A is for All Blacks

The All Blacks are undoubtedly the most famous team in the world. New Zealand has been playing rugby since 1870 and it is their national sport. The team won the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 and are the current world champions after their success on home soil in 2011. The All Blacks have a huge following around the world for their style of play and ability and belief in themselves that says ‘we’re never beaten.’

B is for ball

The egg-shaped rugby ball was originally constructed using a pig's bladder and because they had a tendency to be oval shaped, that is how the design developed. Early balls had no set size as it was governed by how big the pig's bladder was. Modern day rugby balls are still made from leather as well as a variety of synthetic substances. The rugby ball comes in four sizes and is suitable for use by the following age groups:- 

  • Size 3 Mini rugby age groups – Under 7, Under 8 and Under 9. 
  • Size 4 – Junior rugby age groups – Under 10, Under 11, Under 12, Under 13 and Under 14. 
  • Size 4.5 – Women’s rugby / age groups – Under 15 and above, into senior rugby. 
  • Size 5 – Full sized rugby / age groups – Under 15 and above, into senior rugby.

C is for conversion

In the early days of rugby union the act of scoring a try was not the primary objective and crossing the line earned no points, it simply earned a team the right to ‘try’ and kick the conversion to get points. Today, scoring a conversion earns two points and is in addition to the five points scored from a try. One of a team’s designated kickers takes the conversion from a spot in line with where the try was scored and has one minute to kick the ball over the bar between the posts. In Rugby Sevens the kicker has 30 seconds to take a conversion, which must be a drop-kick.

D is for drop goal

A drop-kick is where a player effectively kicks the ball on the half-volley shortly after it has bounced. A drop goal is scored in a match when a player kicks the ball in this way through the opposition’s goal posts, earning his or her team three points. The drop-kick can be a tricky skill to master but can be a very powerful weapon near the end of a game when the scores are tight.

Some famous drop goal moments include Joel Stransky’s match-winner for South Africa against New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup 1995 final, Jonny Wilkinson’s extra-time winner for England in the RWC 2003 final and South African Jannie de Beer’s world-record five drop goals against England in the RWC 1999 quarter-final in Paris. 

E is for equipment

Rugby players generally wear very little body protection. It is a player’s choice as to whether he/she wears a mouth guard or World Rugby-approved gear such as shoulder pads, scrum caps or breast guards. [add link to find approved suppliers]

F is for forward pass

When passing the ball to another player it can only be passed laterally or backwards. The ball cannot travel forwards towards the opposing team’s goal-line. Running forward and passing backwards is an art form and the first thing you will be taught when starting to learn the game. A forward pass is penalised with a scrum to the opposition. 

G is for the game

Football is known as the beautiful game but for rugby fans there is only one game and its more about how the game is played then how it looks! At the heart of rugby is a unique ethos; not only is the game played to the laws but within the spirit of the laws. Through discipline, control and mutual respect, a fellowship and sense of fair play are forged, defining rugby as the game it is. 

H is for halves … a game of two halves

A game of Fifteens rugby lasts for 80 minutes, 40 minutes in each half and not more than 15 minutes for half-time when the players will generally leave the field of play, after which both teams change ends. In Sevens, a game will last for seven minutes each half with two minutes for half-time when the players stay on the pitch. In the final of a Sevens tournament, the game will be played over 10 minutes per half. 

I is for international

Rugby is a global sport played by more than 6.6 million people across the 120 Member Unions of World Rugby.Playing for your country is the highest honour in rugby. Players are awarded international caps when selected for their senior national side. Several hundred international matches are played per year with that figure setto grow as the sport continues to expand into new countries. 

J is for Jonah

While there were great players before his time and have been great players since, All Black wing Jonah Lomu was the first rugby player to become a household name. After proving himself in Gordon Tietjens’ New Zealand’s Sevens team, Lomu sprung to global prominence during Rugby World Cup 1995 – particularly against England in the semi-finals – despite ending up on the losing side in the final.

K is for kicks

Kicking takes on many forms within the game including kicking to touch, kicking for goal, kicking for territory and the kick-off. At the start of each half a team kicks off the game with a drop kick from the centre of the halfway line. The ball must travel 10 metres forward while the rest of the team must be behind the kicker when he kicks and the opposition must be 10 metres behind the ball. After each try is awarded the team that didn’t scored the points takes the next kick-off. 

Players can kick from hand, often aiming for the touchline. This is called kicking for touch and the resulting action is for the teams to take a lineout (see below). In addition, players often choose to kick for territory rather than running the ball. See 'U' below for an explanation of this kicking. 

There is a little more to the art of kicking and many additional rules that apply other than those mentioned here. If you want to find out more please read the beginners guide to rugby.

L is for lineout

When the ball goes into touch (over the lines at the side) the game is restarted with a lineout. The lineout comprises a number of forwards from each team who line up perpendicular to the touchline, one metre apart. The hooker throws the ball straight down the gap between the teams and the objective is to win possession and distribute the ball effectively to mount an attack. 

Want to know more about the positions in a rugby team? Click here to read more

M is for maul

This is like a ruck (see R below), but the players are on their feet not on the ground. To create a maul three of more of the attacking side need to bind together driving the ball towards the try-line, normally to calls of ‘HEAVE’ from the crowd, while the defence tries to push them back. 

N is for number 8

The positions on the pitch comprise 15 players: loosehead prop, hooker, tighthead prop, second row (x2), blindside flanker, openside flanker, number 8, scrum-half, fly-half, inside centre, outside centre, left wing, right wing and full-back. The number 8 is the player at the back of the scrum who controls the ball.

O is for officials

A rugby match is under the control of one referee and two assistant referees. In addition there are many other officials behind the scenes, including the television match official (TMO). 

To find out more about becoming a match official click here.

P is for points

There are four ways to score points in rugby – a try (five points), a conversion (two points) and a penalty or drop goal (three points). In many modern day tournaments and leagues, including the Rugby World Cup, points are awarded at the end of a game for a win and a draw. In addition, teams who score four tries or more receive a bonus point as do teams who lose by seven points or less.

Q is for qualifying

Eighty-three teams participated in the qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2015 over a period of 932 days … just over two and a half years. The final team to qualify were Uruguay, who defeated Russia over two matches in the Repechage to complete the 20-team line-up for the showpiece event in England.

R is for ruck

A ruck is formed if the ball is on the ground and one or more players from each team are on their feet. The attacking team tries to secure the ball for the next phase of play, while the defence tries to disrupt or turn it over. Players cannot use their hands in a ruck and players must join a ruck from behind the hindmost player on his side, also known as going through the gate. A ruck is also known as the breakdown.

S is for scrum

The scrum is the heart of the game of rugby and the principle means of restarting the game after stoppages for minor infringements. Sixteen players – eight forwards from each side – lower together following the referee’s ‘crouch, bind, set’ engagement sequence, and form an interlocking formation. The scrum-half then puts the ball into the middle of the tunnel between the two front rows. The scrum is a battle of power between the two sets of forwards and the domination of the scrum can win games. 

S is also for Rugby Sevens

The form of the sport to be played at the Olympic Games in 2016 and 2020. An entertaining and high-octane sport, Sevens is growing in popularity around the world on the back of Olympic inclusion and the competitive HSBC Sevens World Series and World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.

T is for try

Games can be won through points amassed by kicks but the build-up and scoring of tries is what rugby fans, and non-rugby fans, enjoy watching. A try is scored when a player enters the opposition’s in-goal area and grounds the ball with downward pressure. The ball cannot be thrown or slapped down, a player must be deemed to be in control of the ball as it is grounded for a try to be awarded by the referee.

U is for up-and-under

An up-and-under, or a Garryowen as it is known in Ireland, is where a player ‘hoofs’ the ball forward and high into the air for himself and others to chase in an attempt to catch, in order to reclaim possession higher up the pitch. 

V is for variants

There are many forms of rugby that are played in addition to the 15 a-side game, including: Sevens, which will be part of the 2016 Olympics; Tag (or Flag) rugby, generally played when first learning the sport; Touch, a mixed team sport where the only contact is to touch the opponent rather than tackling them to the ground; Beach rugby that follows the same concept as many other forms of rugby, just played on sand and Wheelchair Rugby, an intense, physical team sport for male and female athletes with an impairment in both upper and lower limbs. 

If you want to Get Into Rugby click here to read more

W is for William Webb Ellis

Legend has it that in 1823, during a game of school football in the town of Rugby in England, a young man named William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran towards the opposition’s goal-line. Two centuries later, rugby has evolved into one of the world’s most popular sports, with millions of people playing, watching and enjoying the game. At the heart of rugby is a unique ethos which it has retained over the years. Not only is the game played to the laws, but within the spirit of the laws. Through discipline, control and mutual self-respect, a fellowship and sense of fair play are forged, defining rugby as the game it is.

Y is for yellow car

If a player is shown a yellow card they have to leave the pitch and spend the next 10 minutes in the sin-bin, giving the opposition 10 minutes to make use of their one-man advantage. A yellow card is presented for a variety of offences including persistent infringements, high tackles or dangerous play, foul play or a professional foul. In Rugby Sevens a yellow card is also shown if a player throws the ball away, hence not allowing the opposing team to re-start quickly. In Rugby Sevens a yellow-carded player stays in the sin-bin for two minutes.

Z is for (New) Zealand

We started with the All Blacks so it is only fitting that we finish on the same theme. In Maori, New Zealand is translated as ‘the land of the long white cloud’. The Maori influence within the game is evident with the ceremonial war dance, the haka being performed before every New Zealand team play. The country has a population of 4.47 million of which 150,000 men, women and children participate in the game of rugby on a regular basis. 


If you want to learn more about rugby and how to participate click on your Member Union page for contact details.

We have created our A-Z of rugby but there are many other areas of the sport that we could have referred to including individual players, countries and special moments. Why not tell us your contributions to the A-Z of rugby. #WorldRugbyAZ