Being a rookie rugby player is part of becoming a veteran and one step of the game we all experience. As such we all know it can be difficult, especially learning all the rules and how to apply them to the game and World Rugby Shop examines the 5 Laws of the Game all rookies need to know.
By Kimber Rozier CSCS, Pn1 – We were all rookies at one point or another, but once we picked up that oval ball, we never looked back. If you’re in that confusing, overwhelming spot of learning everything there is to know about rugby, welcome to the best sport you’ve ever played.
I understand it can be a lot to take in. Between preparing the team for the season, running fitness, and drawing plays, your coach might forget a rule or two here and there. Make sure you learn these 5 rules every rookie needs to know, including the recent laws about tackling.
If the whole idea of tackling isn’t daunting enough, learning where the offside line lives is a nightmare. Especially since it shifts with the game. Eager new players will look to make an impact defensively and run the risk of standing offside. Learn early that you have to be behind the last foot in order to avoid a penalty.
Another note is figuring out when the ball is out. Refs might give a different answer on the day, but as soon as the ball leaves the ruck, it’s time to launch off the line and offside vanishes. That is, until, another tackle is made and ruck is formed. Rugby is a constant cycle of launching and realigning, and it’s crucial that new players learn to align behind the back foot.
Pro Tip: Stand a meter behind the ruck and make sure you’re aligned with your teammates. The person directly next to the ruck has the best vision of the last foot and should set the line for everyone else. If it’s during set piece, the refs will look to the fly half to set the line 5 or 10 meters back.
Read the Law: 11 – Offside and Onside in General Play
Proper Entry at the Ruck
I get it. It’s tempting to just clock someone from the side and tell them to get off of your teammate. After all, the ruck is a battle. But the beauty of rugby, and what differs us from the rest, is that our aggression is controlled and specific. Don’t blindside someone. Not only is it illegal, but it goes against the spirit of the game – we’re entrusted to protect ourselves as well as the integrity of safe contact.
A 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. Open play has ended. Players are rucking when they are in a ruck and using their feet to try to win or keep possession of the ball, without being guilty of foul play.”
If no one else is there, no ruck is formed you can come from the side, front, or wherever you want to take the ball and run with it. If there’s another player there and you aren’t sure whether you can grab the ball quickly enough, then don’t take a chance. Come in low, from an onside position, and remove the threat.
There’s an imaginary line straight behind the body of the tackled player – you have to go through that. Make sure you get around and come straight in rather than creeping in at an angle. The ruck will be formed as soon as you make contact with the opposition and your teammates can follow suit. Or you can join in an already-formed ruck to add more fighting power.
Pro tip: If you make the tackle, you’ll definitely be the first person there. Get back on your feet before any other player can arrive and get your body over the ball. If it’s available, fair game. If not, you’ve created havoc and a likely turnover.
Read the Law: 16 – The Ruck
Release the ball and tackled player
I see this one a ton in the first few games. We want to keep possession, so why would I let go and give the opposition a chance to grab it? Or why would I just let the tackler get away?
Well, it not only makes the game fun and interesting, but it also keeps us safe. If you didn’t have to release the tackler or the ball, mayhem would ensue and slow down the game. And no one wants to be stuck at the bottom of a dog pile.
Offensively, you have about a second to readjust and place the ball towards your team, or pop off of the ground. As a tackler, you need to let go as soon as they’re down and get back to your feet to contest (see above).
Pro tip: You can actually roll once as you’re placing the ball behind you to get a little more time and space. Don’t go crazy, because you’ll get binned if you’re just rolling down the field. But aggressively falling as you present ball back towards your team buys an advantage.
Read the Law: 15 – Tackle: Ball Carrier Brought to Ground
Touch the ball down
It seems simple, but everyone knows that guy who forgot and cost their team 5 points… It’s so obvious that we forget some players have never seen a rugby game, only the NFL. So they get all-excited for their first try and get tackled mid-celebration. As soon as you cross the whitewash in to the try zone, dot that ball on the floor under control. Don’t spike it, don’t drop it.
You can even touch the ball down without holding it. As long as there is downward pressure from your waist up and you didn’t knock it on (see below), it counts. An example would be a ball kicked into the try zone and touched down after crossing the line.
Pro tip: Make it easier on your kickers, please. If you have time and space to center the ball and THEN press it down, do so. Kicks have to be taken from the spot the try was scored, and two points can make a difference. It’s much harder to kick from 35 meters away at an angle than it is right in front of the posts. We don’t want to miss, but sometimes it’s the wind…
Read the Law: 22 – In-Goal
Knock on/Forward Pass
The only way the ball can travel forward legally is by running it or kicking it. That’s it. Hence, all passing and even dropping of the ball must be backwards. Use those fancy feet of yours to step around defenders, and then pass it to the open player behind you. This relies on two things: the depth of your support player and your ability to turn and pass.
Funny enough, this rule is actually more important when you don’t have the ball. Stay deep enough so that all your teammate has to do is think about passing you the ball. If you’re behind them, it’ll be backwards. Then, you have to catch the ball. Forwards will hate you, backs, if you drop the ball forward because this is a knock on.
Pro Tip: Try not to drop it (seems obvious), but if you must, at least drop it behind you so we can play on. AND don’t get cheeky on defense and intentionally knock it on to block a pass. You’ll earn yourself a shiny new yellow card.
Read the Law: 12 – Knock-on or Throw Forward
The Most Important Rule
Would it be incredibly cliche to say “have fun”?
Yeah, it would.
When it comes down to it, rugby is a simple game meant to be played and enjoyed. So it goes without saying that you should have fun. But I’m going to leave you with an edited version of what my first rugby coach told me. It’s a rule that applies to rugby as well as life.
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If you’re going to mess up, mess up with confidence.
You’re not going to know everything, and that’s okay! You’re learning something incredibly foreign and no one expects you to get it right the first time. And even the best players in the world make mistakes. But you’ve got to go confidently into every situation, even if you decide to throw a hail mary pass 50 meters forward. You’ll only learn by first making mistakes. And who knows, maybe you know more than you think! Back yourself, trust your teammates, and have a go.
Kimber Rozier is a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist and Precision Nutrition nutritionist who holds dual Bachelor’s degrees in Exercise and Sport Science and Spanish from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spends her time traveling the world as an international rugby player for the USA and her career in 7s and 15s has taken her to places such as Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Dubai. She earned a bronze medal in the 7s World Cup in Moscow and played fly half for the squad throughout 15s 2014 Rugby World Cup in Paris. Kimber has recently played overseas in Ireland, furthering her career with Railway Union and as an athlete with Scion Rugby Academy out of Washington, D.C. She is currently training with Harlequins in England.