If you were, like some of us, unsure what “varsity” actually was (we have on record that the Editor-in-Chief thought it was polo), fear not! Our Sports Editor is here to demystify rugby in this article.
Upon attending my second ever Varsity Rugby game, which also happened to be my second ever rugby game, period, I decided that it was time to do some research. If you showed up at Murrayfield for the Varsity game on Saturday distraught, confused, and googling ‘rugby rules,’ ‘how to play rugby,’ ‘rules of rugby,’ or ‘is it legal to lift the guy in the air in rugby?’, you are in the right place.
Fear no more, let’s tackle the game of rugby!
Rugby began in 1823 when a student named William Webb Ellis decided that football wasn’t rough and tumble enough for him. He invented a whole new game right there at school. As anyone who has experienced rugby can imagine, the game has a reputation for brutality and recklessness. In 1910, France joined the International Championship to create the infamous Five Nations, and in 2000, Italy got in on the action as well. In a relatively short span of nearly 200 years, rugby has asserted itself as one of the most honoured and anticipated sporting events in the United Kingdom.
The first thing you need to know about rugby is that the object of the game is to score more points than the other guys, and the only way players cannot do this is by tossing the ball forward. They can change directions, kick in any direction, and throw the ball sideways, but throwing forward is a no-go. That’s why there’s always a big line of players tossing the ball back and forth across the field, approaching the try line like an armada of burly soldiers in tiny shorts.
Have you ever heard of the try line? Me neither. Don’t do what I did and call it a ‘goal,’ which was how I outed myself as a rugby amateur. It’s called the try line because players must cross it to reach the in-goal area, where they theatrically ground pound the ball into the turf. Scoring in that way is called a try, and it’s worth five points. If you were paying slight attention at last Saturday’s game, you may have also noticed that after a team scored a try (this wasn’t St Andrews for the majority of the game, sadly), they had the opportunity to kick the ball between the big posts over the opposing team’s try line. This is called a conversion. If the ball goes above the crossbar and between the big posts, your team gets an extra two points. Think of conversions as salt in the wound. You thought five points was bad, let’s make it seven! Players can also score points by attempting a drop goal, in which the ball must first be dropped; then it must touch the ground; and, finally, the player must kick the ball between the goal posts. It sounds difficult, so it doesn’t make sense to me why this can only award three points to a team. But hey, I’m no expert. That covers the basic ways you can score points in rugby!
The real heroes of rugby are far and away the referees. At the Varsity game, some referees wore shirts with huge black and yellow stripes on them rather like a human wasp. If anyone knows where I can get one, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also wouldn’t mind one of those screeching whistles so I can tell everyone to get out of my way when I’m walking down Market Street.
Rugby is brutal, but amidst the madness of interlocking arms and dragging players to the floor, the sport has restrictions on what can and cannot happen. For example, when a player gets tackled, it must be below the chest, and the person being tackled must release the ball once they’ve hit the ground. If the ball goes out of bounds or if a player breaks the rules, the referee can invoke a lineout or a scrum. Surprisingly, the lineout is the more entertaining of those two options. A lineout happens when a team member stands out of bounds and, get this, the rest of the team lifts a guy into the air so he or she can catch it and bring it back into their team’s possession. The first time I witnessed a lineout, I jumped out of my seat and yelled “Whoa! That is game changing!” Someone had to explain that lineouts are just the rules of rugby. As in, that’s normal. I was incredulous. Our second option, the scrum, often comes into use when someone breaks the rules, like throwing the ball forward or being offsides (which prevents players from taking a tactical advantage on the field). All the players interlock arms, the referee feeds the ball into the centre of the mishmash, and the collective might of both teams seeks to push the other side back to regain possession of the ball. The two teams, when engaged in a scrum, look like a wriggling, angry braid of muscle and sweat. Like tug-of-war up close and personal.
With this knowledge of rugby, spread the word and tell your friends. Sadly, nobody wants to ask for an explanation of sports, and very few want to give one! If you’re interested in getting involved with rugby, message the following for more information:
Men’s Rugby: https://www.facebook.com/UStARugby/
Women’s Rugby: https://www.facebook.com/UStARugbyW/
Harper, Nick. “Instant Expert #2: The Rules of Rugby Made Simple.” Beginners Guide To Rugby Rules, Coca Cola Journey, 17 Sept. 2015, www.coca-cola.co.uk/stories/instant-expert-the-rules-of-rugby-made-simple.
Rookwood, Dan. “A Brief History of Rugby.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 Oct. 2003, www.theguardian.com/sport/2003/oct/06/rugbyworldcup2003.rugbyunion6.