How to Get Started: Rugby for Beginners

There are few more globally popular sports than rugby. You can learn more about how to play rugby for beginners in this guide.

Rugby is watched by millions of fans from around the world throughout the year, with a growing number of new fans enticed by the action on the field. The sport has a massive global appeal, with players able to get involved in participation regardless of age, gender or size. In fact, there are reportedly over ten million players across the globe, with over eight million registered participants.


It is a sport that is continuing to increase, with over 116 nations now boasting full membership to the International Rugby Union Football Board. However, if you are looking to get into the sport, then you can learn about how to play rugby union for beginners in this extensive guide.

A Brief History of Rugby Union

The history of rugby union dates back to 1845 when the first rules for the sport were written by students at Rugby School. However, learning how to play this sport in that era would have been vastly different to how the rules are applied in this modern day. During that era, the rules were similar to association football. The first big change in the sport came in 1863 when Blackheath FC left the recently established Football Association to help set up the Rugby Football Union.


Significant changes for those learning how to play for beginners also came in 1995 after the long-standing amateur status of the sport was ended. This meant that players could get paid for representing clubs, and the highest level of the competition would get paid monthly based on performances. It was during this period that established tournaments such as Super Rugby and the Heineken Cup were also founded.


International matches have also been a key factor behind the growth of the sport, with the first international being staged between Scotland and England in 1871. Since then, the World Cup has been introduced, which enables the best teams in the world to compete for the prestigious honor every four years.

Illustration by Frank Gillett showing the England versus The Original All Blacks Test attended by a then-record crowd of at least 50,000. The New Zealanders won 15–0.

Understanding Rugby Basics

In order to understand how to play, we will first need to go into the basics of the sport. Each team will line up with 15 players, with the highest scoring side recording the victory.


The highest-point scoring method comes in the form of a try, which is where the ball is grounded between the goal line and the dead-ball line. A try in rugby union is worth five points. A conversion is then attempted following a try, which is worth two points. Penalties can also be scored by players, and these are worth three points. A drop-goal is also worth the same number of points.

Rugby Union Haka

How Is A Rugby Field?


The field of play for rugby union is normally stretched along 100 metres, with between 68-70 metres being the width between the touchlines. Markings on the pitch can often be confusing to newcomers. However, they are straightforward to understand. The ten-metre line is the minimum distance that a team must retreat when receiving a kick off. Meanwhile, the five-metre line is the maximum distance that a scum can be packed between each line.


The in-goal areas are also marked with white lines, which are similar to the end zones in American Football. These areas in rugby union must be between six and 22 metres deep and cover the full width of the playing field. If the ball is grounded in this zone, then a try is awarded. The ball must also remain in play, as the non-infringing side will be awarded with the ball if it goes out of bounds.

Standard dimensions and markings of a rugby league field. Not all playing fields are the same size.


Match Structure


To understand rugby union, we will also go into detail about how a match is structured. The play will kick off following a coin toss to determine the team that will kick off the first period. A drop kick to the opposing side will then begin the match, with the kicking team looking to gain territory by making a tackle as near to the defending team’s try line.


After retrieving the ball from kick off, the possession team will either have the opportunity to kick the ball back up field or to run with possession. Each half in rugby union will be contested over 40 minutes, with the break in the middle lasting no longer than 15 minutes. After the break, the teams will switch ends. If the referee is making a decision on the field, they can opt to stop the clock, meaning that games typically run over the 80-minute period.


In major tournaments, such as the World Cup, there are two extra time periods of ten minutes allotted if the scores are level. If the scores remain level after 100 minutes, then there is a 20-minute period of sudden death played. If the scores remain level after the sudden death period, then a kicking competition will determine the winner. However, no World Cup in history has ever been determined using this method.

Essential Equipment and Gear

There is a lot of equipment and gear for newcomers to get to grips with when learning how to enjoy playing rugby union. The most important is the ball, which is traditionally made of brown leather. All players will also wear boots, which traditionally had a high cut above the ankle. However, there has been a shift in modern history to traditional football boots, which enable players to move quickly due to having minimum weight.


But, players that play in the scrum and scrum half position will need to follow extensive safety requirements when it comes to boots, as forwards will need to wear removable studs following changes made to regulations by World Rugby.


All players in the game will also wear a rugby jersey, shorts, and socks to represent the team that they are playing for. Shin pads are also worn by players to limit the risk of shin injuries, just as they are in football. Players can also wear non-rigid shoulder pads to reduce the risk of serious injury.


Other protective equipment that players wear includes mouthguards. These aren’t compulsory in some rugby nations, but due to the collisions, they are typically worn to ensure that there are no medical emergencies. Players are also permitted to wear headgear to reduce the risk of head injuries, but these are limited to 10mm in thickness.


Tape is worn by a lot of players at the highest level to support and protect injuries. Some players will also wear tape around their ears in scrums to protect the body part. Female players are also allowed to wear chest pads in worldwide matches.

Rabodirect Rebels vs Sharks Rabodirect Rebels vs Sharks in the 2011 Super Rugby competition

Player Positions and Roles



One of the most important positions on the field is the forwards. These players are responsible for gaining and then retaining possession of the play. Stars in this position will play a key role in tackling and rucking players on the opposition side. Players that would typically play in this position will be bigger and stronger, as they are involved in direct competition with players on the opposition team in scrums and line outs.


Front Row


Each team will have three players in the front row, including two props and a hooker. The props main responsibility to protect the hooker and provide support for the players jumping for possession in a line out. The hooker is one of the key positions in the front row, as they will have key decisions to make in defensive and attacking phases of play.


Second Row


In the second row, there will be two locks. These are typically among the easiest to find, as they will be the two tallest players on the team. Locks will be tasked with winning possession in the line outs, and ensuring that the ball is in the possession of their team. Meanwhile, they will also bind directly behind the front row to drive in the scrum.


Back Row


The final position in the forwards is the back row. These are typically loose forwards, and are made up of flankers and the number eight. Players in this position are normally the most mobile in the scrum, meaning that the team can attack aggressively if they gain possession of the ball via a turnover. The number eight has control of the ball after it is heeled back in the scum and connects the forwards and backs during an attacking phase.




The main aim for players in the back positions is to score points against the other team. Typically, these stars are the smaller and faster players in the scoring team, and they will boast better ball-handling and kicking abilities in comparison to their teammates.




The scrum-half and fly-half make up the half-back positions. The latter of those is among the most important in the team, as they are in control of directing the attacking phase for a team. Following a scrum, these players are typically the first to get the ball, as they will be looking to get their team down the pitch and find a ball carrier.




Overall, there are four positions that make up the three-quarters period of the field. These include inside and outside centers, as well as left and right wings. Centers will be in charge of tackling attacking players while in attacking phases. Meanwhile, the wings will be located on the sides of the field, taking control of the ball and scoring tries.




The full-back is often one of the most trusted players on the rugby field, as they will need to be a dependable last line of defense if the ball should break down in an attacking phase. Successful full-backs are typically good catchers of the ball and have great kicking ability.

Mastering Fundamental Skills

Learning how to play this game means to improve on basic fundamental skills that are used in the sport. Those include core skills such as kicking, tacking, and passing.


The latter is one of the most important drills that aspiring players should practice, as every player on a rugby team will need to have the ability to pass the ball at speed and under pressure. There are a number of team drills that can be used to improve this skill. One of the most popular is to run up and down the field of play as a team passing the ball to a teammate to the side of you.


Kicking is also a vitally important fundamental skill in rugby, as it ensures that players are able to take the pressure off their team. Players should practice kicking the ball out of their hands from deep into their own half to ensure that they have the technique to get the distance on their efforts. If you are also in charge of conversions and penalties, players should practice their kicks from a range of different positions on the field.


Tacking is undeniably one of the most important fundamental skills in rugby, as it is the only way to slow down opposition teams and regain control of the ball. Many teams will have bag training during practice, and here players can find their preferred leg to tackle with in order to get the best possible angle to complete a tacking on an opposing player.

Ireland V Romania Landsdowne Road 26.11.2005

The Significance of Teamwork and Strategy

If you’re looking at how to learn the game, then it is likely that a team manager will be in control of the strategy that will be adopted by the team. One of the soundest strategies is used by some of the leading sides across the world, as they pick players in certain positions that they will excel.


Therefore, it is unlikely that you will see a mobile and quick player in the scum, as they will be more beneficial to the team in the breakdown. Many teams also look to play on the blindside during a scrum, as they look to gain possession and immediately overload positions on the wing due to the defending team being outnumbered and having limited time to re-organize.


One of the most important factors that will have a direct impact on the success enjoyed by a team is teamwork. Rugby teams have greater morale than most others, given that they need to trust each player to do their job in order to complete a collective goal. If one player is unable to fulfill their objective on the field, then it could bring the collective effort to a standstill.


However, new players looking at how to play should never be focused on another player doing their job, as teamwork in the sport means that you should be able to trust a player to do their part, meaning that you should focus on your own challenge in the match.

Preparing for Your First Game

Preparing for your first match after learning the rules of rugby union can often be a nervy experience. However, there are a number of tips that all players should follow in order to ensure that they play to their highest possible level. A tip that is followed by many professionals in the game is fueling your body for the match up to three days before kick off is set to take place.


This includes getting enough carbohydrates into your system and ensuring that you’re drinking plenty of water. Not only will this ensure that you are able to perform at the highest level, but also it ensures that you are able to get the best possible sleep in preparation for the match.


Players should ensure that they have recharged their batteries before taking to the field, as a grueling 80-minute match will require everyone involved to be at their peak-level of performance. Therefore, you should avoid doing strenuous exercise on the eve of a big match and get an early night in bed.


Meanwhile, players should continue their preparations before the match by practicing skills that they will likely need to deploy in the match. This includes having a few warm up tackles before the match gets underway, and practicing your kicks and passes before taking to the field.

Rugby Culture and Etiquette

One of the most important factors to take into account while learning how to play rugby union for beginners is the significance of etiquette of players on the field. This includes what players should do after the match has been completed. 

As a game at the highest level, players should be quick to show their respect for their opposing numbers after the full-time whistle by shaking hands with all players and coaches associated with the opposition.


Players should also clap their opponents off the field after the conclusion of the match. During the match, it is also important to stay disciplined, and that includes showing the referee respect throughout. Unlike other sports, officials are treated with respect in rugby, and back-chat to the man in the middle will likely lead to players heading for an early bath.


Socializing is also a vitally important part of rugby, both with teammates and opposing players. After battling against players, it isn’t uncommon for opposing sides to enjoy a drink and socialize with the opposition after the full-time whistle.

Getting Involved in Local Rugby

Getting involved in rugby is one of the most straightforward factors across the world, as there is a wide selection of clubs welcoming new players on a regular basis. Finding clubs is also straightforward, as a simple online search could help find a place to practice your rugby skills on a regular basis and make friends joining a rugby fantasy league.


That is the case for players of all ages, sexes, and experience levels in the sport. If you are looking to get involved in the sport for competitive matches, then there are typically club finders available at the websites of governing bodies, such as RFU.


Meanwhile, rugby is also an excellent sport to play if you are just looking to stay in shape and take advantage of the benefits from doing regular activity. Therefore, there is an excellent selection of clubs across the world that now offer non-contact rugby options, with tag rugby being among the most successful. The sport will offer a number of benefits for all players looking to get involved, as you will be able to make new friends and feel part of a club.



Rugby is one of the most social sports available to those looking at how to play rugby for beginners. There is no shortage of bonuses that come with playing the sport, including feeling the mental and health benefits from doing regular exercise.


Players will also have like-minded friends to socialize with throughout the year, and it could be a perfect opportunity to find players to join a unique fantasy league at Oval3. Overall, there is something for everyone when it comes to playing rugby, no matter at what level you are looking to compete at.


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