How to Play Rugby

Be prepared to get hit -- hard!
Be prepared to get hit -- hard!

If you're a rugby enthusiast, no one has to tell you it's a sport with a lot going for it. It has speed, strategy -- and body contact. That's a recipe for excitement whether you're playing in the game or just watching it on your trusty flat screen. American football owes its seminal beginnings to the game of rugby, and if you like your sports fast and unapologetically aggressive, these are qualities both football and rugby share to this day.

The origins of Rugby can be traced to the Rugby School in England in 1823, where an enterprising 16-year-old picked up the ball during a game of soccer (or a soccerlike variation) and ran with it. The boy's name was William Webb Ellis, and his unexpected rule breaking but dynamic move started a trend. It's a great story, and whether or not it's completely accurate to call William Webb Ellis the father of rugby (the story has its detractors), the sport does date from around this period.

It didn't take long for a little ball hugging to catch on big, and by 1840, running with the ball was an accepted practice. Jump forward a few decades to 1870, and soccer-football-rugby clones were being played in clubs all over England and the colonies, sporting their own rules with an enthusiastic disregard for decorum or uniformity. The Rugby Football Union was formed in 1871 to bring some consistency to the game by establishing a firm set of guidelines.

On the next couple of pages, we'll take a closer look at the positions, rules and scoring strategies that make rugby -- well, rugby. If you already know the rules of football you'll be confused until we straighten out a few details for you. After that, you'll discover that many aspects of both games are very similar.