How Well Do You Know the Rules of Rugby?

Cassidy Allen Chubb

Image: South_agency/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

For many Americans, football has been around for what seems like forever. To be exact, American football was invented in 1920 in Canton, Ohio. It may come as a surprise to sports fans to learn that football's distant cousin, rugby, was actually invented an entire century before. Did you know that? The two sports are similar in many ways but also have differences that make them their own. Historians have said rugby was invented in 1823 when 16-year-old student William Ebbs Willis was playing a game similar to football at the Rugby School and decided to run with the football. This wasn't something that was part of the game rules back then, but by essentially breaking the rules, he's credited with inventing rugby. Since Ellis' invention happened at the Rugby School, the sport was named rugby in honor of his creation. 

It wasn't until 1871 that the Rugby Football Union was founded in London. Like the Olympics, every four years there's a Rugby World Cup where 20 international teams compete. The winner is awarded the prestigious Webb Ellis Cup in honor of rugby's inventor. So now that we've given you some background on this centuries-old sport, it's time to put your rugby knowledge to the test! Show off what you know in this rules of rugby quiz. 

In American football, players wear helmets as headgear. What type of protective headgear do rugby players wear?

Some players choose to forego the scrum caps and just tape their head and ears. A common result of playing rugby is a medical condition called cauliflower ears, which is swelling in the ears caused by blood. Ouch!

How many times can the ball be thrown backward?

In rugby, players can throw the ball backward as many times as they want, just as long as no forward passes are made. This is one of the main rule differences between American football and rugby. If a forward pass happens, the game is stopped, referees give the opposing team a scrum and the throw-in goes to them as well.

Is the ball allowed to be passed forward?

Passes in rugby have to be made to a teammate behind or next to them, but never forward. This is one of the major differences between rugby and American football. The Guinness World Records lists the most consecutive rugby passes as 276 in Newport, U.K. in August 2010.

In American football, a total of 11 players are allowed on the field. How many players does each team have on the field in rugby?

Originally, teams were allowed to have 20 players on the field, but that was eventually reduced down to 15 by 1876. Each number has a position that has a specific role on the field.

Who is credited with inventing rugby and making it into the sport it is today?

William Webb Ellis was a schoolboy playing in a football game when he decided to pick up the ball and run with it to try and score. It was this action that eventually made running with the ball an accepted play.

Rugby union is the most popular version of rugby. What's the name of the other version?

Rugby league was created after rugby union, or just rugby, after disagreements of pay to the players. While rugby union allows 15 players on the field to play, rugby league only allows 13.

An American football game is around three hours. How long is a rugby match?

The game is split into two forty-minute periods. Additional time can be added at the referee's discretion based on lost time from injuries or player substitutions. The longest recorded rugby match is said to be over 26 hours long!

In the sports world, there's big events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and the Super Bowl. What's rugby's most important tournament?

Like the Olympics, the Rugby World Cup happens every four years. The top 20 international rugby teams compete for a chance to win the Webb Ellis Cup, which is named after rugby's creator, William Webb Ellis. The first Rugby World Cup was played in 1985, and the New Zealand All Blacks defeated Australia.

The shape of an American football is a prolate spheroid. What is the shape of the ball used in rugby?

The shape of the ball apparently comes from a pig's bladder. In the beginning, the ball shape actually changed sizes depending on the pig's bladder that was used. Oink oink!

What determines who kicks off the ball?

After the referee tosses the coin, the captain of the winning toss picks whether his team or the opponent will kick off. Captains normally pick based on what their team's strength is.

If a player is tackled and the ball moves forward, what is that called?

In rugby there's no getting away with not being allowed to move the ball forward, even if it's by accident. When a knock-on (sometimes called knock-forward) happens, the referee gives a scrum to the team that didn't commit the knock-on.

What's the name of the boundary on the field?

If a player or the ball crosses the line, the play is stopped, usually by the touch judge. The teams both then form a line out and the ball is thrown back into play.

What position connects the forwards and the backs?

The scrum half is the facilitator of where the ball is going next. In this position, the player needs to be able to call plays, react quickly and read plays among several other skills. Joost van der Westhuizen is known as the best scrum half of all time.

An American football game has four quarters. How many are in a rugby match?

There are two forty-minute periods in rugby, and in between the two periods there's a ten minute break. A rugby game typically last an hour and a half.

If a player is positioned further forward of the opponent's goal line, they are considered to be what?

There surprisingly isn't a penalty or offense for being offside, but a player can't be part of the game until they are back onside. In American football, there's a five-yard penalty for a player that jumps offside.

If the ball goes out of bounds or a player goes out of bounds, what does the game get restarted with?

Both teams line up on the sideline, and a player throws the ball straight down the middle of the line. Players can lift their teammates in the air to try and catch or tap the ball to a teammate, which will then put the game back in play. In early rugby days, it was actually illegal to lift players during a line-out.

A conversion is considered 'good' if it passes through the two posts and above what?

The crossbar is three meters from the ground, while the goal posts are 5.5 meters apart from each other. In American football, there's no crossbar, just two goal posts that the ball has to pass through. Eamonn and Jackson Hickson hold the Guinness World Record for the most conversions recorded in a game at 30!

If a player has committed a serious foul and it's their first offense, a referee gives them a card. What color is this penalty card?

Once a player has committed the foul, they immediately sit out the game for ten minutes. Two yellow cards in a match result in a red card, resulting in the dismissal of the remainder of the match. In 1995, South Africa got three red cards in one game, the most by any team in a single match. That must've been an intense game!

Eight of the 15 players on the field form the lineup. What are they called?

Forwards are typically bigger and stronger than backs and do a majority of the tackling. They also form the scrum and lineout and are responsible for helping the backs advance the ball.

For a try to be considered a score, the ball must be grounded over their opponent's what?

The ball has to touch the player when it makes contact with the ground for the try to be counted and the team earns five points. Daisuke Ohata is the rugby's all-time leading try scorer with 69. Now that's impressive!

A player is given a yellow or red card as a penalty by a referee. Where is the player sent after receiving one?

Players are sent to this area for ten minutes for committing the penalty. Sin-bin wasn't added to rugby until 2001. Barry Jensen was the first player ever sent to the sin-bin.

A conversion is worth two points. How many points is a drop goal good for?

Jonny Wilkinson has the most drop goals recorded by a rugby union player with 36. Wilkinson recorded these drop kicks from 1998-2011. While the kicker drops the ball and tries to kick it through the goal, the opposing team attempts to stop the kick. The tricky part is that the ball has to bounce before it can be kicked.

After a player is tackled to the ground, what can be formed?

A ruck happens after a player is tackled and falls on the ground. When this happens, the tackler has to let go of the tackled player, and the tackled player must release the ball.

Who is allowed to be tackled in rugby?

Players are allowed to tackle their opponents using their head, arms and body. A player can be tackled anywhere except for their neck and head. In American football, Tackles can be made while a player is in the air, but it's not allowed in rugby.

In American football, the fullback doesn't have a specific position number. What position number is associated with the fullback in rugby?

The fullback is the last line of defense and responsible for making key attacks and tackles. Fullbacks need to be strong catchers because they do get deep kicks from the opposition.

In American football, there are seven referees on the field. How many referees are in a rugby match?

While there may only be one referee, there are two touch judges who help the referee in certain situations. Before 1875, captains were responsible for making the decisions, and there weren't any referees.

Seven of the 15 players on the field form the lineup. What is their position called?

The backs are responsible for advancing the ball up the field and scoring tries. In comparison to forwards, backs are usually smaller and faster and score most of the points. Israel Folau is ranked as one of the greatest backs of all time.

No one really knows how American football got its name, but the history is known for rugby. So, how did rugby get its name?

When William Webb Ellis decided to run with the ball, he was playing at school in Rugby, England. The sport was named after Ellis' school in honor of him essentially creating it.

American football is played on a field. What is rugby played on?

The pitch is close to the same size as a soccer field. Rugby end zones are 25 yards deep, whereas in American football it's 30 yards.

American college football's halftime is double that of American football and rugby. How long is halftime in rugby?

When teams return from halftime, they switch ends and attempt to score on the end they were previously defending. The origin of halftime actually came from the same place the sport got its name from, the Rugby School. A school captain felt his team had an unfair advantage because of windy conditions so he suggested switching ends and the rest is history.

In professional American football, 42 players are on the bench. How many players are on the bench in rugby?

In most sports, substitutions are made to replace an injured player, a strategic approach or for some fresh legs on the field. But in rugby, once a player is substituted, they can't go back on the pitch except for blood injury and replacing an injured front-row player. Much different from American football!

In American football, there are four ways to score. How many different ways are there to score in rugby?

The four main ways to score are a try, goal kick, penalty and drop kick. A try is worth the most points out of the four options. The highest-scoring Rugby World Cup game was in 1995 when the All Blacks beat Japan 145-17.

When a referee's shoulders are parallel to the touchline, what does it mean?

The referee's arms will then be horizontal pointing toward the team to throw the ball in. The referee will then blow the whistle to signal the scrum to begin. The scrum wasn't introduced to rugby until 1905, and since then, rules have varied and changed.

American football came an entire century after rugby. What year was rugby invented?

While rugby's style of play had been around for many years before, it wasn't until William Webb Ellis' move forward that it solidified its name. As you've no doubt gleaned by now, Ellis was playing at the Rugby School when he essentially invented the sport.

In American football, the field is 120 yards. How many yards is a rugby pitch?

A rugby pitch is just 10 yards shorter than American football's 120-yard field. In rugby, they measure by meters.

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