A guide to the terminology of the game of Rugby Union in all its guises


For beginners, people new to the game and those who just need reminding!  

Aims: to give a clear insight into all aspects of the game.

A guide to the terminology of the game of Rugby Union in all its guises

Advantage – unlike most other sports, referees can play advantage after a foul for what can seem an eternity, but once he calls “advantage over” then that’s that.

Ankle Tap – a tackle, usually of the last-ditch variety, which involves a dive and a slap to the attacker’s ankle which, if properly executed, will result in his legs colliding with each other. Also known as a Tap Tackle.

Backs – the group of players normally numbered Nos. 9 to 15 who do not participate in scrums and line-outs, except for the scrum-half.

Barbarians – the name of invitational rugby teams, the most famous based in the UK, drawing the finest players from around the world together to play matches against international teams. Also called the Baa Baas.

Binding – the careful method players grip and grasp each other to form a secure scrum, ruck, or maul. This is a critical skill to ensure the safety of players.

Blindside – from a set piece, ruck or maul, the short side of the field. Also called the Weakside.

Charge Down – the blocking of a kick by an opposition player.

Chip Kick - a short shallow kick usually delivered over the head of an onrushing defender to be quickly retrieved or caught by the kicker or one of his/her supporting players.

Clearance Kick – a kick of the ball into touch which relieves pressure on a side under heavy attack.

Conversion - a kick at the posts after the awarding of a try, scoring two points if successful. The kick must be attempted directly from a spot perpendicular to the spot where the try was awarded. Usually taken with a place kick, it can be rushed when the kicker makes a move towards the ball. If taken as a drop kick it is uncontested.

Drop Goal - a kick between the posts by an attacking side which, if successful, scores three points. It differs from a punt in that the ball must hit the ground before being kicked.

Drop Out - the way play is re-started, using a drop-kick, after the defending side has touched the ball down behind its own try-line or when the ball has gone out over the dead-ball line.

Dummy – a feigned pass intended to deceive an opponent about to make a tackle.

Feed – the rolling of the ball into the scrum by the scrum-half.

Foot Up – an offence where a hooker brings his foot forward before the ball is put in by the scrum-half.

Forward Pass - all passes must go backwards, and this is an illegal pass where the ball goes forwards. The penalty is a scrum in favour of the other side.

Forwards – the group of players normally numbered 1 through 8 who bind together into scrums, line up for line-outs, and commit themselves to most rucks and mauls.

Free Kick – an uncontested kick awarded to a team usually for a minor penalty by the other team. The kick cannot be taken directly at the posts except by a drop goal.

Front Five – a common collective name for the front (props and hooker) and second row (locks) forwards. Also known as Tight Five

Front Row – the common name for the prop/hooker/prop combination at the front of a scrum.

Garryowen – see Up and Under. Named after the Irish club which originated the play.

Grubber - a kick of the ball which causes the ball to bounce and roll along the ground.

Half-back – the back wearing No.9 who normally feeds the ball into a scrum and retrieves the ball at the base of scrums, rucks, and mauls. Can also be called the Scrum-half.

High Ball – a ball kicked very high into the air placing any player attempting to catch it under extreme pressure by on rushing opposition players.

Hospital Pass – a pass which is received by a team-mate a split second before he is tackled hard by one or more of the opposition, after which he is likely to need medical treatment. A useful way of settling scores with team-mates.

Injury Time – in top-class rugby, the referee publicly stops and starts time for more lengthy interruptions (injuries, referrals to the TV referee) so that even when the allotted 40 minutes have expired, play continues until the time for these stoppages is added. At club level, injury time is often a far less easily defined beast.

IRB – the International Rugby Board. The IRB is the ruling body for Rugby Union worldwide and has primary responsibility for setting and adjusting the laws of the sport and running the Rugby World Cup tournaments for 15s and 7s every four years.

Jumper - a common name for a rugby jersey. Also the name of a player in a lineout, usually at the 2, 4, and 6 positions, jumping to catch or intercept the throw.

Knock On – losing, dropping, or knocking the ball forward from a player’s hand resulting in the ball being awarded to the other team in a scrum.

Lifting – the act of lifting the lineout jumper into the air in order to more easily catch or intercept the throw.

Lineout - the set play re-starting play after the ball has been taken out or kicked to touch. Both sets of forwards will line up opposite each other with the side with throw calling a play. The throw must be directly down the middle of the two lines.

Loose Forwards – common names for the flankers and No. 8 in a forward pack.

Mark – the place indicated by the referee where the scrum should form; also a player inside his own 22 can, on catching a ball kicked by the opposition on the full, call for a “mark”. If the referee agrees, the player can then re-start play in much the same way as if he had been awarded a free-kick.

Maul – typically after a runner has come into contact and the ball is still being held by a player once any combination of at least three players have bound themselves a maul has been set. The primary difference from a ruck is that the ball is not on the ground.

Offsides – during rucks, scrums, lineouts, and mauls an imaginary line is present over which any player crossing before the set piece is completed commits a penalty.

Pack – another name for all the forwards usually when they are bound for a scrum.

Penalty - any number of infractions or violations which award the other team a kick.

Penalty Kick – an uncontested kick awarded to a team for a major infraction by the other team. The kick can be taken directly at goal and scores three points is successful If the ball is kicked to touch, then the throw-in is awarded back to the team which kicked the ball out of bounds.

Penalty Try – the awarding of a try due to a blatant or repeated violation by an opposing side that prevents an obvious try from being scored.

Pitch – the pitch and its markings

Place Kick - a kick of the ball resting on the ground, placed in an indention in the ground, from a small pile of sand, or from a kicking tee. Place kicks are used to start each half, for penalty kicks at goal, or for conversion kicks after a try has been awarded.

Pushover Try - a try scored by the forward pack as a unit in a scrum by pushing the opposition’s scrum pack backwards across the tryline while dragging the ball underneath them. Typically scored from a 5m scrum, the try is usually awarded when the No.8 or scrum-half touch the ball down after it crosses the try line.

Red Card – a player can receive one of these from the referee, sending him off for the remainder of the game, for persistent breaching of the rules or for serious foul/dangerous play.

Ruck – typically after a runner has come into contact and the ball has been delivered to the ground once any combination of at least three players have bound themselves a ruck has been set. The primary difference from a maul is that the ball is on the ground.

Rugger - colloquial name for the game.

Scrum - the formation used in the set play re-starting play after a knock-on or forward pass. The forwards from each side bind together and then the two packs come together to allow the scrumhalf with the feed to deliver the ball to the scrum. A scrum can also be awarded or chosen in different circumstances by the referee.

Scrum down – the coming together of the scrum.

Scrum-half - the back wearing No.9 who normally feeds the ball into a scrum and retrieves the ball at the base of scrums, rucks, and mauls. Can also be called the half-back.

Scrummaging - the process of setting and completing a scrum

Sevens – a form of rugby union invented in Scotland and played with only seven total players, usually three forwards and four backs. Each half typically last only seven minutes but can be longer. The lack of numbers usually results in a free-flowing game.

Sin Bin – the naughty corner where all players who have been yellow carded sit all alone for 10 minutes.

Take – a well executed catch of a kicked ball.

Tap Tackle – see Ankle Tap.

Tap Penalty – a quickly taken penalty where a player taps the ball a couple of inches with his foot and immediately catches it and surges forward, done to catch the opposition unawares.

Tens – a form of rugby union played with only ten total players. Each half typically last only 10 minutes but can be longer. Games are almost always played during tournaments.

Tight Five - a common name for all of the front (props and hooker) and second row (locks) forwards. Also known as Front Five

Touch, touchline – the out of bounds line that runs on either side of the pitch. The non-contact version of rugby is also commonly called touch.

Touch judge – an official posted on each side of the pitch to mark the spot where balls go out of touch and to judge kicks at goal. The touch judge is also instrumental in pointing out any serious violence infractions not seen by the referee and in major matches is in radio contact with him.

Try - a score of five points awarded when the ball is carried or kicked across the tryline and touched down to the ground by a player.

Try line - the goal line extending across the pitch.

Tunnel - the gap between the front rows in a scrum or the gap between the two lines of forwards in a lineout.

Turnover- when one side takes possession of the ball from their opponents.

22 Metre Drop Out – see Drop Out.

Union – another name for the most popular form of rugby featuring 15, 10, or 7 players per side. The local, provincial, or national organizing body for rugby competition is also often called a union.

Up and Under – a tactical kick which is popped very high but not far, allowing the kicker and supporting players to easily run underneath it for recovery. The kick is intended to put heavy pressure on any opposition player attempting to catch the ball. Also called a Garryowen.

Weakside – see Blindside.

Yellow card – a player who receives a yellow card from the referee has to leave the pitch for ten minutes at sit in the Sin Bin. This is usually given for dangerous, persistent or cynical breaches of the rules. If the offence is more serious then he can be red carded.

XV - a common identifier for the first fifteen selected players of a club or team. A team can also use XV in their name, pronounced as fifteen.