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How to Play Rugby

Rugby Positions and Fields

A rugby team is made up of 15 players arranged on a grass field or pitch approximately 144 meters long by 70 meters wide, slightly longer and wider than an American football field. There are two 22-meter in-goal lines (end zones), and the object of the game is to deliver the ball to the opposing team's in-goal line as many times as possible during play.

There are eight forward positions (called forwards) on a rugby team. They perform in a manner similar to linebackers and linemen in football. They're sometimes referred to as the "pack." These are usually physically large, solid athletes that have to use muscle to gain possession of the ball. Six of the remaining seven playing positions are backs, and the central position is a halfback or scrumhalf. The backs are sleek, agile, smaller players that accomplish most of kicking and other ball handling necessary to move the ball up the field to the goal line. Once the forwards gain the ball, it's the halfback's (scrumhalf's) job to pass it to the backs.

Although standardized rules exist for rugby, there can still be some variation from nation to nation in the player designations. Some clubs use a numbering system from one to 15, while other clubs use letters.

Typically the first eight players represent the forwards. Of those eight forward players, the first three are sometimes called the "front row," and the first five players are alternately called the "front five" or "tight five." The last three forward positions are referred to as the "loose" forwards or the back row.

When listening to the commentary during a game of rugby, knowing the terminology will help you understand -- and enjoy -- the action better. Beyond the colorful group names for the forward positions, there are also position names for all 15 players on a team:

  • Loose Head Prop - requires upper body strength to help drive the scrum (more on that in a minute)
  • Hooker - hooks the ball in the scrum
  • Tight Head Prop - the dynamic force of the front line
  • Left Lock - second row position important for the drive
  • Right Lock - second row position important for the drive
  • Flanker (2) - also called wing forward or breakaway
  • Eight Man - delivers the ball to the scrumhalf
  • Scrumhalf- also known as the halfback
  • Flyhalf - the cool headed leader of the backs
  • Left Wingman - also called the wing or winger
  • Inside Center - the biggest player on the back line
  • Outside Center - supports the wingman
  • Right Wingman - the fastest player on the team, also called the wing or winger
  • Fullback - strong defensive player positioned behind the main line of backs