Rugby Vocabulary

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Rugby has its language, filled with terms that describe various positions, gameplay actions, techniques, strategies, and penalties. Whether you're a fan, a player, or just someone interested in learning about the sport, this article will guide you through the essential rugby vocabulary. From the basics of gameplay to the intricacies of positions and tactics, you'll gain a solid understanding of the terms used in the world of rugby. 
Whats Rugby

What is Rugby

This thrilling and physically demanding team sport traces its roots back to the early 19th century in England. Picture two teams of 15 players each battling it out on the field, but wait, there's more! “Rugby Sevens” spices things up with teams of seven players, bringing a whole new level of excitement.

Words for Positions and Roles

  • Fullback: The last line of defense, positioned behind the main defensive line, responsible for catching high balls and counter-attacking.
  • Fly-half: The playmaker and tactical decision-maker, usually wearing jersey number 10, orchestrating the team's attack and controlling the game.
  • Hooker: Positioned in the front row of the scrum, responsible for throwing the ball into the lineout and binding in the scrum.
  • Lock: The tall players in the second row of the scrum and lineout, who are providing strength and stability in set pieces.
  • Prop: The front-row players who provide stability and power in the scrum, supporting the hooker.
  • Scrum-half: The link between the forwards and the backs, distributing the ball from the back of the scrum or ruck to initiate attacks.
  • Winger: Positioned on the edges of the field, usually the fastest players in the team, responsible for finishing tries and providing support in defense.
  • Center: The midfield players who act as the team's playmakers, creating opportunities for both the forwards and backs.
  • Flanker: Positioned on the sides of the scrum or lineout, responsible for winning turnovers, disrupting the opposition, and supporting the team's attack.
  • Number Eight: Positioned at the back of the scrum, responsible for controlling the ball with their feet, providing a link between the forwards and backs.
  • Openside: The flanker positioned on the side of the scrum nearest to the touchline, focused on winning turnovers and pressuring the opposition.
  • Blindside: The flanker positioned on the side of the scrum away from the touchline, responsible for defending and providing support in attack.
  • Inside Center: The center, positioned closer to the fly-half, providing a second playmaking option and helping to organize the team's attack.
  • Outside Center: The center positioned farther from the fly-half, offering width in attack and solid defense.
  • Utility Back: A versatile player capable of playing multiple positions, providing flexibility and cover across the backline.

Basic Gameplay Terms

  • Advantage: When the team that was fouled or infringed upon is allowed to play on, gaining an opportunity to gain an advantage.
  • Conversion: The attempt to kick the ball through the uprights after scoring a try, earning two additional points.
  • Drop goal: A scoring method where a player kicks the ball through the uprights during open play, earning three points.
  • Maul: When players from both teams bind together around a player with the ball, aiming to gain territory and control.
  • Lineout: A method of restarting play after the ball has gone out of bounds, involving players from both teams contesting for the ball thrown in from the touchline.
  • Penalty: A sanction imposed by the referee against a team that commits a foul or infringes upon the rules, usually resulting in a kick or set piece.
  • Ruck: A phase of play that occurs after a tackle, where players from both teams compete for the ball on the ground.
  • Scrum: A set piece where players from both teams bind together and contest for possession of the ball by driving against each other.
  • Sin bin: A temporary suspension where a player must leave the field for a specified period due to a serious foul or infringement.
  • Tackle: When a player is brought to the ground by one or more opponents, ending their possession of the ball.
  • Try: The primary method of scoring in rugby, achieved by grounding the ball in the opponent's in-goal area, earning five points.
  • Turnover: When the team in possession of the ball loses it to the opposition, either through a steal, knock-on, or penalty.
  • Uncontested scrum: A scrum where one team is unable to field the required number of players due to injury or disqualification, resulting in uncontested play.


Terms to Describe Techniques and Skills

  • Chip kick: A kick where the player lifts the ball into the air, aiming for it to travel a short distance before bouncing.
  • Grubber kick: A low kick where the player drives the ball along the ground, causing it to bounce unpredictably.
  • Garryowen: A high, contested kick aimed at putting pressure on the opposing team's fullback or wingers.
  • Handoff: When a player with the ball uses an outstretched arm to push an opponent away, creating space to continue their run.
  • Linebreak: When an attacking player successfully breaks through the defensive line, gaining significant ground or creating an attacking opportunity.
  • Ruck and roll: A technique where a player quickly releases the ball on the ground and rolls away, allowing their team to continue playing without obstruction.
  • Sidestep: A sudden change in direction by a player with the ball, often executed to evade defenders.
  • Spiral pass: A pass that rotates along its axis, resulting in a tighter spiral trajectory and greater accuracy.
  • Switch pass: A pass made by one player to a teammate running at an angle, causing the defense to readjust and creating attacking opportunities.
  • Tackle technique: The correct method of executing a tackle, involving proper body position, wrapping the arms around the opponent, and driving them to the ground.
  • Up and under: A high, contested kick aimed at forcing the opposition to make a mistake under pressure, often used as a strategic attacking option.
  • Winning the breakdown: The technique of gaining possession of the ball at the breakdown by either securing it for your team or disrupting the opposition's ball.

Game Terminology

  • Captain: The player appointed to lead the team, making important decisions on and off the field.
  • Draw: A game ending in a tie, with both teams scoring the same points.
  • Fixture: A scheduled match between two teams.
  • Half-time: The break in the middle of the game, typically lasting for a short duration, allowing teams to regroup and strategize.
  • Kickoff: The method of starting or restarting play at the beginning of each half, where one team kicks the ball to the other.
  • Referee: The official responsible for enforcing the rules, making decisions, and maintaining fair play during the match.
  • Scoreboard: The display showing the game's current score, including the points earned by each team.
  • Touchline: The boundary lines on the sides of the field, marking the area where the ball can go out of play.
  • Tryline: The goal line at each end of the field, which players must cross to score a try.
  • Whistle: The device used by the referee to signal the start, stop, or restart of play and to communicate with players and officials.
  • Timekeeper: The person responsible for keeping track of the game's elapsed time and notifying the referee when time is up.
  • Touch judge: Assistant referees positioned along the touchlines to assist the referee in making decisions, particularly regarding balls going out of play and foul play near the touchline.
  • In-goal area: The area between the tryline and the dead-ball line, where a player must ground the ball to score a try.
  • Scoring zone: The area near the goal posts where a player must ground the ball to convert a try or kick a penalty goal successfully.
  • Coin toss: The process of flipping a coin to determine which team gets the first choice of kick-off direction or which end of the field they want to defend.

Strategies and Tactics Terms

  • Counter-attack: A strategy where a team quickly transitions from defending to attacking after gaining possession of the ball.
  • Cross-field kick: A long kick aimed diagonally across the field, intended to find open space and create scoring opportunities for teammates.
  • Dummy pass: A deceptive action where the ball carrier simulates a pass but keeps possession, aiming to confuse defenders.
  • Overload: A tactic where a team creates a numerical advantage in a specific area of the field by committing more players than the opposition.
  • Set piece: Pre-planned moves or formations, such as scrums, lineouts, or penalty plays, used to gain a strategic advantage.
  • Switch play: A tactic where the direction of attack quickly changes from one side of the field to the other, catching the opposition off guard.
  • Up-tempo: A strategy of playing at a high pace, aiming to tire out the opposition and exploit gaps in their defense.
  • Zone defense: A defensive tactic where players are assigned specific field areas to defend rather than marking individual opponents.

Penalties Terms

  • High tackle: A penalty resulting from a tackle where a player makes contact with an opponent's neck or head area.
  • Offside: A penalty given when a player is in front of the hindmost teammate or offside line during play.
  • Holding on: A penalty awarded when a player fails to release the ball after being tackled and brought to the ground.
  • Obstruction: A penalty resulting from a player intentionally blocking an opponent's path, preventing them from reaching the ball or joining the play.
  • Foul play: Any action that violates the rules and endangers the safety or fairness of the game, resulting in penalties or disciplinary actions.
  • Not releasing: A penalty given when a tackled player does not release the ball within a reasonable amount of time, preventing fair competition for possession.
  • Illegal entry: A penalty awarded when a player joins a ruck or maul from an offside position or without binding correctly.
  • Yellow card: A temporary suspension where a player must leave the field for a specified period due to repeated infringements or serious foul play.

Names of Rugby Player's Equipment

Players require specific equipment to ensure their safety and enhance their performance to participate in rugby. Here is a list of essential rugby player's equipment:

  • Jersey: A durable and breathable shirt, typically made of synthetic materials, bearing the player's team colors and number.
  • Shorts: Lightweight and flexible shorts designed for comfort and ease of movement.
  • Socks: Knee-length socks worn to protect the legs and hold shin guards in place.
  • Cleats: Sturdy shoes with molded or detachable studs for traction and grip on the field.
  • Mouthguard: A protective device worn over the teeth and gums to reduce the risk of dental injuries.
  • Headgear: Optional protective gear worn to minimize the risk of head injuries and reduce impact forces.
  • Shoulder pads: Padding worn over the shoulders and upper body to protect during collisions.
  • Scrum cap: A padded cap worn by players in the scrum to protect the head and ears from potential injuries.
  • Gloves: Optional gloves that provide grip and protection for players, particularly in cold or wet conditions.
  • Body armor: Protective vests or shirts designed to absorb impacts and protect the torso from injuries.
  • Rugby shorts with padding: Shorts with built-in padding on the hips and thighs to provide extra protection during tackles and collisions.
  • Studded mouthguard: A mouthguard with built-in lip protectors and additional padding for extra comfort and safety.
  • Compression garments: Tight-fitting garments that provide support, improve circulation, and aid in muscle recovery.

Popular Idioms Related to Rugby

  • Get stuck in: To engage and participate with great enthusiasm fully.
  • On the back foot: Being defensive and under pressure due to the opponent's dominance.
  • Sudden death: A situation where the next score will determine the winner, often used in knockout or overtime matches.
  • Going the distance: Continuing a run or effort until completion, often used to describe a player evading multiple defenders.
  • Get the ball rolling: To start an action or process, often used to encourage momentum or initiative.
  • Under the posts: Scoring a try in a position close to the goalposts, making the conversion kick easier.
  • Line in the sand: A decisive action or event that marks a clear division or turning point.


From the various positions and roles on the field to the techniques, skills, and strategies employed in gameplay, you can now follow the action of rugby and confidently engage in discussions. Remember, rugby is a sport that combines physicality, strategy, and teamwork, and its unique terminology reflects the intricacies of the game. So embrace the language of rugby and enjoy the thrilling world of this remarkable sport.

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MasonFeb 15th, 2024
Now I know more about rugby, thanks! 😊
Bennett LoweOct 24th, 2023
i love how this article breaks down the often complex language of rugby 🏉