 to introduce the professionalism. This historical incident made Rugby football into 2 major codes, namely Rugby union and Rugby league.
Rugby football uses the prolate spheroid shaped ball and disallow forward passing while allow running with the ball in hands. These are the common characteristics of Rugby football.
The ancient Roman ball game Harpastum, possibly inspired by the Greek ball games Episkyros and Phaininda, is said to appear similar to Rugby football.
Characteristics of Rugby union can be seen in breakdowns, ruck, maul and set pieces such as lineout and scrum.
Players can move the ball backward by passing and also move forward by running and kicking.
Defending players can tackle the player in possession of the ball and contact has to be made below neck.
Rugby union kept amateurism and finally opened to the professionalism in 1995, which accelerated the development of the game.
The first international match was held between Scotland and England at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh in 1871, in which Scotland won 1-0. England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales started the Home Nations Championship, the first international competition in 1883. British Isles team visited Australia and New Zealand in 1888, which gradually led to the British and Irish Lions tours. The first World Cup was held in 1987 and New Zealand became the first World Cup champions.
The global governing body for Rugby union is the World Rugby, formerly known as the IRFB (International Rugby Football Board) and the IRB (International Rugby Board) based in Dublin, Ireland since 1886.
6 regional governing bodies are under the umbrella of the World Rugby.
Rugby Africa. Former name; CAR (Confederation of African Rugby).
Asia Rugby. Former name; ARFU (Asian Rugby Football Union).
Rugby Americas North. Former name; NACRA (North America Caribbean Rugby Association).
Rugby Europe. Former name; FIRA, AER (Fédération Internationale de Rugby Amateur, Association Européenne de Rugby).
Oceania Rugby. Former name; FORU (Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions).
Sudamérica Rugby. Former name; CONSUR (Confederación Sudamericana de Rugby).
SANZAAR. Former name; SANZAR.
It’s the joint venture of the South African Rugby Union, New Zealand Rugby, Rugby Australia and the Argentine Rugby Union. SANZAAR takes charge of Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship (former name; the Tri Nations).
There are international competitions organised every year as follows.
The Six Nations Championship are competed by European major Rugby nations, namely England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
The Rugby Championship is contested by 4 major Rugby nations of the Southern Hemisphere, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Former name before the addition of Argentina was the Tri Nations.
Major domestic equivalent competitions are
Top 14 (France),
NRC, National Rugby Championship (Australia),
Provincial Championship (New Zealand),
Currie Cup (South Africa) and
Pro14 (Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales, South Africa).
Major continental and intercontinental club equivalent competitions are
European Rugby Champions Cup (Europe) and
Super Rugby (Southern Hemisphere, Japan).
1 team consists of 15 players. Positions are divided into forwards and backs.
FW: 8 players.
Front row: Loosehead prop (No. 1), Hooker (No. 2), Tighthead prop (No. 3).
Second row: Lock (No. 4), Lock (No. 5)
Back row: Blindside flanker (No. 6), Openside flanker (No. 7), Number Eight (No. 8).
BK: 7 players.
Scrum-half (No. 9), Fly-half (Stand-off) (No. 10).
Three quarter backs:
Left wing (No. 11 ), Inside centre (No. 12), Outside centre (No. 13), Right wing (No. 14).
Fullback (No. 15).
1 game consists of 2 halves of 40 minutes respectively. A try is worth 5 points, a conversion is 2 points, penalty kick is 3 points and drop goal is 3 points.
The field size of Rugby union is 144m (157yd) x 70m (77yd) or similar. 100m (109yd) between the 2 try-lines max, and in-goal 10m to 22m behind each-try line. Goalposts consist of 2 poles 560cm (6.1yd) width and crossbar is 3m (3.3yd) height.
Rugby union variants
Rugby sevens is operated by World Rugby, the global governing body of Rugby union.
The field size is the same as the Rugby union. Sevens match consists of 2 halves of 7 or 10 minutes in general. A tournament may be held in 1 day or 2.
Since a plenty of space available to move, players are required to have good running abilities. Conversions need to be done by drop-kick. Scrums are done by 3 players on each team. Kick-off is by the team who scored rather than conceded.
1 team is made up of 7 players. Positions are divided into forwards and backs.
FW: 3 players.
Prop (No. 1), Hooker (No. 2), Prop (No. 3).
BK: 4 players.
Scrum-half (No. 4), Fly-half (Stand-off) (No. 5).
Three quarter backs:
Centre (No. 6), Wing (No. 7).
Rugby sevens was first played in Melrose, Scotland in 1883 as the mean for fundraising of Melrose RFC. The Melrose Sevens tournament is held till date.
The first official national team tournament, International Seven-A-Side Tournament was held at Murrayfield in 1973. Hong Kong Sevens was launched in 1976 and contributed to expand popularity of the Rugby sevens. World Rugby Sevens Series began in 1999 and the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series followed in 2012. The Rugby World Cup Sevens first took place in Scotland in 1993.
Rugby sevens was played in the Summer Olympic games for the first time in 2016. Fiji became the first Olympic winners for men’s game, and Australia won the first Olympic gold medals for women’s game.
Rugby sevens for men was first played at the Pan American Games in 2011 and women’s Rugby sevens was added in 2015. The Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series, formerly the FIRA-AER Sevens and the European Sevens Championship, is the prestigious competition held annually in Europe.
Rugby tens (Ten-a-side, Xs)
Rugby tens is base on the Rugby union rules, but 1 team consists of 10 players, 5 forwards and 5 backs. A match consists of 2 halves of 10 minutes in general.
It was invented in Malaysia and popular among Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. Recognition of Rugby tens is raising in South Africa.
Major competitions of Rugby tens:
COBRA Rugby Tens (Founded in 1967).
Hong Kong Football Club Tens (Founded in 1986).
Flanders Open Rugby (Founded in 1993).
Cape Town Tens (Founded in 2009).
World Club 10s (Founded in 2014).
Brisbane Global Rugby Tens (Founded in 2017).
Mini rugby (New Image Rugby, Dragon rugby, Walla rugby)
Mini rugby is the Rugby union variation created for the purpose of teaching Rugby union to children. The ball and field used are smaller and number of players are between 8 and 10.
Midi rugby is the form of between Mini rugby and full Rugby union. 1 team consists of 12 or 13 players.
Rugby league share the same origin as the Rugby union. Number of Rugby clubs in England left the RFU (Rugby Football Union) and formed the NU (Northern Rugby Football Union) in 1895 due to the disagreement to the regulation, which disallow payment to the players. The name was changed to Rugby Football League later. The rule changes have been made over the time and people started calling it Rugby league. The major rule change in early days was the removal of the line-out. The number of players reduced to 13 from 15, and the play-the-ball rules made the ball movement speedy.
Rugby league is mainly played in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands. Rugby League World Cup was first hosted in France in 1954 and the Great Britain became the first World Cup Champions.
Major club competitions:
Super League (Europe).
NRL (Australian National Rugby League).
The Rugby League International Federation governs the Rugby league globally. The Rugby League European Federation is in charge of Europe and the Northern Hemisphere.
Rugby League International Federation.
Rugby League European Federation.
The Asia-Pacific Rugby League Confederation.
ARL (Australian Rugby League Commission).
NZRL (New Zealand Rugby League).
1 team consists of 13 players. Positions are divided into forwards and backs.
FW: 6 players.
Front row: Blind-side prop (No. 10), Hooker (No. 9), Open-side prop (No. 8).
Second row: Second-row (No. 12), Second-row (No. 11).
Back row: Loose forward (Lock) (No. 13).
BK: 7 players.
Half-backs (Scrum-half) (No. 7), Stand-off (Five-eighth) (No. 6).
Three quarter backs:
Left wing (No. 5 ), Left centre (No. 4), Right centre (No. 3), Right wing (No. 2).
Fullback (No. 1).
Rugby league variants
Rugby league sevens
It’s the Rugby league played with 7 players. Rugby league sevens competition was first held in Australia in 1961. Rugby League World Sevens, alternatively called as the World Cup Sevens is the major competition.
The field is the same size as the regular Rugby league. 1 team consists of 3 forwards, 1 half and 3 backs. The number of substitutions allowed is unlimited from the squad of 12 players.
1 game is made up of 2 halves of 7 or 10 minutes respectively. Drop-kick has to be used when aiming for the goal. Details for the rules vary in different countries.
Rugby league nines
Based on the Rugby league rules, and 1 team is 9 players rather than 13. The number of substitutions allowed is unlimited with 4 substitute players. The scrum consists of front row (3 players) and second row (2 players).
1 game consists of 2 halves of 7 minutes 30 seconds. Kick-off restart is a tap by the team who conceded. Penalty restart is a tap from the 10 metres advance of the spot the breach happened. Players need to use drop-kick for conversion after try.
Major events of Rugby league nines:
Carnegie Floodlit 9s.
Cheltenham Rugby Festival.
Rochdale International Rugby League 9s.
Scarborough Rugby League Festival.
Southern 9s Tournament.
South West 9s.
Warwick University Rugby League 9s.
York International 9s.
North Wales 9s.
Scott McRorie 9s.
Malta Rugby League 9s.
The Pacific Games Rugby league.
Cabramatta International 9s.
Tarsha Gale 9s.
NRL Auckland 9s.
Zambales International Rugby League 9s Tournament.
Phuket International 9s Rugby League.
United States of America:
USA Rugby League 9s.
It is popular along the coasts around Europe such as Italy. The field size of Beach rugby is between 30m x 20m and 50m x 35m. In-goal is 3m to 7m. Since Beach rugby field is on sand where it’s hard to draw straight lines and maintain them, the lines tend to be placed by visible tapes. 1 game consists of 2 halves of 5 or 7 minutes. Number of players is 4 to 7. The details of rules vary depending on the competitions.
Force back (Forcing back, Forcemanback, Force ’em backs)
The rules of Force back vary. For example, a player takes a kick-off from the half way towards the goal line. If the opposite team managed to catch, the player can advance 10 metres before kicking the ball forward. Punt kicking through between the goalposts is 1 point. Drop kicking through the goalposts is 3 points.
Alternatively you get 1 point if the ball bounced over the back line. If not, it goes over. If a player catches a kick, team can advance 5 steps. The team who scored 10 points wins. There are no physical contacts and it’s focused on kicking.
It is a popular game in New Zealand and Australia. Force back is often played by students at break times.
Touch rugby (Touch football, Touch footy, Touch, Six down, Sixes)
Often Touch rugby is played in warming ups and informal plays in public parks. There are different types of Touch rugby games and the ones based on Rugby league is the most popular.
Major change is that replacing tackles with touches and removing hard physical contacts. Rules are simplified and easier to understand. These changes make it possible for wider categories of players to participate in the game since it’s much safer and easier to understand than full contact Rugby league.
There are official competitions as well. Rules vary depending on organisers. 6 players make up 1 team in 1 of the common Touch rugby codes. The FIT (Federation of International Touch) based in Australia is the global governing body for the Touch rugby.
There is a semi-contact variants called League tag, which was developed in 2 different places. Rules are based on Rugby league and tackles are replaces with alternative plays. 1 of 2 major codes of League tag was invented in Cork, Ireland while the other was from New South Wales, Australia.
In Ireland’s League tag, players tag the ball rather than making full contact tackles. other efforts are made to reduce contacts such as removal of cloth-grabbing, hand-off and fend. In Australia’s League tag, players take tags off the ball carrier’s body instead of tacking. League tag allows players to learn Rugby league while it’s safer to play as contacts are largely reduced.
Tag rugby (Flag rugby)
In Tag rugby, a player wears the belt with 2 velcro tags. Instead of making full-contact tackles, players hold and detach these tags from the belt. Rules are similar to Rugby league and it’s a good stepping stone for children. Tag rugby was first invented in Gibraltar, where soft ground is not available due to the limited environment. The attacking team needs to score before 4th tackle is completed, or give up the ball possession to the opposition. Tag rugby was codified by physical education teacher in England in 1990 and became popular among children across the globe.
A variant of British tag rugby, OzTag is the no-contact game based on Rugby league and suitable for children. Tackling method is removing a tag from the ball carrier. Attacking team needs to score a try within 5 plays or tags. A try is worth 1 point and there is no conversion kick after try is scored. 1 team consists of 8 players. Players are also allowed to kick the ball below the shoulder height of the referee. 1 game is made up of 2 halves of 20 minutes. The field size of the OzTag is 70m×50m in general.
The Tag rugby variant, Mini tag is the no-contact sport and commonly played among children. The tackle count is unlimited in Under 7 and a tackled player needs to off-load the ball. The restart method is a free pass. The size 3 rugby ball is used in Mini Tag.
Wheelchair rugby league
Wheelchair rugby league is based on Rugby league rules and players move around on wheelchairs. Players don’t necessarily need to have disabilities to qualify as players. Tackling is replaced with taking a tag off a shoulder. The size 4 rugby ball is used in Wheelchair rugby league. The court size of Wheelchair rugby league is 40m x 20m. The standard handball court can be used and the indoor rugby posts are placed.
Wheelchair rugby league was invented by Robert Fassolette and Wally Salvan from France in 2004. The first Wheelchair rugby league World Cup was organised in Sydney, Australia in 2008 and England was the first World Cup winner.
The Universal football is the game combining the Australian football and the Rugby league proposed in early 1900’s.
Author: Takuya Nagata
Once played soccer for one of the biggest football clubs in Japan. Retired at young and voyaged alone to England and graduated from the UK’s university. Established careers as football journalist, football coach, football consultant, etc. across Europe such as Spain. Played rugby union since moving to the UK and investigated various codes of football. Knowledgeable in creative and online industries as well. The founder of “Propulsive Football (PROBALL)“, the world’s first ever competitive mixed football facilitating diversity and spirits for equal participation of the society. The founder of Tact Nexus Group.
> > NEWS Global
> > > Rugby football
> > > Gaelic football
> > > Hybrid football games
> > > Old football games