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by Peter Moskos

October 9, 2011

Rugby For Dummies

I've made a small effort to understand Rugby, since I'm in the UK and Rugby World Cup is going on in New Zealand (who just beat Argentina).

Next weekend are the semi-finals. It will be late at night in America (it's far too early in the morning here in Europe). Here are my rugby rules for dummies (which may or may not be accurate), the few things I had to learn before I could figure out what the hell was going on beyond a massive game of Smear the Queer (why do I suspect there's now a more politically correct term for that charming game of childhood).

1) In rugby, you can only pass the ball backyards, but you probably already knew that. If you pass the ball forward (called a knock-on) with anything other than your feet, a scrum results (where all the players are linked and pushing each other). This is for possessions, but it's not equal odds because the other team tosses the ball into the scrum. Players in the scrum may not play the ball with their hands but try and push the other team back in relation to the ball. They can also kick the ball back out of the scrum.

2) Both offense and defense can be offsides. If you're on the wrong side of the ball you need to get on the right side of the ball before you do anything. But if you're packed together in a maul or ruck, the line that marks offsides in not the ball but where the players are mashed together (so as you push the other team back, you can kick the ball along and march up the field).

3) A tackle is not a turnover or even a stoppage in play. If tackled, you have to give up the ball (handed back, as always). If you're not tackled, your team can keep trying to push you forward (called either a maul or a ruck). The defense can only go after the guy with the ball. There is no blocking, which is called obstruction.

4) A "try" is like a touchdown and is worth 5 points. But you actually have to touch the ball to the ground for it to count. The two extra points (called a conversion) are kicked out from a line from where the try was touched down (so you want to score your tries in the middle of the field). After a score, the team that scores receives the resultant kick-off. Games between mismatched teams can become very one-sided.

5) You can always kick the ball. If you kick the ball out of bounds, the other team throws the ball in from where it went out of bounds. A drop-goal, like punting for a field-goal, is worth 3 points.

6) A penalty results in a kick (which can be place-set) and often a field-goal attempt. The team that “has” the penalty is the one that wasn't penalized.

7) There are two 40-minute halves. The clock rarely stops. After time is up, the game doesn’t end till the ball is dead. There are 15 players on a side with 7 replacements. Unless you’re bleeding, a player cannot return to play if taken out. The number of a player’s uniform relates to his position.

It's a fast and brutal game. World Cup Rugby plays Rugby Union rules. I have no idea what Rugby League is. Nor do I care.

[I'm on break. Regular blogging will resume in February.]

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