How Does The Other Team Get The Ball In Rugby?

Rugby and football have a lot differences. One of the key differences between rugby and football is the absence of downs in rugby. With no downs how exactly does the defending rugby team ever get their hands on the ball?

How Does The Other Team Get The Ball In Rugby?

In rugby, the defending side can get the ball if the attacking team score, takes the ball out of bounds, gives away a penalty, or loses possession of the ball. The defending team can also steal the ball when tackling, at a lineout, scrum, or breakdown.

There are 6 ways the ball can change possession in rugby, if the attacking side scores a try, gives away a penalty, loses the ball, takes the ball out of bounds, kicks the ball, or if the defending side steals the ball.

Let’s do a deep dive into these different situations:

  1. Attacking side scores a try – After the attacking rugby team scores a try and has their shot at goal they will then retreat to the halfway line and kick the ball to the defending team. While the team kicking off does have the potential to win the kick off the side receiving the kick usually gets control of the ball resulting in a change of possession

2. Attacking side gives away a penalty – If the attacking rugby side breaks a rule resulting in a penalty they immediately have to hand the ball over to the defending side. The side that was awarded the penalty has multiple options. They can kick the ball, tap and run, kick for goal or set a scrum.

Common penalties awarded against the attacking team include not releasing the ball at the breakdown, cleaning out off your feet, or obstruction where attacking players will impede the defending side from tackling the ball runner.

3. Attacking team loses the ball – One of the most common ways the ball changes possession in rugby is when the attacking side simply drops it. If they drop the ball forward this is known as a knock-on. The game immediately stops and defending side is awarded a scrum.

If the attacking side drops the ball backward it is play on but the defending side has the opportunity to dive on it and win possession. Another common way the attacking team loses possession is by throwing a forward pass. This is similar to a knock-on where the defending team is awarded a scrum.

4. Attacking team takes ball out of bounds – In rugby whichever team touches the ball last before it goes out of bounds loses possession. A lineout is then called and the team who didn’t cause the ball to go out of bounds throws it in.

The most common way the ball goes out of bounds in rugby is when a player is tackled out of bounds or when the ball is kicked out of bounds.

5. Attacking side kicks the ball – In rugby there is a lot of kicking. The attacking side will often kick the ball to get the play away from their goal line and to win territory. When they kick the ball and the defending side regathers there is a change of possession. It is common for the team who just received the kick to immediately kick the ball back, leading to a ping pong exchange of possession. Once a side is happy with their field position they will stop kicking and start running with the ball.

6. Defending team steals the ball – Throughout a rugby match the defending side is presented with unlimited amounts of opportunities to steal the ball and win possession.

The breakdown is where you see many changes of possession. In rugby when you are tackled you have to release the ball. When a tackled player releases the ball the defending side has a chance to swoop in and pick it up. Flankers are masters at stealing the ball in this phase of the game.

The defending team can steal the ball during a tackle. They can either rip the ball out of the ball runner’s hands or hold them up preventing them from passing or going to the ground. If they hold them up for long enough and the ball does not move a scrum will be awarded to the defending team.

In rugby both lineouts and scrums are contested, meaning that the defending side can try and win the ball. It is very difficult to win a scrum when it is not your put in but lineouts are a little easier to win against the throw.

One of the classic ways for the defending team to steal the ball is an interception. This is where a defending player will catch a pass meant for an attacking player. You will often see intercept tries where a defender will catch the ball and sprint 100m untouched to score against the run of play.

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