A Beginner's Guide To Rugby In New Zealand

Posted by:
1 Sep 2017

Rugby is New Zealand’s national game and an excellent way to have fun with friends while improving your English. The All Blacks, our world-beating national team, are the ultimate, but kicking a rugby ball around with friends is where it all starts. The game can look confusing to newcomers, so here’s a very basic beginner’s guide to help you tell a ‘try’ from a ‘conversion’ and the ‘fronts’ from the ‘backs’.


What On Earth Are They Trying To Do?

The objective in a rugby game is to score more points than the other team. Points are awarded when a player scores a try, converts a try, gets a penalty, or by kicking a drop-goal.

A ‘try’ is scored when a player crosses the try line and touches the ball to the ground. This gives the player’s team five points.

A try is followed by a ‘conversion kick’, where a player attempts to kick the ball from a special kicking tee placed on the ground, into the air, and through the goalposts. A successful conversion is worth two points.

A ‘drop-goal’ is like a conversion kick, but with a drop-kick. It is worth three points and is a harder and less common way to score points as it happens during usual game play (not after a try) while the opposition is trying to tackle the kicker.


Where Can You Play Rugby?

A regulation rugby field is a 100m long and 50m wide rectangle, but it’s important to note that fun games or junior gamescan be played in a much smaller space as long as the ground is level, and with any number of players (not just the usual 15). Try lines are located around 10m from each end of the field. Game play starts with teams facing each other at the halfway mark. A coin toss decides who ‘kicks off’ to begin the game. The player then kicks the ball high in the air and down the field into the opposing team’s territory. 


What Happens After Kick-Off?

The player who receives the ball after the kick off will try and run down the field, past the other team, towards the try line. All the while the opposing team can tackle the player with the ball to stop them getting to the try line  and to steal the ball from them. To avoid being tackled, the player with the ball can pass it to their teammates, as long as they don’t throw the ball forwards towards the try line. That would be a forward pass, which results in a penalty.


What Is A Penalty?

Penalties are handed out for many reasons. Here are some of the most common:

Knock On: When a player drops the ball to the ground.

Forward Pass: When a player passes the ball forwards to a teammate.

Out of Play: When the ball is carried or kicked over the sideline or endline.

Offside: There are many versions of this but the simplest is a player being in front of a teammate who is in possession of the ball. If the player benefits from this ‘offside’ position, they will be penalised.


A Scrum or Lineout Restarts Play After a Penalty

A scrum is when the ‘forward’ players link together as a team, crouch down and engage head-to-head with the other team. The ‘scrum-half’ player feeds the ball into the scrum by placing it on the ground between the teams. The teams then attempt to push their opponents back and pass the ball by foot to the back of their scrum where the scrum-half picks it up and passes it to the ‘backs’ who are spread out across the width of the field, ready to run the ball towards the try line. 

Lineouts are when the forwards stand behind one another, facing the sideline, a couple of metres apart from the other team’s forwards. A player stands at the sideline and throws the ball in the air down the middle of the ‘lineout’, with each team trying to jump in the air and grab the ball.

Watch this video to see the above in action and to learn about player positions.

Game On Rugby

Rugby is played at many levels from informal games in parks to international tournaments like the World Cup, Six Nations and The Bledisloe Cup.

Young students with an interest in the game can immerse themselves into the New Zealand ‘way of life’ and receive high level coaching with Game On English. This initiative allows students stay with a New Zealand family, take daily English language classes and receive high performance rugby training.

How To Get Involved In Playing or Watching Rugby in NZ

Speak to your education provider and ask how you can join a team or where you can go to watch a game being played. Community Rugby is another excellent source of information.

Rugby is frequently televised in NZ, so check the listings for a game to watch. Big games are televised in bars which can make for an amazing atmosphere, especially if the All Blacks are winning!

If you have a group of friends, buy a ball from a sporting goods store and take it to the park for some kicking and passing practice. Work on your language skills by chatting about the game in English. Rugby is a very social game so you never know who might see you playing and join the fun!

Photo credits:

All Blacks Haka Credit - Jean Francois Fournier Photography

Argentina v All Blacks - Credit - Jean Francois Fournier Photography

Kids play rugby - credit - pbkwee