Rugby union is played by two teams of 15 men. The hulking big brutes with cauliflower ears are called forwards (No1-No8); the pretty boys who try to avoid getting their shorts muddy are called backs (No9-No15).
Jonny – everyone knows Jonny – plays in a position called “fly half” (No10). He is the fulcrum of the team. The fly half does not have to do all the kicking, but Jonny usually does.
The winners are the team who score more points. Touch the ball down behind the line at your opponents’ end of the pitch and you score a “try” (worth five points). That enables you to try to add a further two points with a conversion kick from a point in line with where the try was scored. So it is much easier to get the conversion if the ball is touched down under the posts.
You score three points with penalty goals (the referee will raise his hand after an offence and give the innocent team a kick at goal) or with dropped goals (when you kick the ball between the posts on the half-volley).
Players can gain territory by running with the ball in their hands, passing it backwards to their team-mates or kicking it forwards. If the ball goes forwards and has not been kicked (ie, when it is passed forwards or “knocked on” in a fumble), the other team are given a scrum. This is when the eight forwards on each side hug each other and use their strength to try to push their rivals off the ball.
When you kick the ball off the side of the pitch, the opposition throw it back in a “lineout”, when the forwards stand side by side and jump to catch it. You only gain territory if you kick the ball out from within 22 metres of your own line, otherwise the ball has to bounce before going out.
When a player is tackled, he must release the ball immediately or be penalised. To regain possession, his team-mates bundle over the top of him to create a “ruck”.
If a player is badly behaved he can be sent to the “sin-bin” (yellow card) by the referee for ten minutes, or even be sent off for good (red card).
If in doubt, cheer for the team wearing white.
Articol scris de Patrick Kidd şi publicat în Times Online.