Rugby Terms

A Beginner’s Guide to Rugby Terms and Positions

Anyone who is new to the sport of rugby will not go far without some knowledge of the basic rugby terms and positions. This beginner’s guide is intended as a starting off point for the novice rugby fan. Get yourself a general understanding of this basic rugby lingo, and you can cheer with the big boys before long.

For starters, the game of rugby is played by a team of 15 players. Rugby is sort of a combination of football and soccer, where the ball resembles a football but the game play is more like soccer. The object of the game is to run the ball toward the opposing team’s goal and score, like in football, however the pace of the game is continuous, like soccer. When a rugby player scores, it is called a try, and each one is worth 5 points.

One of the most important rugby terms to learn if you are planning to go see a rugby match is pitch. The pitch is the field where rugby is played, so you can see why this would be good to know. When someone says they will meet you at the pitch, they are saying they will meet you at the game field. A rugby match is played in 2, 40-minute halves with a 10-minute half-time period in between. Official time is kept by the referee.

The 15 players on the rugby team are divided into 2 groups: forwards and backs. The forwards work to get possession of the ball, while the backs are responsible for advancing the ball once their team gains possession. In rugby, all of the positions play both defense and offense. Each team is allowed 7 player substitutions. If a player is substituted during a match, they are no longer allowed to play in that game.

Throughout the match, you will hear a variety of other rugby terms. Some will make no sense, so we have defined them for you here:

> Drop out: used to restart game play when the ball is grounded by the defensive players in their home goal area.

> Scrum: similar to a huddle, the scrum is used to restart play following a minor penalty or infraction.

> Lineout: used to restart game play following a touch

> Penalty kick: used to restart game play following a major penalty. The team with the penalty kick can choose to kick a field goal, kick into touch or decline the penalty kick and go to a scrum.

> Touch: rugby speak for out of bounds

> Kick for touch: when the ball is kicked out of bounds.

> Mark: place where an infringement occurs

> Offside: when a player is in front of the ball while their team is attacking

> Onside: when a player is behind the ball while their team is attacking


> Field goal: scoring option worth 3 points.

> Try: scoring option worth 5 points.

> Tackle: taking down the player who is carrying the ball.

> Ruck: when 2 opposing players face off after the tackle to get the ball back to their own side.

> Maul: when a player tackles an opponent but they do not go to the ground and another player joins in the battle.

> Yellow Cards: yellow cards are received after repeated rule infractions, and the player is sent to the “sin bin” for a 10-minute penalty.

> Red Cards: red cards are handed out for extreme infractions, and the player is kicked out of the game. Players who receive red cards are suspended for at least 2 weeks.