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What is Rugby? Part 2

By Derek Rosenfeld

Hopefully, my last column cleared up some confusion with the history, rules, and basics of the sport of rugby. Emanating from England in the mid-1800s and played in most countries around the world, rugby also has a sizeable cult following in the United States, as evidenced by the many amateur and collegiate leagues going strong within its borders. According to a 2011 report by the United Kingdom’s Coventry University, there are now more than five million people playing various forms of rugby around the world.

For part 2 of this column, I will focus on player formations and positions and scoring rules, which can confuse many novice watchers of the game.



FIGURE 1. Player Formation (click to enlarge)

Image found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Vijinn.

To discuss positions, let’s go back to the diagram used in Part 1, seen here, to revisit the names and types of positions rugby offers. Although the players all seem to have a similar purpose, their individual responsibilities and position on the field are all dependent on their size, speed, and strength.

Forwards. The main job of the forwards is to gain and retain possession of the ball. Generally the strongest players on the field, they are lined up in three rows (front, second, and back) at the front of the team’s formation. The row consists of two “props” (the loosehead and the tighthead) and the hooker. These players offer the most physical support on lineouts and scrums.

The second row consists of two “locks,” who are usually the tallest players on the field, which makes them their team’s de facto jumpers on lineouts.

The back row consists of two flankers and the “number 8,” who are in the best position in the formation to collect loose balls and turnovers. These forwards also create the back end of the scrum.

Backs.  The backs are generally the smallest, quickest players on the field and the most capable of generating scoring chances, either by advancing the ball into the end zone or kicking it through the goal posts (backs should also be the best kickers on the field).

The two halfbacks—the fly-half and scrum-half—usually control the ball first after a scrum or lineout. They advance the ball across the field and determine the direction the rest of the team takes while on the attack.

The fullback is positioned at the farthermost spot in the formation, serving as the last line of defense should an opposing player advance the ball past the rest of the team. He also fields all opponent kicks.      

The four three-quarter backs, which include the inside and outside centers the left and right wings, are most responsible for squelching scoring tries by being the quickest and best tacklers on the field.  



FIGURE 2. The Scrum (click to enlarge.)
Image found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Shudde.

The scrum. Used as a means to restart play after a penalty or infraction. Figure 2 shows the formation as is used during play. The formation consists of the two teams’ eight forwards binding into three rows. The front row features the two props and the hooker. The second row is formed by the locks, who placing their heads between the props and the hooker. The back row is made up of the two flankers and the number 8, who bind on each side of the scrum, next to a lock and behind a prop.

As seen in photo 1, the remaining players—the backs—fan out near the scrum to create room to run for the team that gains possession of the ball.

Image found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Jamin. (Click to enlarge.)

The line-out. Formed by a minimum of two players from each side; the maximum number is determined by the team throwing in; the opponents must not have more players in the line-out (though they can have fewer). The players forming the line-out must stand in two parallel lines between five and 15 meters from the touch-line, with the players standing at least a half a meter on their side of the "line of touch," to create a gap of at least one meter between the opposing lines.

Generally, the hooker throws the ball in; he stands with both feet out of bounds and must throw the ball straight through the gap between the teams.

Players not forming part of the line-out must stay at least 10 meters from the line-of-touch until the line-out is over; when the line-out is formed within 10 meters of their own goal line, they need only to retreat behind the goal line.



Scoring in rugby is relatively simple to follow. Points are scored by either scoring a “try” or a “goal.”

A try is scored when the player runs the ball into the opponent’s end zone and grounds the ball (placing the ball on the ground and keeping his hand on it). This results in five (5) points.

A goal is scored by kicking the ball between the uprights and above the crossbar of the goal posts. There are three ways to score a goal, worth either two (2) or three (3) points each, which  follow:

  • A “dropped” goal is scored by a kicked ball that hits the ground immediately before it is kicked;
  • a “penalty” goal is scored by a ball kicked from a stationary ground position or by drop kick after an infraction against the “laws of rugby” by the opposing team; and
  • a “conversion” is awarded after a try is scored by either a drop or place kick.

A penalty or dropped goal is worth three (3) points; a “conversion” is worth two (2) points.




On June 28, 2011, I was fortunate to attend the annual Engeldrum/McNaughton Memorial Fire Department of New York (FDNY) vs. New York Police Department rugby game, played in the shadow of Ichan Stadium at Randall’s Island.

Here are some photos of this special event, won by the FDNY (dressed in red) by a score of 17-10. Click to enlarge. (Photos by author.)


Derek Rosenfeld is an associate editor for Fire Engineering. He is the head baseball coach at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey, where he worked as an assistant coach from 2005-2011. He has also been an infielder in several highly competetive semipro baseball leagues throughout the tri-state area. During the mid-90s, Rosenfeld was a three-year starter at second base for the Ramapo College baseball team in Mahwah, New Jersey, where he earned all-New Jersey Athletic Conference honors and was a two-time New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association (NJCBA) all-star selection. He was named MVP of the 1997 NJCBA All-Star Game. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Ramapo College.  




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