A Beginner’s Guide: What to Know Before Watching Your First Rugby Match

Rugby, a sport known for its physical intensity and strategic gameplay, is a thrilling spectacle for both players and spectators. If you’re gearing up to watch your first rugby match, you’re in for a treat. However, to fully appreciate the game and its intricacies, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of the sport. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what you need to know before you dive into your first rugby match, covering the rules, positions, strategies, and the unique aspects that make rugby such a captivating sport.

  1. Rugby’s Rich History

Before immersing yourself in the world of rugby, it’s worth delving into its fascinating history. Rugby originated in England in the early 19th century and quickly gained popularity worldwide. The sport has two main variants: rugby union and rugby league. While they share similarities, they also have distinct rules and characteristics. Most international competitions, such as the Rugby World Cup, follow the rugby union format.

Understanding the historical context and development of rugby adds depth to your appreciation of the game. As you watch your first match, you’ll be partaking in a tradition that spans centuries and has contributed to the unique global rugby culture.

  1. The Basics: Rugby Union vs. Rugby League

It’s important to distinguish between the two main forms of rugby: rugby union and rugby league.

Rugby Union:

  • Fifteen players on each team
  • Continuous play with minimal stoppages
  • Lineouts, scrums, and rucks are common set pieces
  • Players have more freedom to carry, pass, and kick the ball
  • Points are scored through tries, conversions, penalty goals, and drop goals
  • International governing body: World Rugby

Rugby League:

  • Thirteen players on each team
  • Faster-paced game with more frequent stoppages
  • Scrums are simpler, and lineouts are rare
  • Emphasis on quick ball movement and expansive play
  • Points are scored through tries, conversions, and penalty goals
  • International governing body: International Rugby League (IRL)

Most international competitions and iconic events, such as the Rugby World Cup, are played in the rugby union format. Familiarizing yourself with these key differences will help you better understand the match you’re about to watch.

  1. The Object of the Game

At its core, rugby is a simple game: the objective is to score more points than the opposing team. Points can be scored through several methods, which we will explore in more detail later in this guide. The most significant point-scoring action is scoring a try, which involves carrying the ball over the opponent’s goal line and touching it down. Understanding the primary goal of the game will help you appreciate the strategies and tactics employed by the teams.

  1. The Field and Its Markings

Rugby is typically played on a rectangular field with specific markings that help players and officials navigate the game. The main components of a rugby field include:

  • Try Lines: These are the goal lines at each end of the field. Crossing the try line with the ball and touching it down is how a try is scored.
  • 22-Meter Lines: These lines, located 22 meters (approximately 72 feet) from each try line, mark the boundary for certain set pieces, such as lineouts and drop kicks.
  • Halfway Line: This line divides the field into two equal halves and is located at the midpoint of the pitch.
  • Goalposts: Rugby goalposts are H-shaped and stand 3.05 meters (10 feet) tall. They are used for conversion and penalty goal attempts.
  • Five-Meter Line: The line is drawn 5 meters from the try line, marking the area where lineouts occur after the ball goes into touch (out of bounds).
  1. The Teams and Positions

A rugby team consists of 15 players, each with specific positions and roles. Understanding these positions is vital to following the match and appreciating the teamwork involved. Here’s a brief overview of the main positions:

  • Forwards: The forwards, often referred to as the “pack,” are responsible for the physical aspects of the game. They engage in scrums, lineouts, and rucks, aiming to win possession of the ball.
    • Props: These players are positioned at the front row of the scrum and provide stability and power.
    • Hooker: The hooker is responsible for “hooking” the ball in scrums and throwing accurately during lineouts.
    • Locks (Second Row): Locks are tall players who excel in lineouts, where they contest for the ball.
    • Flankers: These players are known for their agility and play a crucial role in the breakdown, securing possession and defending.
    • Number 8: Positioned at the back of the scrum, the number 8’s primary role is ball control and carrying.
  • Backs: The backs are responsible for attacking and scoring tries. They handle the ball more frequently and require speed, agility, and good decision-making.
    • Scrum-half: The scrum-half acts as the playmaker, delivering quick and accurate passes from the scrum.
    • Fly-half: The fly-half is the team’s primary kicker, responsible for tactical kicking and distribution.
    • Centers: Centers are versatile players who play key roles in both attack and defense.
    • Wingers: Wingers have speed and agility, often serving as the finishers, scoring tries in the corners.
    • Fullback: The fullback provides the last line of defense and is crucial in counter-attacking.

As you watch your first rugby match, observe how these positions work together and how the forwards and backs contribute to the team’s overall strategy.

  1. Scoring Methods

Rugby offers multiple ways to score points, each with its own unique set of rules and tactics:

  • Try: The primary method of scoring in rugby, worth five points. To score a try, a player must carry or touch the ball down over the opponent’s try line. Tries are the essence of the sport and require skill and teamwork to execute.
  • Conversion: After scoring a try, the scoring team has the opportunity to attempt a conversion kick, worth two points. The kicker aims to kick the ball through the goalposts.
  • Penalty Goal: Teams can earn three points by kicking a penalty goal, awarded for opponent fouls. The kick is taken from the spot of the penalty.
  • Drop Goal: A drop goal, worth three points, is scored during open play by kicking the ball through the goalposts. It’s a valuable tactic in clutch moments.

Understanding these scoring methods is essential for tracking the progress of the game and appreciating the skill and precision required to score.

  1. The Laws and Rules

Rugby has a complex set of rules that govern aspects of play, including tackling, offside, and scrums. While it’s not necessary to be an expert in these rules, having a basic understanding will enhance your enjoyment of the game.

Common rugby rules include:

  • The ball must be passed backward.
  • Tackles must be made below the shoulder level and without high tackles.
  • Players cannot obstruct or intentionally knock the ball forward.
  • Scrums and lineouts are used to restart play after certain situations.
  1. Strategies and Tactics

Rugby is a sport that requires both physicality and strategy. Teams employ various strategies to gain territory, create scoring opportunities, and defend against the opponent’s attacks. Some common tactics include:

  • Set Pieces: Teams use scrums, lineouts, and mauls to restart play or gain an advantage.
  • Kicking Game: Tactical kicking is used to gain territory, put pressure on the opponent, or create scoring opportunities.
  • Phase Play: Teams go through multiple phases of play, working together to advance the ball and create gaps in the defense.
  • Defense: A solid defensive line is crucial to prevent the opposing team from scoring tries.

Understanding these strategies and tactics will help you appreciate the ebb and flow of the game and how teams adapt to different situations.

  1. Embracing Rugby Culture

Rugby is more than just a sport; it’s a culture. Fans are known for their camaraderie and respect for the game. As you watch your first match, consider immersing yourself in the rugby culture. Many fans partake in traditions like singing team anthems, and attending a rugby match can be a social and festive experience.

  1. Enjoy the Passion

Finally, be prepared to witness the passion and intensity that rugby players and fans bring to the sport. The combination of skill, strategy, and sheer physicality creates a unique spectacle that captivates audiences worldwide. Celebrate the moments of brilliance, the bone-crushing tackles, and the exhilaration of scoring. Rugby is a game of heart and soul, and as you watch your first match, you’ll be drawn into the beauty of the sport.


Watching your first rugby match can be a thrilling experience, but it’s even more enjoyable when you have a basic understanding of the sport’s history, rules, positions, and scoring methods. By familiarizing yourself with these key aspects, you’ll be better equipped to appreciate the athleticism, teamwork, and strategy that make rugby a truly captivating sport. So, grab your jersey and get ready to immerse yourself in the world of rugby, where tradition, physicality, and passion come together in one remarkable game.

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