Rugby Union: the Sport

By the term “Rugby Union” we commonly refer to 15-a-side rugby, the original form of the game codified by the RFU in 1871. An important and internationally widespread variant of 15-a-side Rugby Union is Rugby Sevens, also played under the auspices of the International Rugby Board (IRB).
15-a-side Rugby Union
A rugby union team is made up of 15 players: eight forwards, numbered from 1 to 8; and seven backs, numbered from 9 to 15. Depending upon the competition, there may be up to seven replacements.
Each player has a fixed role with specialist positional skills and each team uses the same formation, with only minor variations.
Early rugby did no more than distinguish in tactics between the great bulk of the players who played as forwards and the relative few who played back defensively as "tends", as in goaltenders. After a while, the attacking or at least counter-attacking possibilities of playing close behind the scrimmage (which later came to be called "scrummage") came to be recognized, and some players stationed themselves between the forwards and tends as "half-tends". It being seen that the players outside scrimmage (the "pack", i.e. the forwards) were not limited to a defensive role, the tends and half-tends were renamed "back" and "half back" positions.
As the game became more sophisticated, backs positioned at different depths (i.e. distances behind the forwards) were further differentiated into half back, three quarters (the fraction 3/4) back, and full back, according to British nomenclature, which was eventually adopted worldwide, with the word, 'back," often omitted for brevity from the half back ("half") and three quarters back ("three quarter") names, and "fullback" as a single word.
Individual players' positions are made clear by the number they wear, as this generally indicates their role on the pitch (unless they are a substitute or have switched position during the match). This means a player does not get a personal squad number for his entire career, as in most American sports or in football. The International Rugby Board (IRB) has laid down a numbering scheme for international matches, which is adopted at almost all levels of the sport.
The main role of the forwards is to gain and retain possession of the ball. They take part in set pieces of the scrum and the line-out. Generally, forwards are larger than the backs, and were traditionally stronger but slower and less agile. However, the modern game has seen a change in the athleticism of forwards - many are now just as fast and adept in open play as their counterparts in the backs. Forwards also have a role in ball carrying, but generally do so by driving into the opposing forwards. The Laws of the Game define the terms prop, hooker, locks, flankers and number eights and clearly state that a 3-2-3 or 3-4-1 formation must be used at scrums.
The role of the backs is to take the ball won by the forwards and score points, either by running or kicking the ball. They are usually more agile and faster than forwards, but not as strong. The key attribute for most positions in the back line is pace - however, the various specialist positions also require different skills, for example, the kicking abilities needed by a good flyhalf or fullback. Again, the type of person who would traditionally play in the backs - small, agile, fast - is changing, with the advent of professionalism bringing increased size and strength into the backs.
The following diagram locates the various positions in the 15-man team. All members of the starting 15 wear shirts numbered from 1 to 15 and keyed to their positions (though alternatives exist); these numbers appear on the diagram below. The first eight players, known as forwards or the pack, play in the scrum. The remaining seven players play as the backs.
Rugby union positions
1 Loosehead Prop
2 Hooker
3 Tighthead Prop
4 Lock
5 Lock
6 Blindside Flanker
8 Number 8
7 Openside Flanker
9 Scrum Half
10 Fly-half
12 Inside Centre
13 Outside Centre
11 Left Wing
14 Right Wing
15 Fullback
Rugby Sevens
Rugby Sevens is a variant of rugby union in which teams are made up of seven players, instead of the usual 15. Rugby sevens is sanctioned by the IRB, and is played under substantially the same laws and on a field of the same dimensions as the 15-player game. While a normal rugby union match lasts at least 80 minutes, a normal sevens match consists of two halves of seven minutes with a one-minute half-time break. The final of a competition can be played over two halves of ten minutes each, with a half-time break of two minutes. This allows sevens  tournaments to be completed in a day or a weekend. However, sevens scores are generally comparable to union scores; scoring occurs with much greater regularity in sevens, since the defenders are more spaced out. Scrums are composed of just three players from each team. Because of the speedy nature of the game, good sevens players are often backs or loose forwards in fifteens rugby.
The game originated in Melrose, Scotland, and the Melrose Sevens is still played annually. The game is popular at all levels, with amateur and club tournaments generally held in the summer months. Notable international competitions include the IRB Sevens World Series and the Rugby World Cup Sevens. Rugby sevens is also played at some multi-sport events such as the Commonwealth Games.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Rugby positions” at and the article "Rugby Sevens " at