Rugby 101: A Beginner's Guide to the Rules of Rugby

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The international rugby season has started again and everyone in the Yourdrive office is very excited. Aside from Kez, our Brand Manager. Despite being a Kiwi, and living in New Zealand for the most part of her life, she’s never quite wrapped my head around our national sport.

We’ve taken it upon ourselves to get her clued up in time for the season so she can get involved in the post-match chat and even join us attending a game or two. We thought that this might be useful for others out there so, if you have a friend, colleague, family member or classmate who doesn’t know the difference between a scrumhalf and a lock, send this to them.

Want to go to the game but don’t have a car to get you there? Fear not, Yourdrive has got your back with over 600 privately-owned vehicles available to rent from New Zealand locals. You'll find a wide range of great-value vehicles in handy pickup locations across the cities and regions. Read on to get a $20 discount on your first rental!



A rugby team has 15 positions. Each player wears a specific number on their jersey and has individual responsibilities:

Forwards: These players tend to be the largest and strongest team members. Their job is to obtain and maintain possession of the ball when on attack and provide the first line of defence close to the breakdown when on defence.

  • 1: Loose-Head Prop
  • 2: Hooker
  • 3: Tight-Head Prop
  • 4: Lock
  • 5: Lock
  • 6: Blind-Side Flanker
  • 7: Open-Side Flanker
  • 8: The aptly named Number 8

Backs: These are the smaller, faster players. Their job is to take the ball forward and score once possession is gained when on attack and provide the second line of defence further from the breakdown and during broken play

  • 9: Halfback or scrumhalf
  • 10: Flyhalf or first five-eighth
  • 11: Left Wing
  • 12: Inside Center
  • 13: Outside Center
  • 14: Right Wing
  • 15: Fullback

A maximum of 7 substitutes are allowed. Six of the replacements are at the team’s discretion and a seventh for injury.  Once a player is substituted, they cannot rejoin the game unless the substitution was to stop bleeding.



A rugby game is played on a pitch. The pitch is approximately 144 metres long and 70 metres wide. Goalposts are placed 22 metres from each end. The goalposts are H-shaped and consist of two poles, 5.6 metres apart, connected by a horizontal crossbar 3 metres above the ground.




A game of rugby is called a match. It’s made up of two 40-minute halves with a 10-minute halftime break. The teams exchange ends of the field after the half-time break. The game will stop if a player is fouled, the ball goes out of play or a try or drop goal is scored. Stops for injury or to allow the referee to take disciplinary action do not count as part of the playing time so, the elapsed time is usually longer than 80 minutes. 

At the start of the match, the captains and the referee toss a coin to decide which team will kick off first. The game starts with a dropkick and the players of the starting team chasing the ball into the opposition's territory. The other side tries to stop the attacking team, gain possession of the ball and advance it in the opposite direction.

A player may tackle an opposing player who has the ball by holding and bringing them to ground. The tackler has to attempt to wrap their arms around the player being tackled to complete the tackle. It is illegal to push, shoulder-charge, or to trip a player using feet or legs. Tacklers may not tackle an opponent who has jumped to catch a ball until the player has landed.

When the ball leaves the side of the field, a line-out is awarded against the team which last touched the ball. Forward players from each team line up parallel, 1 metre apart, perpendicular to the touchline and between 5m and 15m from the touchline. The ball is thrown from the touchline down the centre of the lines of forwards by a player from the team that did not play the ball into touch. Both sides compete for the ball, lifting players in an attempt to gain possession. 

A scrum is a way of restarting the game safely and fairly after a minor infringement. It is awarded when the ball has been knocked or passed forward, if a player takes the ball over his own try line and puts the ball down, when a player is accidentally offside or when the ball is trapped in a ruck or maul with no realistic chance of being retrieved. A team may also opt for a scrum if awarded a penalty. A scrum is formed by the eight forwards from each team binding together in three rows. The front row consists of 3 players, the second row consists of 4 players and the third row is just the number 8. Once a scrum is formed the halfback from the team awarded the feed rolls the ball into the gap between the two front-rows. The two players in each of the front rows then compete for possession, attempting to hooking the ball backwards with their feet while the entire pack tries to push the opposing pack backwards to get closer to the ball. The side that wins possession transfers the ball to the back of the scrum, where it is picked up.

A maul occurs after a player with the ball is tackled by an opponent but the handler remains on their feet. Once any combination of at least three players have joined the tackle, a maul has been set.

A ruck is similar to a maul, but, in this case, the player with the ball has been tackled and the ball has gone to ground. At least three attacking players join the tackle in an attempt to secure the ball.



The aim of rugby is to score more points than the opposition. The team scoring the greater number of points is the winner of the match. Points can be scored in four different ways:

Try: which means touching the ball down in the opponent’s in-goal area or on their goal line. This is the most valuable play. Scoring a try is worth five points and earns that team the right to attempt a conversion kick.

Conversion kick: The conversion kick is taken from a spot in line with where the ball was originally grounded, so scoring as close to the posts as possible is best. This kick is worth two points.

Penalty kick: Penalties for various infractions can be used to take a kick at goal. This kick is worth three points.

Drop goal: A drop goal is scored and 3 points awarded when a player a gets a drop-kick through the goal posts.



Rugby is governed by laws, not rules. One referee controls the game with the assistance of two touch judges and a video referee for top-level games where technology allows.

Tackles: The tackler must release the tackled player and the tackled player must release the ball so that players who are on their feet can use it.

Advantage: When one team makes an error, the other team may be allowed to capitalize on it by continuing play, instead of having the referee immediately stop play. If the players can’t capitalize on the error, play restarts where the original mistake took place.

Offsides: Players can’t be involved if they’re in front of a teammate who last played the ball or are in front of the ball when the opposition has possession.

Fouls: It’s illegal to obstruct, punch, trample, kick or trip players. Tackling too early, too late, above the shoulders, or while a player is in the air is also illegal.

Forward passes: It’s illegal pass to a player who is ahead of the ball

Knock on: If a player drops the ball forward or loses possession of the ball and it goes forward, a scrum is set, with the non-offending team getting the scrum feed.






Time (NZ)

18 August

Australia v All Blacks

ANZ Stadium, Sydney

10:05 PM

25 August

All Blacks v Australia

Eden Park, Auckland

7:35 PM

8 September

All Blacks v Argentina

Trafalgar Park, Nelson

7:35 PM

15 September

All Blacks v South Africa

Westpac Stadium, Wellington

7:35 PM

30 September

Argentina v All Blacks

Buenos Aires

11:40 PM

7 October

South Africa v All Blacks


4:05 AM

Whether you're new to NZ or a local, going to a live rugby game is part of the true Kiwi experience! Gather your crew, find a game, and go experience the buzzing atmosphere for yourself.

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Posted by Kezia Lynch on 25th of June, 2018