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How to Play Rugby

How big is the field?
    The field can be a football or soccer field, rectangular in shape.  Rough dimensions are 65 yards wide by 100 yards long.  We can play on fields that are as little as 50 yards wide and perhaps only 90 yards long.  For the youngest age groups, we can make the field smaller, but we have generally let the kids play on the full size field.

Do we need goal posts?
    Yes, we can use football goal posts, or soccer goal posts with uprights strapped to them.  Rugby goal posts are normally on the goal line, but since football goal posts are on what would be the rugby end line, we can make adjustments without having to move the goal posts.

How long is a rugby game?
    A rugby game in the youth age groups is 4 quarters of 10 minutes each.  If the game is tackle, the teams may elect to play two halves of 20 minutes.

How many players are on the field at a time?
    In touch rugby, there are 7 players on the field from each team.  In tackle rugby, there can be as many as 11 players on the field from each team, but in games where one or both teams are shorthanded, they can agree to play as few as 7 on the field from each team.

What about substitutions?
    Substitutions are usually made at the end of each quarter, but teams can agree to mid-period substitutions.  Players who have been substituted can re-enter the game at any time.

Does the game start with a kickoff?
    Yes, each period (quarter or half) starts with a kickoff.  Teams toss a coin at the start of the game to decide kickoff and which end of the field to defend.  Team switch at halftime.

How do players advance the ball down the field?
    Players advance the ball down the field by running, passing to a teammate, or kicking the ball.  Passes must not be forward passes, but must be lateral.  There is a line through the ball from sideline to sideline parallel to the goal line.  Any pass in a forward direction - that is the ball follows a trajectory that is forward of the line through the ball.- is a forward pass and (barring being intercepted by the defense) will get the referee’s whistle and results in a turnover to the other team.  While the ballcarrier is trying to run the ball downfield, the teammates should be running in support, trying to be in a position to catch a pass and run past defenders.  Staying spread across the field is also important as it will either spread the defense or create overloads.  It is unlikely that the ballcarrier will get very far without the support of teammates.

How does the defense stop the ballcarrier?
    In the touch game, a two hand tag between the waist and knees means the ball carrier must immediately pass the ball to a teammate, preferably one who is running forward in support of the ball carrier.  Alternately, he can place the ball on the ground (usually if there is no support).  There is no requirement to stop, but the pass must be made immediately, within 2-3 steps.  Younger players do tend to stop when tagged.  Younger players also tend to gravitate toward the ball, similar to "magnet ball" in soccer.  Players on defense can help their team by staying spread and marking offensive players not near the ball.

What about tackle?
    In a tackle game, only the ballcarrier can be tackled.  There is no blocking, and players cannot be tackled after they pass the ball.  If the tackled player still has possession, he must play the ball immediately.  Playing the ball means to pass it from the ground to a teammate, or place the ball on the ground on this team’s side of his body.  He must do this immediately.  Once the ball has been placed on the ground, players from either team are free to pick up the ball provided they are on their feet.  Players on the ground cannot play the ball.

What is a "ruck"?
    In a tackle game, when a player has been tackled and placed the ball on the ground on his team’s side of his body, defenders may attempt to step over him and pick up the ball.  The ballcarrier’s teammates may push these defenders back (think blocking, as in football), but must do so in prescribed ways for safety.  These safety requirements mainly have to do with making contact with the body and not the head.  The players from each team vying for possession of the ball at a tackle form what is called a "ruck".  When a ruck is formed, certain offside rules come into play.  These offsides rules are designed for safety and to create a fair contest for the ball.