Guide to Rugby
Rugby is played on a grassy field (known as a pitch) with 15 players per team. It can, however, also be played with just seven players per team in a version that’s called sevens rugby or often just ‘sevens’ (which made its Olympic debut in 2016). There are also other variations of rugby, including rugby football and Aussie rules, which are most commonly played in Australia.
The scoring system in a rugby match is similar (but not exactly) to good ol’ American football. Scoring a try is worth five points and occurs when a player touches the ball down in the end zone (similar to football). After every try is scored, the scoring team has the opportunity to kick a conversion (like a field goal) for two extra points. Games are divided into two 40-minute halves and time expires when the ball is “dead” (kicked out of bounds) after the 80-minute mark. In sevens rugby, the games are only seven minute halves because there’s a lot fewer players covering the same size of field, and that’s just tiring AF!
How is rugby organized?
Rugby has had some trouble gaining a foothold in the American sports market, but MLR (Major League Rugby) is trying to change that. The league formed in 2016 when five amateur teams signed on to start a professional league. Two years later, in 2018, MLR had a multi-year television broadcast deal with CBS Sports Network and hosted its first regular season game on April 21.
This league is the highest level of professional rugby in North America and the league is set to expand in 2020 with three additional teams (Atlanta, Boston and Washington, D.C.) to bring the total to 12. Because of this, MLR will switch to a conference format for the first time in 2020 with a Western and Eastern Conference each consisting of six teams with a scheduling running from February through to the end of June. More on the format here. The Seattle Seawolves were the MLR champions in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The best of the best
Rugby is extremely popular in England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Now, if we had to narrow it down to the two best teams in the world, it would be the New Zealand All Blacks and the South African Springbok. Both teams have won the Webb Ellis Cup (the trophy for the Rugby World Cup title) three times, the most of any team. New Zealand’s came in 1987, 2011 and 2015 while South Africa took the Cup in 1995, 2007 and most recently in 2019.
All Blacks stud Dan Carter retired from international play in 2015 but remains the highest point-scorer in test match rugby (a fancy way to say an international match between two senior national teams). Carter still plays club rugby for the Kobelco Steelers in Japan and plays the position of center or fly-half. Owen Farrell plays for the English national team, as well as the Saracens in London, England. He is one of the best (looking) converters in rugby, with more than 100 successful conversions in international play. Not too shabby!
Didn’t your mama tell you not to ruck with a girl?
The US fields both a regular (15 person) and sevens rugby team at the national level. But because sevens is currently the only Olympic sport, it tends to get the most attention outside of big rugby countries like New Zealand and South Africa.
The US women’s sevens team has participated in the World Rugby Sevens Series (a series of tournaments where national teams play for points and eventually the World Rugby Sevens title) since its inaugural season in 2012. They’re lowest ranking was seventh in 2013-14 and have been as high as second in the world in the 2018-19 season. In that season, Naya Tapper scored the most tries (18) and Alev Kelter scored the most points (141), so keep your eye on these two rucking awesome ladies.
The US did not medal when rugby sevens made its Olympic debut at Rio 2016, but they’ll definitely be looking to capture some hardware at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
And you know we have some trivia…
- This is more of a FYI but, you cannot “forward pass” the ball in rugby — it must be thrown backwards to a teammate. However, you can kick the ball forward along the ground and then run to grab it!
- The Rugby World Cup (RWC) is hosted every four years. The most recent RWC was hosted in Japan in 2019 (won by South Africa) and the women’s is set for 2021. FYI, in a landmark decision in 2019, the Rugby World Cup decided to drop gender markings from its tournament names meaning the 2021 women’s edition will be known simply as the Rugby World Cup 2021. #EqualityAF
- You don’t get to pick your jersey number in rugby because jersey numbers are assigned to specific positions. Example: 9 = scrumhalf, 15 = fullback.
- Rugby was invented when William Webb Ellis was playing soccer, caught the ball and ran to the goal while carrying it. Rules are made to broken we guess?
That’s #thegist of it!
Written by Guest Writer & Rugby Guru: Victoria Spanton
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