RGB 1: Introduction to Rugby

Welcome to Rugby 1: An Introduction to Rugby.  Rugby is an old-fashioned prep sport loved on almost every continent and in almost every country in the world.  This course serves to introduce interested minds on the laws (rules) of the game over the course of the Spring Semester as we attempt to make it through the dry desert known as the Football Offseason. 3 units – 1 h lecture, 2 h discussion.  Prerequisite: None. Grading: P/F.


The main reason that any fan/student of Cal should learn about rugby is because Cal rugby has been DOMINANT since 1980.  In 28 seasons, they have 24 National Championships and 8 NC’s since 2000. 

Cal rugby plays their home games at the 5000 seat Witter Field (just E of Memorial) in Strawberry Canyon.  Wiki has more on the history of Cal rugby:


Rugby union began play at Cal in 1882 and continued until 1886, when it was ditched in favor of American Football. Rugby would make a return in 1906 after football was deemed too dangerous to play. From 1906 to 1914, Cal rugby garnered a respectable 78-21-10 record. 1914, however, saw the return of football and Cal would not field a rugby team for almost 20 years. In 1931, rugby returned under alumnus Ed Graff. It was during this time that Cal began to compete for the World Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the annual series between Cal and the University of British Columbia.

1938 began the era of Miles "Doc" Hudson, who guided the Bears for 37 years and an incredible record of 339-84-23. His successor would be Ned Anderson, an alumnus and former rugger for the Bears.

National collegiate championships for rugby union began in 1980 and Cal has been utterly dominant, winning 24 titles out of a possible 29.[2] Under Anderson, Cal reeled off four consecutive titles from 1980 to 1983. Current head coach and Cal alumnus Jack Clark took over the team in 1984, and has achieved even more prolonged success, leading the Bears to 20 national titles including a string of twelve consecutive championships from 1991 to 2002 and five more from 2004 to 2008.

I’m not sure any team in any sport, collegiate or professional, has an 85% NC percentage over 28 years.  However, this should be put into perspective.  Several universities field club-level (non-scholarship) teams that don’t pay their coaches or fund their programs yet somehow manage to be highly competitive.  In short, Cal rugby is the big fish in a relatively small pond.

As we know, American-style football is king here in the USA.  The best athletes play one of baseball, football, or basketball.  Many high schools don’t even have rugby teams.  However, in several other countries rugby and soccer (football) are very popular and these countries field high caliber teams.  For example, any country in the UK, as well as South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are a good 2-3 fold more dominant than the USA national squad (comprised of some Cal ruggers).  American Samoa and Fiji also field better teams.

Rugby is catching on though.  Locally, we’ve recently seen Cole Huntley, a FB recruit, turned down football offers from UC Davis, Colorado, and a walk on invitation from Cal football, to play rugby at Cal.  I’m pretty sure this is the only school in the nation to be out recruited by the rugby team.

Getting to the particulars, rugby is a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen, whereas American football (according to Brits) is vice versa.  The sport is an established sport played by middle and upper class people.  Before we get too deep, we should note a few things:

We should probably start with this intro video:

The pitch (field) is measured in meters (as opposed to yards).  There are several other synonyms associated throughout the sport:

Pitch (field)

Pack (team)

Kit (duffel bag that carries equipment)

Boot (cleats/spikes)

Try (touchdown/score)

Jersey (rugby shirt)

Try line (goal line)

22 m line (red zone)

gain line (line of scrimmage)


There are several definitions as well (from wiki):

Tackle: In rugby there are no above the shoulder tackles. A player may tackle an opposing player who has the ball by holding them while bringing them to ground. The tackle is complete when the ball-carrier is held on the ground: if the ball-carrier is forced, or falls, to ground without being held the tackle is not complete and the ball-carrier may get to their feet and continue. Once tackled, a player must immediately release the ball, either by passing to a team mate or placing it on the ground, and the tackler must release them and move away.  After the ball has been released by a tackled player — commonly referred to as the tackle-ball — players from either side may play the ball, provided they are on their feet and have approached the breakdown area from the side of their goal-line.  The best way to bring down the ball carrier is by approaching the carrier with your back straight and nearly parallel to the ground.  Hit the ball carrier in the meaty part of his thigh with your shoulder and wrap your arms around him.  This will work for bringing down any player – big or small.  If you hit too low, you’ll take out the guys knee and will likely get your ass kicked by the other team.  Hit him too high (hip region) and you’ll be headed to the ER to put your shoulder back together.  Getting tackled and tackling ball carriers is responsible for the majority of the injuries and is the essence of rugby toughness.  If tackling someone from the right side (i.e., their right leg) you should lead with your right shoulder so that your head stays away from knees and such.

Ruck: A ruck is formed when at least one player from each side bind onto each other with the ball on the ground between them. A ruck often ensues following the tackle-ball phase. As soon as at least two players, one from each side, are in physical contact together with the ball on the ground, a ruck has formed. This physical contact, or binding, is generally by locking shoulders while facing each other.



Maul: A maul occurs when a player carrying the ball is held by one or more opponents, and one or more of the ball carrier's team mates bind on the ball carrier as the ball carrier’s back faces the opposing team. Once a maul has formed other players may join in but, as in a ruck, they must do so from their own side. If the maul stops moving forward, and the ball is not available to be played, then the referee awards a scrum to the side not in possession when the maul began (unless the maul was formed immediately after a player received a kick other than a kick-off). The tactic of the rolling maul occurs when mauls are set up, and the ball is passed backwards through the players' hands to one at the rear, who rolls off the side to change the direction of the drive. This tactic can be extremely effective in gaining ground and both doing it properly and preventing it takes great skill and technique. It is a tactic most commonly used when the attacking side is inside the defending side's 22 m line.  Click pic to enlarge:



Scrum: A scrum is a way of restarting the game safely and fairly after a minor infringement. It is awarded when the ball has been knocked or passed forward, when a player is accidentally offside, or when the ball is trapped in a ruck or maul with no realistic chance of being retrieved. A team may also opt for a scrum if awarded a penalty. It is also awarded to the passing or kicking team if the ball hits the referee.

A scrum is formed by the eight forwards from each team binding together in three rows. The front row consists of the two props (loosehead and tighthead) either side of the hooker. The second row consists of two locks and the two flankers. Behind the second row is the number 8. This formation is known as the 3-4-1 formation. The two packs of forwards engage with each other so that the heads of the front-rowers are interlocked with those of their opponents. Front-rowers always aims for the gap to the left (as they see it) of their opponent. The two locks in the second row bind directly behind the front row with their heads between a prop and the hooker. The flankers bind either side of the locks, and the number 8 binds behind and between the two locks.

Once a scrum is formed the scrum-half from the team awarded the feed throws the ball into the gap between the two front-rows known as the tunnel. The two hookers then compete for possession by hooking the ball backwards with their feet, while each pack tries to push the opposing pack backwards to help gain possession. The side that wins possession transfers the ball to the back of the scrum, where it is picked up either by the number 8 or by the scrum-half. Either the scrum half or the number 8 can then pass, run, or kick the ball and normal play then resumes. A scrum has to be awarded between the 5 metres (16 ft) lines along the goal-lines and touch-lines. A team may also score a pushover try from a scrum; once the ball has crossed the goal-line during a scrum an attacking player may legally ground it.



Lineout: When the ball goes into touch (i.e. outside of the area of play) the referee calls a line-out at the point where the ball crossed the touchline. There are two exceptions for this rule.  No line-out is awarded closer than 5 m to opponent team goal line, if the ball crosses the touch closer the throw-in occurs on 5 m line.  If a kick goes directly into touch and the kicker is outside his own 22 m line the throw-in occurs where the ball was kicked. The forwards of each team (though not necessarily all of them, their number is throwing-in team option) line up a metre apart, perpendicular to the touchline and between 5 m and 15 m from the touchline. The ball is thrown from the touchline down the centre of the lines of forwards by a player (usually the hooker) from the team that did not play the ball into touch. The exception to this is when the ball went out from a penalty, in which case the side who gained the penalty throws the ball in. There is an advantage to being the team throwing the ball as that team then knows where along the line the throw is aimed. If the ball passes over the 15 m line, it can be played by everyone and the line-out is over; if the ball is not thrown straight down the middle of the line-out, the non-infringing team may choose to have the put-in to either a new line-out or a scrum 15 m infield.

Both sides compete for the ball, and some players may lift their teammates. (While the laws say that jumping players may only be supported, lifting is uniformly tolerated under specified conditions). A jumping player cannot be tackled until they stand and only shoulder-to-shoulder contact is allowed; deliberate infringement of this Law is dangerous play, and results in a penalty kick, and frequently a trip to the sin bin. If a penalty kick is awarded during a line-out and the line out is not over, it is taken 15 m from the touch line.



Try: Is worth 5 points. A try is scored by grounding the ball in the opposition's in-goal area. The ball can be grounded in two ways: if a player has control of the ball, they can place it on the ground on or over the opponents' goal line using their hand(s) or arm(s); alternatively, if the ball is already on the ground on or over the opponents' goal line, the player can press down on it with any part of their body from the waist to the neck— including the hands and arms.


Conversion: After scoring a try, or being awarded a penalty try, the scoring team attempts a conversion. A player takes a kick at goal in line with where the ball was grounded, or from in front of the posts for a penalty try. Scoring the goal earns 2 points.  If you score a try near the sidelines you set up an impossible conversion kick from a crazy angle (there are no hash marks).  So, the best place to score a try is right under the uprights giving your kicker the best possible attempt.

Let’s cover positions (assigned based on scrum alignments):

Fifteen players play on each side – 8 forwards and 7 backs.  The beauty of rugby is that anyone – tall & lengthy, short & stumpy, small & quick, or just normal – can find a home in rugby.  The forwards are generally bigger guys (either stockier or taller) while the backs are smaller, faster, and more athletic.  Thankfully, the number on the back of each players jersey represents their position.



Props (positions 1 & 3): These are typically your heaviest dudes on the team.  Think defensive end size (which Cal rugby has had) although probably not as tall.  You do not want to be tackled by one of these sonsabitches.  Tighthead/loosehead props refer to their positions in scrums.  Thing of these guys like linemen…good ones build the foundation for a championship team.  For more on props, visit this here (for loosehead) and here (for tighthead).


Hooker (2): No, not that type.  I play this position.  The hooker lines up between the two massive props in the scrum.  You might be thinking 3-4 NT type of player and you’d be wrong.  The ideal hooker is 5’10" and 190 lbs of muscle...and he needs an attitude while being able to quarterback in several different types of critical plays.  He must be strong enough to mix it up with the big boys fearlessly but be agile enough to "hook" the ball with his leg back to the No. 8 man (we’ll get to him later).  In lineouts, he calls the plays and should provide perfect passes to the jumpers (second row forwards).  He should also be agile enough to get the running game going and also should be able to deliver a blow or two to the opposition’s fly half or scrum half when they have the ball.  In many respects, he’s like a catcher who runs the defense and pitching staff.  For more on hookers (the rugby version), visit here.

Second row forwards (positions 4 and 5): these are your tall, lengthy guys.  These guys need to be tall enough to win battles in the air during lineouts (where they are lifted by other players) yet strong enough to be the engine in the scrum.  When they have the ball, I hate tackling these guys cause I usually end up with a knee to the sternum.  As a side note, these guys get any rugby groupy they want.  For more on second row forwards, visit here.

Flankers (positions 6 and 7): think outside linebacker types.  Big, yet fast and agile.  These guys are smaller forwards but should be able to handle the ball well and pass.  Good flankers score a lot of tries.  Cal’s got the best flankers on the planet (for their age).  Like the hooker, flankers need to make a bunch of tackles and bring the pain.  For more on flankers, visit here.

No. 8 Man (8):  This guy doesn’t get a creative name.  These guys must be great scrummagers with an ability to control the ball with their feet (without losing their power), and the ability to move the ball forward and be an accurate last second passer.  In general, these guys get lit the fuck up since they are trying to move the ball past the gain line (line of scrimmage) which is quite challenging when you’re starting off 3-4 m behind the gain line.  These guys are the last of the forwards.  For more on No 8’s, visit here

Scrum half (9): Generally, these guys are good passers, have a moderate build, and are relatively fast.  This is probably the second best athlete on the team.  This player has to be an all-rounder, an excellent passer off both hands, an effective kicker with both feet, a good defender around the fringes and in cover, and a nimble elusive runner who can sniff a gap and 'snipe' from both set and broken play.  For more on scrum half’s, visit here.

Fly half (10):  The best (and one of the smartest) athletes on the field.  This guy basically runs the offense and makes some tackles on defense.  The fastest, agile, strongest, and smartest player is almost always the fly half.  Jahvid Best would be unstoppable at this position too.  For more on fly half’s, visit here.

Let's see some great plays by the fly half's:


Left wing (11): gets the ball a lot and has to be able to work it in a tight situation…passing it to either his left or his right.  Should be able to make plays with his feet and break tackles.  Needs to be a sure tackler – all of these backs do.  If not, you’ll be giving up a try.  For more on wings, visit here.

Centres (positions 12 & 13): usually a slightly bigger fly half (and slightly less athletic).  Can occasionally deliver hits so powerful that mouthpieces fly out.  The bigger centre plays the inside centre position and he’s like a second fly half.  For more on centres, visit here.


Right wing (14): These guys are usually fast as hell.  They need to be good kickers, have great agility, and be able to take it to the house.  They usually have the most amount of space so getting the ball to them can mean a try in no time.  For more on wings, visit here.

Full back: no, not like Willie T.  This full back usually does most of the kicking.  His role is that of a safety/punt returner.  Speed isn’t absolutely essential, but having extra certainly doesn’t hurt.  His role is to provide a change of pace on offense, and be the last line of defense. For more on full backs, visit here.

I’ll leave you with a few videos just so you can watch how the game is played…feel free to ask any questions below and I’ll do my best at answering them.  Please come to Saturday’s game…it is beyond huge.  It’s an international match in the first leg of the World Cup Series vs. the University of British Columbia (they’re very good):


BERKELEY - With TV cameras on hand for rebroadcast on ESPNU and special commemorative tickets via advance presale, the California Golden Bears and British Columbia Thunderbirds clash at Homecoming on Witter Rugby Field Sat., Feb. 21, at 1 p.m. in the first leg of the annual "World Cup" Series.

The Bears are winners of nine of the past 12 "World Cup" meetings, a two-match contest in its 88th year based on total points and named after the Vancouver World Newspaper. Last year, Cal retained the cup by splitting the two matches, beating the Birds 35-17 at home and losing their only match, 27-22, at Thunderbird Stadium in Canada.

"We have the utmost respect for the T-Birds," head coach Jack Clark said. "Our histories have become entwined around this competition. To say the matches are important is an understatement."

Advance commemorative tickets are now on sale -- call (800) GO BEARS or visit the Athletic Ticket Office at 2223 Fulton Street, 1st Floor. The ticket office is open Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a.m.-4:30p.m. As always, tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for senior citizens and military, and free for all Cal students and all youth 12th grade and below. Additional fees apply for phone/mail orders.

Gates will open at 11 a.m. and early arrival is encouraged for youth groups to ensure admission. High school and youth teams are encouraged to wear their colors to add to the pageantry of the afternoon.

The match will be taped for broadcast April 6 at 9 p.m. on ESPNU as the National Guard Game of the Week, the first of three matches in an agreement among USA Rugby, ESPNU and the participating universities to reach a domestic audience unprecedented in size for regular-season collegiate rugby. The network also plans to carry BYU vs. Utah and Army vs. Navy this spring.





If anyone would like to explore rugby further, I recommend EA Sports Rugby08…it’s awesome.

Also, if interested Berkeley has it’s own amateur rugby club (BFRC) that accepts people of all skill levels.  They’re an awesome group of guys who enjoy rugby and the "social aspects" of the sport.  They have different levels of play so novices can come out and crack some skull.

Be nice. You can find the original CGB team at

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