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May 20, 2019

Rugby 101: A quick start guide – Part 2

Ready for a little more to whet your appetite for this fine game of rugby? Let’s give it a try – if you got the pun then you must have read Part 1! If not, read it here.

This article goes over a few more basics like starting the play, tackling, restarting and how possession is turned over. The list of key terms is found at the end to help out if something needs a little more explanation.

Reminder on the rules of thumb

Just a quick reminder on two things to remember: pass backwards and stay behind the ball or your teammate with the ball.

Kick Off

A kick off is used to start each half of the game and after a score. A coin toss decides who kicks and who receives. The ball must go at least 10 metres into the opponents end before play can continue.

A kick off is also used following a score. The team that did not score kicks to the opponent – giving the scoring team an opportunity and advantage to keep possession of the ball.

Open play

Once the match has been successfully started with a kick off, the next phase of the game is called open play. The ball is being passed or kicked between teammates and both teams are vying for possession of the ball.

The objective during open play is for the team with possession to use various strategies to make space and get the ball to players who can continue to progress towards the opponent’s end resulting in a try.


Rugby is all about the contact so tackling is a major part of the game. And unlike North American football, this does not mean blocking. Only players with the ball can be tackled. Dangerous tackles are not allowed – this means no tackling around the opponent’s neck or head and no tackling a player when they are in the air.

The tackle is considered complete when the player with the ball is brought to the ground – at least one knee touches the ground. The tackling player must immediately release the tackled player and get to their feet before competing for the ball. The player with the ball has about one second to release the ball once she is on the ground.

Restarting the play

There are different ways that play is restarted depending on what has transpired in the play.


A ruck is formed once the ball is released after a tackle to determine possession again. This often looks a bit frantic with teams forming a tunnel over the ball to gain possession.

Following a tackle, one or more players from each team, while on their feet, close above the ball – making a tunnel – to compete for possession. The tackled player attempts to roll and shield the ball on the ground in the direction of her team – not using her hands – to give an advantage to maintain possession. Teams compete for the ball using their strength to hold off the other team. Players must only use their feet in the ruck to move the ball down the tunnel while trying to hold off their opponents. When the ball reaches the feet of the last player in the ruck, only then may it be picked up – usually by the scrum half who passes to a back and play continues.

In a ruck, possession is won with skill, sheer strength and bulk by protecting the ball and pushing the opposing team away from the ball.


Mauls start out as a failed tackle – the tackler does not succeed in taking the player with the ball to the ground. A maul occurs when the player with the ball is held by one or more opponents and one or more of the ball carrier’s team mates holds on as well. This looks frantic too – much like the ruck – but it is a standing up version of a ruck. The player with the ball will attempt to hand it off to a teammate at this point and get it to a player nearby – usually a back – with space to run so play can continue.

The difference between a maul and a ruck is that the ball must be off the ground for a maul. Ball on the ground, with feet is a ruck. Ball off the ground, with hands is a maul.

This is a great YouTube clip of a maul by the Penn State women’s rugby team.


If one team commits a minor infraction – likely a forward pass, a knock-on or if the ball becomes unplayable during a ruck – the other team is awarded a scrum. In a scrum, the forwards from both teams bind arms together in three rows – a row of 3, a row of 4, a row with the last player. All eight forwards are part of the scrum formation – or the pack.

With each team’s forwards bound together and facing each other, the ball is thrown into the scrum by the non-offending team’s scrum half. The hooker (yes, the hooker) attempts to win possession of the ball for her team. The object of the scrum is to use the strength of the forwards to move the ball – using feet only and no hands – to the scrum half who is ready to pass it to a back so play can continue.


A lineout restarts play when the ball has gone out of bounds. The teams line up side by side with the advantage to the non-offending team who throws the ball in from the sideline. This play involves both teams lifting a player in the air to grab the ball and gain possession of the ball. The lifted player – known as the jumper – who gets the ball then passes to the scrum half and play continues.

Infractions and penalties

Infractions include dropping the ball forward (a knock-on), a forward pass or a penalty. The non-offending team is awarded a scrum or free kick.

Penalties are for more serious occurrences. Examples include high tackle, leaving feet in ruck, and offside (likely the most common). The non-offending team can choose to take a shot at the goal, kick the ball or tap the ball with their foot and run it.

Key term definitions

Again…the list of key terms to help with the basics:

  • Pitch: the field of play. It is 100m long by not more than 69m wide – a little longer and a little wider than American football.
  • Dead ball area: the area past the goal line measuring 10 and 22m at the each end of the field where a try is scored.
  • Touchline: the side boundary of the field (sideline).
  • Try: the act of scoring points for your team – forcing the ball down over the opposition’s goal line. A try is worth 5 points.
  • Conversion: the kick following a try to attempt to add two extra points. The scoring team can receive an additional two points by kicking the ball between the goal posts for a conversion.
  • Forward Pass: a violation; it occurs when the ball is passed forward to another teammate which results in a scrum to the opposing team.
  • Knock on: occurs when a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward. Results in a scrum to the non-offending team.
  • Tackle: occurs when the ball carrier is held by one or more opponents and brought to the ground. Only the ball carrying players may be tackled.
  • Offside: occurs when a player is further forward (closer to the opponent’s goal line) than the teammate who has possession of the ball. If the offside player engages in play, they are penalized.
  • Lineout: occurs to restart the play when the ball goes over the touchline (the side boundary of the field). The non-offending team gets possession of the ball and controls the throw in.
  • Throw in: occurs to restart play when throwing the ball down the middle of the lineout.
  • Free Kick: follows a minor violation allowing the non-offending team to restart play unopposed. The offending team retreats 10 metres and waits for the opponent team to kick the ball. A free kick cannot be taken for goal.
  • Ruck: occurs after a tackle with the ball on the ground. One or more players from each team who are on their feet close above the ball (like a tunnel) and compete for possession. The ball is moved with the feet only. When the ball reaches the further back player’s foot in the ruck it may be picked up.
  • Scrum: occurs after a penalty or infraction to restart play. The forwards from both teams bind together in three rows, the ball is thrown into the scrum by the non-offending team’s scrum half and the hooker attempts to win possession of the ball for their team.
  • Forwards: the eight positions (wear #s 1-8) that pack in a scrum or throw and jump in a lineout. Positions include loose-head prop, hooker, tight-head prop, 2-locks, blind-side flanker, open-side flanker and number 8.
  • Backs: the seven players (wear #s 9-15) that spread out and attempt to run the ball from the scrum or lineout. Positions include scrum half, fly half, left wing, inside centre outside centre, right wing and full back.

Other resources

Parts 1 and 2 are meant to introduce the basic concepts of rugby to a newbie. There is so much more to learn about the intricacies of the game. You will find additional information and more details on game strategies, at either of Rugby Canada: Rugby 101 or World Rugby: A Beginner's Guide to Rugby Union. One more helpful guide is found on the Aurora Barbarian’s website at: Aurora Barbarian’s: A Beginner’s Guide to Rugby Union.

Learn the many reasons why your daughter should give rugby a try.

Rugby Canada is the administrative body for rugby in Canada. Rugby Canada oversees the development of the sport in communities across the country and supports elite programs for prospering young players as well. Their website provides information on provincial unions, national teams, competitions, officials, safety, camps and clinics and much more.

(Photo from: Hannah Daniels)

The game of rugby is well represented in each of the ten provincial unions with more and more young girls and women playing across the country. Links to provincial unions can be found on the Rugby Canada site – or by clicking on the province below:

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador

Provincial unions will have information on rugby clubs in your neighbourhood or follow this link on SeeWhatSheCanDo to find a rugby club in your community.


Find, rate and review rugby clubs, local community offerings and businesses that will help you do your thing in our Athlete Advisor, your online athletic business directory.

Explore all things rugby on our Rugby activity page where you'll also find Part 1 of this quick start guide.

Find or start an event or group on our SWSCD Hub.

Do you have a good resource on the basics of rugby or a story about how the light went on for you? Tell us about your experience directly on our Discover blog or by using #seewhatshecando on social media and inspire others to get active. 


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