If you’re looking for a sport that’s all about strength, strategy, and stamina, perhaps it’s time you learned a little more about rugby.
Rugby is gaining popularity in Canada, and with good reason—it’s gripping both for players and for spectators. It has a reputation for building physical stamina while demanding a high level of sportsmanship. This semester, the UTM Eagles rugby team has been quietly working to secure the top ranking in the intramural league and are now the favourites to win as they enter the playoffs over the next two weeks, boasting a home advantage and some well-earned confidence.
I quizzed students on campus concerning their knowledge of the sport and asked them if they’d be interested in attending a game.
“I don’t know very much about rugby. I would [watch] if I knew more, and if it was promoted more around the school,” said Dana Britton, a second-year psychology major.
“I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to rugby but I can still enjoy watching a good game and the sight of athletic boys getting down and dirty,” said Residence Council’s Frenielle Frias. “We just need to hype up the event and I’m sure a lot of people would come.”
Joe Measures, a third-year CCIT major, said, “I know very little about it—basically just how to pass. I would definitely watch it if I knew more about the league.”
If these students’ comments are any indication, it seems that the main reason rugby isn’t more popular is that most people aren’t familiar with the rules. So how is rugby played? It might seem complicated, but this article will help you understand the sport well enough to enjoy an Eagles game.
Let’s start with scoring. Similarly to touchdowns in football, points are gained by scoring “tries” behind the other team’s goal-line. A try is worth five points. Unlike a touchdown, though, the ball has to be placed on the ground rather than just run over the line. After the try, there’s a conversion opportunity—a chance to gain an extra two points by kicking the ball between the goalposts. To avoid conceding a try, players can tackle their opponents.
Rugby is a full-contact sport. Tackles are allowed as long as they make contact below the opponent’s neck. “It’s a game of true toughness,” says team captain Kevin Noel.
However, it’s illegal to tackle or otherwise obstruct a player who isn’t carrying the ball. When a player with the ball is tackled to the ground in open play, they must release the ball and can’t interfere with it so their teammates must try to regain possession.
Occasionally, players use their body weight to drive the other team backwards over the tackled player and try to secure the ball. This is called a “ruck”. The attacking team can try to avoid tackles, either by barging through their opponents with enough power or by passing the ball around to find a gap to run through.
However, the ball may only be passed backwards, so players often run in diagonal lines. If a ball goes forward in a pass or is knocked forward accidentally, the play stops and the other team gains possession.
After a knock-on or forward pass, the referee will call a “scrum”. This is where the eight biggest players on each team crouch together and try to drive the other team backwards over the ball through brute strength. In open play, it’s very important to gain field position and move as close to the opponent’s try-line as possible, either by running with the ball in hand or by kicking it. Kicking is a quick way to gain territory, but will usually give away possession to the other team. The ball is often kicked when a team is under pressure in their half and needs to get out of the situation quickly.
If the ball crosses one of the sidelines following a kick or because a player carrying the ball crosses the line, the referee will call a line-out, in which both teams set up a short line of players and a player from the attacking side throws the ball in. Someone from each team is lifted into the air to compete for the ball.
Some offences, such as illegal tackling, not releasing the ball when tackled, or being offside, result in penalties. The team awarded the penalty has several options: a scrum, a kick, or continued play with a 10-metre advantage.
This should be enough to let you follow the majority of the game. Don’t be put off if something else happens that wasn’t explained above—there are a lot of minor rules, and because rugby is such a young sport in Canada, often only the referee and experienced players are familiar with all of them.
To simplify, you should cheer whenever an Eagles player scores, an Eagles player makes a big tackle on an opponent, or the Eagles steal possession from the opposing team.
“I really got into rugby because it’s a genuine warrior sport, a real physical battle,” said Eagles inside-centre Michael McDonald, a recent convert to the sport.
“Soccer [is] a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans; rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen,” joked Craig Burkett, the head coach of the UTM rugby team.
The team will play their semifinal game on the UTM South Field next to the RAWC parking lot on Sunday, November 17, kicking off at 1 p.m.