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A few weeks ago we gave you everything you wanted to know about rugby (but were afraid to ask) but apparently, you guys wanted to know even more! So, without further ado, we’re going to demystify some of the more confusing terms you’ll hear when a team is attacking with the ball… read on and be enlightened!

I hear people talking about the ‘gain line’ all the time… er, what’s that?

Indeed, modern rugby is all about the battle for the gain line (or as it’s sometimes called the advantage line), which can basically be summed up as an attacking team’s efforts to gain positive yardage. Whenever a ruck is called by a referee, draw an imaginary line in your head that goes across the pitch from that spot. Forward momentum is hugely important in successful attacking in rugby, so the team with the ball is constantly looking to get over that gainline, keep the defence backtracking, and stop them getting organised. Of course, the defence is equally determined to stop the opposition from doing this, and whoever wins the battle of the gainline, usually wins the game…

Related: Everything You Wanted to Know about Rugby (But Were Afraid to Ask)

So, speaking of the gain line, I often hear commentators talking about a crash ball – what’s the difference between than and a normal carry?

Well, the ‘crash ball’ is one of the most common tactics used to try and get over the gainline. A player will run at an angle and at pace towards the gainline, taking a pass just before he hits the defensive line. The crash ball runner attempts to commit two or more defenders to the tackle, then attempts to either offload or recycle the ball quickly to exploit any gaps in the defence caused by the defence committing multiple tacklers to stopping the crash ball runner.

When people mention a ‘dummy’ I take it they’re not being offensive…

No, they’re not making a remark about the intelligence of the player in question – it’s basically the term for misdirection plays in rugby, and they broadly fall into two categories – passes and runs. A dummy pass is when a player shapes to pass to a team-mate, but actually holds onto the ball themselves – the idea being that the action (much like a fake in American football) will cause the defence to be out of position, and create a gap for the player with the ball to run into. A dummy run is a close cousin of the crash ball – a player will run to the line at an angle without the ball, as if shaping to take the pass. However, instead of taking the ball, the player will simply carry on without it, in the hope of pulling the defence out of position, creating space for the ball carrier to either run into or for a player outside to be passed to.

So, hand-offs – they’re basically just a stiff arm, right?

Well, not quite. Unlike a stiff-arm in American football, a rugby hand off (or fend) is only legal if a player repels a tackler with a shove of the hand – as opposed to extending the arm and locking the elbow before the ball carrier makes contact and effectively using the arm as a battering ram. This is considered dangerous in rugby, and will result in a penalty against the ball-carrier. Equally, you can’t lead with your forearm when handing off either.

I swore I heard someone say the word ‘grubber’ the other day – sounds painful!

It’s actually not as bad as it sounds! A grubber is a type of low kick where the ball rolls and tumbles across the ground towards (and hopefully through) the defence, producing irregular bounces making it hard for the defending team to pick up the ball without knocking it on. The irregular bounce can also mean that the attacking team has a chance to regather the ball, so you’ll often see grubbers being attempted near the tryline, where the hope is that a chasing player will be able to get on the end of the bouncing ball and score.

I keep seeing a statistic for ‘line breaks’ after games, what are they?

A line break is when a ball carrier breaks through the opponent’s defensive line without being tackled. Generally line-breaks can lead to large gains of territory and even a try, as it often takes a huge effort for the covering defence to scramble back and make the tackle. When a player makes it through the defensive line but is scragged just before they get clear, it is known as a half-break.

I always hear about teams ‘attacking down the short side’ – surely both sides are as tall as each other?!

Ha, well not quite – when a ruck is formed, the short side is the term for the side of the pitch that has the least amount of room on it. Teams sometimes like to attack down the short side as the reduced amount of space normally also means that there are less defenders in the area, which can potentially create attacking mismatches.

I know that there are all these set plays… switches, loops… what’s the difference?

Well, the switch and the loop are two common set moves found in rugby, but they’re quite different. The loop is when a player passes the ball and then loops around the back of that player to receive the ball again. A switch is when a player runs at a diagonal behind the player with the ball to the opposite direction that the play is moving, as the player passes behind, the ball carrier swivels and passes. The point of both moves is to confuse the defence by changing the angle of attack

Okay, finally, I’ve heard it a few times now, so what the hell is a ‘hospital pass’ anyway?!

Rugby is a game about putting your team-mates in space, and a hospital pass is the exact opposite of that – it’s an ill-advised or panicked pass thrown to a team-mate when the inevitable, unavoidable result is that your teammate is going to get absolutely lit up. At a bare minimum, a hospital pass means that the receiving player is going to get smashed behind the gain line, but as they usually get hit before they’ve had chance to secure the ball, a knock-on is not uncommon either. Regardless of whether they hold onto the ball however, the hospital pass only usually means one thing – pain!

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