What is Rugby Union? All You Need to Know


What is rugby union?

Rugby Union is a contact team sport originating in England. The game was brought to life in the first half of the 19th Century, and is played with an oval ball by two teams of 15 players. 

The aim of the game is simple, just like most team sports, you use the ball to score more points than the other team. 

You can score points by one of four ways: 

  • A try (5 points) A player places the ball down in the opposing side’s dead ball area behind the goal. 
  • A conversion (2 bonus points) After player scores a try,  a free kick is awarded. A successful kick is awarded when the ball passes between the upper posts and top bar on the goal. 
  • A penalty kick (3 points) This is awarded when the opposition causes an infringement. 
  • A drop goal (3 points) The ball can be kicked out of the hand as long as the ball bounces first. 

If both teams score the same amount of points, or no points are scored, then the match is a draw. 

You can run with the ball, kick it and pass it, but passing forwards is not allowed. 

Rugby union is classed as a contact sport, so you can tackle an opponent in order to get the ball, as long as you stay within the rules.

Rules of Rugby Union

  • Each team can start with 15 players and have up to 7 substitutes. 
  • The rugby union game must have one referee and two touch judges. The referee time-keeps, maintains order on the field and makes decisions regarding play throughout the game. The two touch judges assist with decisions and tell the referee when players are playing out of boundaries.
  • The field must be around 100 metres long and 70 metres wide. The minimum dead ball area should be 10 metres. The classic H shaped goal should be 6 metres wide with absolutely no restriction on height. 
  • The pitch will have the following markings: half way line, 5 metre line, 22 metre line, 10 metre line and dead ball line.
  • The game will be paused if a player breaks the rules by making a foul, scoring a try, scoring a goal is scored or if the ball goes out of play. 
  • A tackle should not be made above shoulder height, doing so results in a foul. The defending team must tackle a player by grabbing a hold and pulling them to the floor. 
  • Attacking players must remain behind the ball whilst active, otherwise this is classed as offside. Players not interfering with play can be in front of ball but once interfering with play must come back behind the ball. 

How long is a rugby union game?

A game of rugby union has two halves of 40 minutes each. Both teams switch ends between the two halves, during this time there is a maximum 10-minute interval. Like other sport games, extra time will only be played if it’s a knockout competition and the referee’s whistle indicates the start and finish of the half. 

What is the difference between rugby league and rugby union? 

Rugby League Rugby Union 
13 players per team (10 substitutes) 15 players per team (7 substitutes)
Try (4 points), Conversion (2 points), Drop goals/penalties (1 or 2 points) Try (5 points), Conversion (2 points), Drop goals/penalties (3 points)
When a player is tackled, they must place the ball between their legs afterwards and then roll it back with their foot to a teammate (known as a chicken scratch that can be performed 6 times throughout the game)  When a player is tackled, he must also release the ball –  then it is legal for any player to pick it up (as long as they are on their feet and onside)
If the ball goes out of play after a chicken scratch, play restarts with a six-player scrum. If the ball is kicked out of play the game is restarted with a lineout rather than a scrum. 
There are no line-outs, rucks or mauls Has line-outs, rucks or mauls
Has a six-tackle rule There is no limit to the number of tackles which can be made on each possession. 

Line out = The way of restarting play after the ball has been knocked or kicked out of play past the touch line. 

Rucks = The ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground. 

Mauls = The maul is when at least three players from either side are in contact together, challenging the player with the ball, moving towards a goal line.

What do rugby players wear?

Rugby is a contact sport, therefore the right Rugby Sportswear is essential out on the pitch.  Studded boots need to be worn along with gum shields, head guards, shoulder pads and shin pads for protection. Each team must wear the same coloured shirts with matching shorts and socks to represent their team. Here at Greaves Sports, we will take you through everything you’ll need to be game ready, whether you’re competing, training or simply celebrating from the side lines.

Rugby Clothes 

Scrum shorts 

Rugby union players wear short, stiff shorts called scrum shorts. Scrum shorts are not stretchy like football shorts, they have a much stronger durable design to withstand the tackling and grabbing involved in the sport. They are tightly fitted around the waist to prevent them coming down during scrums, they end above the knee and have no pockets so they can’t be pulled by the opponent. These can be worn over layering shorts that protect the legs and keep everything secure. 

Rugby Jerseys

Rugby players wear distinct jerseys to represent their team, they are similar to football shirts, but they usually have collars. Rugby jerseys tend to be very colorful and vibrant, and proudly display the colors or emblem of the team or country. The player’s number is printed on the back of the jersey in large font, this helps to identify the player and their position on the pitch. Rugby players must tuck their jerseys into their shorts during games, again to prevent pulling. At Greaves Sports, we have a vast range of your favourite team Jerseys in our replica rugby top range as well as Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby gear, to wear on and off the pitch. 

Rugby Socks

Rugby union players wear knee-high socks that fit tight and snug around their feet and calves, and are likely to be the same colour as the jerseys. Rugby socks must be well-fitted to avoid them falling down during the match and prevent blisters.

Rugby Footwear

You will need to consider your position in the game when buying rugby boots. If you are a forward, you’ll need extra protection around the ankle. Adidas predator flare SG boots are great for this as their foot-hugging upper locks you down for stability at speed, while support tapes offer added reinforcement for dynamic movement. If you are a kicker, you’ll need a boot that will allow you to feel the ball. We particularly love Adidas predator soft ground boots which are crafted for game-changers. 

Rugby equipment 

Mouth Guard

Mouth guards help protect against concussions, broken teeth and other mouth and head injuries common to the game due to it’s tackling nature. It’s extremely important to protect your teeth, even when training. It is essential to protect your teeth when playing rugby, even when training, to minimise the risk of tooth chipping or other mouth-related injuries. All players must wear a gum shield to protect both their teeth and gums, which is why we at Greaves Sports have a number of gum shields designed to mold the contours of your mouth for full protection.  

Scrum Caps

Some Rugby union players, especially forwards, wear scrum caps. A scrum cap is slightly padded helmet that protects the top of the head and ears. Despite being optional on the pitch, we would highly recommend wearing them and any other protection layers to help prevent common rugby-related injuries.

How can I get into rugby?

If you’re feeling inspired to get into rugby, rugby union is a game for all shapes, sizes and ages. It may be best associated with full-contact play, but there are other versions of the sport which are just as fun and fast-paced. Search around for local teams or gather some friends and start with a game of touch-rugby to get used to the rules.

No Tackling In Touch Rugby

If you’re looking for a new sport to get into, but don’t fancy the tackling that rugby involves. There are a number of clubs across the UK that offer Touch rugby, this combines running, agility and handling skills without the tackling, scrumming and kicking.

We understand the importance of exercise. Getting involved in sports can reduce body fat, improve fitness and improve your stamina and control. Team games are great to get involved with as they give you the opportunity to meet new people and lift your mood. Get active and take a look at our full Rugby range here at Greaves Sports.

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