In case you have been living under a rock for the last three weeks, I am here to let you know you have been missing out on the 2015 Rugby World Cup! If you haven't been watching, you missed some tremendous play, such as Japan beating South Africa. Some are saying this was as big as if not bigger than the Miracle on Ice! The good news is that pool play just wrapped up, and you still have the tournament play to watch to make up for what you missed.
Rugby like any new sport can be hard to watch when you don’t know what is going on, but once you do, I argue there isn’t a better sport to watch. Hopefully by the end of this you will have an understanding of what sets rugby apart from other sports as well as some knowledge/understanding to help you enjoy watching it.
Here are a few things about rugby that prove it is truly the greatest sport on earth:
Let’s compare rugby to one of America's favorite sports: football. In the total 60 minutes of possible play, how much of that is actually where the ball is in play? 11 minutes, maybe. That's merely 18%! Let’s not forget all the commercials, halftime, timeouts, challenges, reviews, and all the other things that drag the game out to average watch time of 3 hours and 10 minutes. Taking that into consideration 5.79% of the time you spend watching a complete game is action.
Now, let's take a look at rugby. There is a total of 80 minutes of possible play time. Of that 80 minutes, 35 minutes or 43.75% the ball is in play. Total watch time for a match is going to take around 2 hours, which comes in at 29.17% action. Play doesn’t stop and reset after each carry, timeouts called, and literally an hours worth of commercials.
I’m no mathematician, but it sounds like football is robbing you. Don’t even get me started on soccer. Early this year America was captivated by the Women’s World Cup; you can’t tell me rugby isn’t more enjoyable.
The way that tackling is taught in rugby is different than football. In football the common practice is to teach to get the head across the body, compared to rugby where you are taught to get the head behind the body. With concussion prevention being a huge point of emphasis, teams are starting to look into this style of tackling.
Famously the Seattle Seahawks turned to this style of tacking during their Super Bowl run where they had the best defense in the league. “This system of tackling was recently inspired by those who play rugby around the world. Rugby players have truly taken the head out of the game and truly exemplify shoulder tackling” (Pete Carroll qtd. in Smith).
Versatility = Athleticism
Players need to be versatile in rugby. They are going to be required to play both offense and defense which can change at any given time. Skills like running with the ball, passing, tackling, and rucking are going to be required by everyone. Certain positions are going to require more of these than others.
Regardless, players need to be well versed in all areas. It's not only understanding all the other positions on the field, it's being prepared to play them as well. Along with that they have to have great decision making skills. Only a handful of plays are scripted, the rest is purely reacting to what the defense or offense is doing. You will also notice that there aren’t coaches on the sidelines. They are watching from the press box. The coaches have done their work in practice, and it’s time for the player to play the game.
Most people who watch rugby for the first time or don’t have an understanding of the game think it’s just a brutal and violent game. Now I, nor anyone else, who has played the game would say it isn’t, but we would all say it is more than that.
For 80 minutes you go to war with the opposing team. During this time tempers may rise, but you always have a respect for one another. What a lot of people don’t see is after the game. It is tradition to have a “social” or go to the other team’s locker room to have a beer, share in some laughs, and friendships are developed. Even though we just got done beating the shit out of each other we can still connect on our love of the game.
A game consists of two 40 minute halves and a 10 minute halftime played on a field that is 100m in length (110 yds) and 70m in width (80yds). There are 15 players per side with eight of them making up the forwards who are generally larger and responsible for scrums, lineouts, and the heavy work. The other remaining seven are called the backs who are usually quicker, more agile, and are looked to be used to exploit ball possession.
There are three referees on the field. One main referee, and two assistant referees who you will see running up and down the sidelines. They are wirelessly connected to each other so they can be in constant communication.
Moving the Ball Between Players
Passing: The players can only throw the ball backwards. If the ball is thrown forward or fumbled forward it’s called a knock-on, and the other team is awarded a scrum.
Kicking: The ball may be kicked forward at anytime during play. For a player to eligible to make a play on the ball he must have been behind the kicker when he kicked the ball or wait for the kicker to run in front of them to put them “onside.”
Four Ways to Score
Much like football, the player must carry the ball past the opponent's goal line, or in rugby terms, try zone. However, unlike football, the ball must be physically placed on the ground. This is worth 5 points.
This is similar to an extra point in football. However, unlike football where the extra point is kicked from the same place every time, in rugby where the ball will be kicked from is dependent on where the ball is placed down in the try zone. It must be brought directly back from where the ball was placed. The kicker can determine how far to bring the ball back from the try zone. Generally, the further the ball is out from the center of the post, the further he (or she) will bring the ball back. This is worth 2 points.
On major penalties there are four options, one of them being an attempt to kick through goal. The ball must be kicked from the spot of the penalty. It can be either kicked from a tee or a drop kick and must travel between the post. This is worth 3 points.
At anytime during open play a player may attempt a drop goal. This is where the ball is dropped towards the ground and struck immediately after the ball hits the ground. The ball must travel between the post. This is worth 3 points.
Much like football, after a score the ball is restarted with a kick. Instead of kicking it off of a tee it’s a drop kick. The ball must go 10m and after that, the ball is live. Another difference is after you score you will receive the ball again as opposed to football where it’s kicked to the other team after a score.
Unlike football when a rugby player is tackled the play does not stop. After a player is tackled he works to place the ball back towards his support. After he does this, he must release the ball. Both teams then have chance to gain possession of the ball. Players will attempt to step over the ball and push the opposing players away, thus retaining or gaining possession of the ball. Once possession is gained play continues.
A player carrying the ball takes the ball into contact and remains on his feet. Immediately teammates from both teams will join the carrier and tackler to try and win possession of the ball. The goal of the attacking team is to over-power and continue marching the ball down field, while the defense is trying to stagnate the offense. This can be set up during open plays, but most of the time this happens off of lineouts.
The scrum is a way to restart play after a foul has occurred such as a knock-on. This is a test of power and technique where eight players bind together to push against the opposing teams eight players. The ball is rolled directly between the two packs. The opposing teams try to push each over to win possession of the ball, with the Hooker (grow up guys!) trying to “hook” or kick the ball back where it can be worked back to the base of the scrum.
When a player carries the ball out or kicks the ball out of bounds that team loses possession of the ball. The opposing team is awarded a throw into the lineout. The players will line up against each other 1m apart. The ball is thrown down the middle between the players known as the tunnel. Both teams lift their jumpers in attempt to gain possession of the ball. Think of this as a jump ball in basketball.
There are two different levels. One level will result in a restart in the form of the a scrum. In the second level of penalties, the team is presented with 4 options (1) attempt a penalty kick (2) kick the ball out of touch and still maintain possession resulting in that team’s lineout (3) do what is known as a “quick tap” where a player does a small kick to himself, and play resumes (4) a scrum may be chosen as well. After a penalty is committed you may hear the ref say “advantage!” This means he is going to let the team who would be awarded the penalty continue to play to see if they can gain any territorial advantage. After a period of time he will either say “advantage gained” and play continues on as if the penalty didn’t happen, or he will blow the whistle and come back to the spot of the penalty. If the latter occurs, play will be restarted with one of the ways described above. Here are some basic penalties that you may see:
In simple terms, it is when a player loses the ball and it travels forward. Most would recognize this as a fumble or a dropped pass. This results in a scrum.
All tackles must be from the shoulders down, and there must be a clear attempt to wrap up a player. Meaning coming, and just shoulder charging someone will likely earn your team a penalty. You also cannot pick up a player and slam them to the ground or tackle them in a manner where their hips go above their head. This is known as a dump tackle. Either of these can results in one of the four options for a major penalty or potentially a yellow or red card. A yellow card results in player taking a trip to the "sin bin." The team will be forced to play a man down for 10 minutes. A red card will result in an ejection from the game, and usually comes with an accompanying game or two suspension. They cannot be replaced, leaving their team with one fewer player for the remainder of the game.
In football it is completely legal and huge part of the game to block potential tacklers. In rugby blocking an opponent in order to stop them from tackling one of your teammates, or moving in front of a teammate in order to act as a shield, is also against the rules. Doing either of these will result in one of the four options for a major penalty.
Not Releasing the Ball
When the ball carrier is tackled and not just knocked to the ground that player must immediately release the ball. This is to allow a fair contest of the ball by both sides. If a defensive player is making a play for the ball after the tackle and the person on the ground continues to hold on to the ball, then the ref will blow his whistle and single holding on by bringing the hands in close to his chest. This results in one of the four options for a major penalty.
Where and When to watch
Now is time to take your newly empowered rugby knowledge and go watch a match. Unfortunately your ability to watch any of the 2015 Rugby World Cup matches is limited in the states without purchasing a match. There will be 2 matches televised: October 24th Semi Final Match #1 and October 31st World Cup Final.
The good news is rugby is played year round and not something you are only to able to watch every four years. Go on YouTube, and there are plenty of full matches you can watch. Maybe even some World Cup ones if they haven’t been pull off yet.
Even better I am sure there are local men’s, women’s, or collegiate clubs that would love for you to come out and support one of their matches.
Smith, Michael David. Pete Carroll urges rugby-style tackling in instructional video
Carl Case has been an athlete his whole life, playing both football and rugby in high school. After high school, he directed his focus to rugby where he went on to become a collegiate Midwest All Star. Carl continues to play rugby on a mens team near South Bend, and was part of a National Runner Up team. He found CrossFit and then Power Athlete as a way to fuel his rugby performance. He has been following the Power Athlete methodology since it’s launch in 2009 and attended his first CrossFit Football seminar in August of 2009.
After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and Power Athlete inspired classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.
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