Rugby 101: The Basics

This one is for the commoner, the so called ‘rugby dummy’ –this demeaning term, sigh. We all start somewhere, and in this context getting to understand the sport of Rugby isn’t the easiest of things, for starters…



With the ever growing troop of enthusiasts to local rugby matches, as witnessed recently when Kenya played hosts to Uganda (Elgon Cup/RA Gold cup), Tunisia and Senegal (both for the Rugby Africa Gold Cup). It is evident that rugby is a growing weekend plan, for many obvious reason- even the weird ones, such as the thrill of watching shredded and stealthy-belly trotting athletes in skimpy shorts knock the daylights out of each other -laughs, to having a chance to stare at the beaming beauties, bachelors we see you.

Some bachelorettes too, brand marketing pale RFUEA, I bet there are many couples that have their foundation cemented at the stands of this arena…

That notwithstanding though, the ever growing popularity in rugby has brought about imparity in understanding of the game. From starters to staunch side stand tacticians and I am out to assist the starters, but before that, lets understand this…

The ‘Fanatics’ and ‘Fun-atics’

A quick interpretation of the two;

The Fanatic cuzo, is well versed with terms and rules of the game, or fairly doing well in interpreting calls made by the center referee. He is also the coach, player and referee from the stands… add to that, the Video Referral Assistant (VRA) or in rugby 101 terms, thee TMO guy.


Fanatics & ‘Fun’-atics? You decide | Safaricom, Pic-centre

On the other hand, Funatics; are the ‘lesser versed ones’–for lack of a better term- of some sort on matters rugby. They are ever talkative of anything rugby unrelated, when the game is in general play. They will be filled in a myrrh of ecstasy and jubilation when a pacey one sprints to the end of the pitch and dives into the greens- a plus. They are the ever inquisitive ones, which of course is an indicator they are keen. But it’s the bogging questions they ask that can really get to the nerves of a ‘Fanatic’…

Why did he do that? What does that mean? What is that for? Where are they running to? Why is he throwing it that way? Of course they end with an ‘ouch!’ for every tackle or fend… Jeez!

To tackle some of the commonly used terminologies and acts in the field of rugby, here is a run through the most basic of Rugby Union, 15-A-side.


A game of rugby 15-A-side, lasts 80 minutes with two halves of 40 minutes each. The objective being for the offence (the team in possession of the ball) to get past the defense and score a TRY –NOT A GOAL, A TRY.

In rugby the ball is carried forward, can be kicked forward but NEVER passed forward

Numerically, there are 15 players and 7 reserves (regularly referred to as substitutes) making a total of 22 players drafted for a game.

What is a TRY?

A try a is a score awarded when the offence gets past the defense and brings the ball to ground at the latter’s try box. Now, a try box is the extended patch of green behind those taaaaaaall posts that form a letter ‘H’.

try c

Kenya and South Africa’s sensationals Collins Injera & Seabelo Ssenatla, respectively earning a try. By placing & by diving, essence is to ground the ball whilst still at hand | Getty Images, SA Rugby Mag

A try is worth 5 points. Don’t ask what is a Penalty try, zile rahisi kwanza please.




Kenya’s International Darwin Mukidza (left) & Former New Zealand All Blacks international Dan Carter (right) line up place kicks | Michael Khateli,

A team that scores a try is handed an opportunity to CONVERT the ball for an extra 2 points, done by a place kick (kicking the ball from ground)- in the case of 15-A-side rugby or a drop-kick in 10s/7s-A-Side rugby, towards the taaaaaaall ‘H’ posts. A successful CONVERSION is when the ball goes through the upper part of the ‘H’… not below as it happens in soccer.

Ama hiyo soccer mtauilizia ni nini, okay Football then.

A successful penalty is worth 3 points and is awarded in case of an infringement. Another way of getting additional points is through a drop-goal kick aimed at the ‘H’ in open play (mchezo ukiendelea), which is worth 3 points.

Remember, a conversion/drop kick is 2 points; a drop-goal/penalty is 3 points. Sawa?

Why are they bent like that, what is a RUCK?

Ladies, you are the culprits at asking this, which is okay though, coz they will always explain. This one occurs when two opposing players COME INTO CONTACT OVER THE BALL, characterized by players having their butt ends protruding at a very precise angle, and seem to be involved in a tussle.

The scenario happens when the attacking player (one who is carrying the ball forward) takes the ball into contact and is tackled to ground by an opposing player. The opposing player (or his teammate) while trying to take the ball, comes into contact with the teammate of the offense player on ground who is trying to keep him off the ball, this contention forms a RUCK. At this juncture I would fancy to say the opposing player going for the ball is referred to as a Jackal

Ruck Scrumhalf connection

Players going through a rugby ruck drill, in this instance the jackal (player on the right) has not come into contact with offence player (on the right), thus is at liberty to play the ball | Scrumhalf Connection

Three things

-It is not a ruck if the jackal heads for the ball, before the contention ensues.

-A jackal is not allowed to put his/her hands into the rack once a contention has ensued (coming into contact with the opposing player). This is subject to how quick it happens of course.

-The jackal MUST be on his feet. Others will try to confuse you with ‘Support your weight’ stick with the basics

Ouch! Is that what they call a TACKLE?

This is basic, happens when the defending player stops the attacking player from getting past his defense by wrapping his arms around him anywhere below the shoulders and bringing him down.

Please, don’t be shocked when the tackler is carded, or his team is penalized for what is an ‘illegal tackle’.


Tackle techniques , in order from Left to Right: Front On (high-hold) tackle; Front On (Side) tackle & Front On (Crash) tackle | Zapper photography, World Rugby.

As a tackler you are not supposed to take the offense player past the horizontal.

-A tackler is supposed to wrap his hands around the ‘tacklee’, lol.

-A tackler should neither release the ‘tacklee’ mid-air in any manner, nor tackle a player who is off the ground

-A tackler is not to tackle a player without a ball. Its Rugby not American Football.

This is interesting, its called a SCRUM?

This one fascinates a lot of starters, they wonder why men are squatting and locking ‘imaginary horns’ like bulls do somewhere in Bhukungu Stadium. I won’t explain more than the picture below, as I maintain on just furnishing the coat not the pockets.



Kitale and UoE Trojans engaged in a srum | Kuyo Photography

A scrum usually takes place to restart play after infringements and errors.

A scrum, in 7s-a-side, consist of 3 players from either side that engage (in, crouching, binding and setting). And a player on either side that acts as the scrum-half; the one who feeds the ball into the scrum. In 15-A-side, it entails an additional of 5 more players to make it 8 on either side and of course with a scrum half.

Be warned though, in the latter it would, at times, take plenty of time to play a scrum as stability and the wellness of the players is of great concern.

Lol, why are they lifting him up? LINE OUT

This is where players stand as if in two parallel queues, (leaving a gap in between referred to as a tunnel) and there is a contest to lift a player and catch a ball thrown in the air from touch, mid air.

lineout Flickr

Here is a nice snapshot of a line-out | Flickr

A LINEOUT is meant to bring the ball back into field of play, after it has gone out. The opposing team is always the beneficiary of this when the ball goes out, but there is an exception, when the ball has been kicked out of field of play (put to touch) owing to a kick to touch from a penalty kick.

Enough for today….

To that extent, for a starter in matters ‘fun-atical’ I bet one can attend and quite grasp much of a rugby game, say 50% averagely without being overly confused with the action. Of course there is so much with terminologies and other things left out, but I figured starting with the basics wouldn’t hurt much.

Plus, this post would be really long. Thus, internalize this, share widely before our next Test match against Hong Kong. Stay woke!



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