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The GIST's Guide to Rugby

Wanna ruck?

GIF - New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team Doing The Haka


Rugby is most commonly played on a pitch (aka a field) with a total of 30 players (15 players representing each team). It can, however, also be played with 14 players on the field, with seven players on each team. There are also other variations of rugby, including rugby football and Aussie rules, which are most commonly played in Australia. The scoring system in a rugby match is similar to good ol’ American football. Scoring a try is worth five points and occurs after a player touches the ball down in the end-zone of the pitch. After every try is scored, the scoring team has the opportunity to kick a conversion for two extra points. Games are divided into two 40-minute halves, and time expires when the ball is “dead,” after the 80-minute mark.

How is Rugby Organized?

Rugby is still up-and-coming to Canada so we don’t have an ~official~ rugby league. There are, however, local club rugby teams all across Canada, and many high schools and universities have rugby clubs. Aside from our national teams, the most notable team in Canada is the Toronto Wolfpack, who play out of the #6ix, and are the world's first transatlantic rugby team. WTF does transatlantic mean?! Well, the team is based in Toronto, but play in the British Rugby Football League in England. Yep, this means lots of flying, jet lag, Spice Girls, tea and scones. The British Rugby Football League is made up of a four-tiered system. The Wolfpack currently play in the Championship League, which is the second tier and unfortunately just missed being promoted to the Super League (highest tier) for next season. Damn, Daniel.

The Best of the Best

Hockey is Canada, and Canada is hockey right? Well, the same goes for rugby in England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Now, if we had to narrow it down to the two best teams in the world, it would be the New Zealand All Blacks and the South African Springbok. The All Blacks have won the most Webb Ellis Cups (the trophy you win for capturing the Rugby World Cup Title) with a total of three titles, while the Springbok have won two World Cups.

All Blacks stud (in looks and in play) Dan Carter retired from international play in 2015 but remains the highest point-scorer in test match rugby (a fancy way to say an international match between two senior national teams). Carter still plays club rugby, for the Kobelco Steelers in Japan, and plays the position of center or fly-half.  Owen Farrell is an English rugby player, who plays for the English national team, as well as the Saracens in London, England. He is one of the best (looking) converters in rugby, with a total of 102 successful conversions in international play.  

Didn’t Your Mama Tell You Not to RUCK With a Girl?

Let’s just say on the men’s side, rugby isn’t really Canada’s thing. So thank goodness our Canadian women kick some serious a$$ (typical). At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the Canadian women's sevens team captured the bronze medal with a dominant win over Great Britain. These women also won the gold at the 2015 PanAm Games in Toronto, which really helped grow the sport of rugby in Canada. Brittany Ben, Ghislaine Landry, and Bianca Farella are a few of Canada’s best players on the pitch. Landry is the current captain of the sevens program, who are going to be strong contenders for gold in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. These women live and breathe rugby, and also love empowering women, and encouraging young girls to get into the sport of rugby. PREACH, BABY, PREACH! Now that you’ve learned some of the logistics of rugby, maybe it’s time for YOU to throw on some cleats and show the boys who’s boss.

Let’s Get Local

Let’s get local. The Toronto Arrows compete in the Major League Rugby (MLR) in North America and debuted in September of 2017. MLR consists of nine teams - eight based in the United States and one based in Canada (the Arrows). The Seattle Seawolves are the current champion title holders, they defeated the Glendale Raptors (how original *eyeroll*) 23-19. The league is set to expand by 2020 with three additional teams across North America! The squad of 34 men will play their first match of the season on January 26 vs the Nola Gold, in New Orleans. Go get em’ boys!    

Arrows Fun Facts:

  • Brian Burke (former GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs) is a huge supporter of rugby in Canada and is a part owner of the team.

  • Canadian International 7s and 15s player, John Moonlight, who retired from international play in late 2018, came out of of retirement to play for the Arrows - he plays Flanker (wearing #6 or #7).

And You Know We Got Some Trivia…

  • You cannot “forward pass” the ball in rugby -  it must be thrown behind you.

  • The Rugby World Cup (RWC) is hosted every four years. The next men’s RWC will be hosted in Japan in 2019 and the women’s in 2021. The seventh women’s World Cup was hosted in Dublin, Ireland, last year with record-setting attendance. New Zealand took the win.

  • You don’t get to pick your jersey number in rugby because jersey numbers are assigned to specific positions. Example: 9 = scrum-half, 15 = fullback. Well, that’s no fun!

  • Rugby was invented when William Webb Ellis was playing soccer and caught the ball, and ran to the goal while carrying it. Rules are made to broken we guess?

    That’s #thegist of it!

Written by Guest Writer & Rugby Guru: Victoria Spanton

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This is the ‘touchdown’ of rugby and occurs when the player gets the ball into the opposing team’s end try zone.  A try is worth five points in rugby and four points in league.


A goal can be scored from general play, from a penalty kick, or by converting a try (aka a conversion).

Drop Goal:

When a player kicks the ball from their hands through the oppositions goalposts. The ball must go from the players hands, touch the ground, and then be kicked through the posts to be awarded three points for Gryffindor.

Draco Malfoy disappointed


A contest for the ball involving eight players who bind together and push against the other team’s assembled eight for possession of the ball. Scrums restart play after certain minor infractions.

Scrum Cap:

You know that weird thing that looks like a fabric helmut? Well, that’s called a scrum cap and its purpose is to protect a player’s ears while in the scrum. If you want to see what happens when a player doesn’t wear a scrum cap just take a look at this


A maul is formed when at least three players from either team are standing up in contact, challenging or driving the player with the ball.


The ruck is similar in principle to the maul but instead of the ball being held up by players, it is on the ground.

Line Out:

No, rugby players aren’t doing cheerleading moves in the middle of a match (although, TBH, that would be a lot of fun).A line out occurs when the ball is thrown, kicked or tackled out of bounds. Two players on each team are lifted into the air, while the Hooker (number 2) on the team in possession throws the ball into play, ~hopefully~ making a successful straight throw to a teammate being lifted.  

Knock On:

When a player drops, knocks or pushes the ball forward this results in loss of possession and the other team being awarded a scrum. This is because the ball is only allowed to move backwards.  

Blood Bin:

A blood bin or replacement occurs when a player sustains a cut and is bleeding badly. At this time, a replacement is allowed while the injured player receives treatment for his/her cut and is allowed back to the field if he/she returns within 15 minutes. Once this time elapses, the temporary replacement becomes permanent and the injured player is not allowed back on again.


A Cap is awarded to a player when they play in a *sanctioned* match for their team. A Cap is most commonly practiced when a player is representing an International team (ie. Canada, New Zealand). Richie McCaw has the most international career rugby caps, with 148. Caps are also awarded in other sports, like soccer/football.  

Beer Ups:

The best part of rugby!  After a game, the home team invites the visiting team to the local pub for a meal and beer to celebrate (no matter who won or who lost). Friends, family and fans also join in on the celebrations. Talk about some good ol’ fashioned sports(wo)manship. We’ll cheers to that!

Written by Guest Writers: Victoria Spanton and Sam Brewer

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What’s the difference between rugby union and rugby league?

Rugby union and rugby league are like the Hadid sisters, same-same but different. Rugby union is the real OG, as rugby league is a faster-paced game developed from the original rules of rugby union. This is why rugby union is usually referred to as ‘rugby’ and rugby league is NEVER referred as ‘rugby’ but often referred to as ‘league’.

Rugby and league have the same aim of the game: get the ball to the opposite end of the field for a try or goal to gain points BUT to show you how they differ, here’s a real, cool chart:

Rugby (Union)
Players: 15 players on the field Players: 13 players on the field
Tackles: Infinite number of tackles. Play just keeps going until one team loses possession or the opposition steals the ball. Tackles: Finite number of six tackles before the team has to ‘turnover’ the ball – give it to the other team.
Points: Try = 5 points; Drop Goal = 3 points; Conversion = 2 points Points:  Try = 4 points; Goal = 2 points; Drop Goal = 1 point
Rucks: When a player gets tackled and ‘goes to ground’, they need to try to get the ball backwards to their players standing behind them.
The other team is trying to come in over the top to steal the ball- this is usually when ‘rucks’ form.
Rucks: Don’t exist in league- they just have a ‘play the ball’ where, once a player is tackled, they get up and roll the ball through their legs with their foot and the other team can’t try to steal it.
Scrums: Union has contested scrums (players actually push against the other team’s scrum to try to gain possession of the ball). Scrums happen to restart the game after a minor infringement of the rules. Scrums: League has uncontested scrums as the ball is fed to the second row and has little chance for the hooker to try and steal it. Basically, there’s no point to it other than to restart the game after accidental infringement.
Popularity: Played internationally in many countries. Top teams in World Rugby are New Zealand, Ireland, and Wales. Popularity: League is popular in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand and has only recently expanded to a few other countries like Canada.
Major Leagues: Super Rugby (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa & Japan), Premiership Rugby (England), RFU Championship(England); Major League Rugby (USA & Canada) Major Leagues: Super League (England & France), Betfred Championship & League 1 (UK, Wales, France, Canada), National Conference League (England); National Rugby League(Australia)

I’ve heard of the New Zealand All Blacks (who hasn’t?), but what pro rugby teams are there in Canada?

Like the All Blacks (NZ’s national rugby team that is known for their infamous ‘Haka’), Canada has several teams that are part of World Rugby. Rugby Canada has both men’s and women’s teams and, yes; there is full contact in women’s professional rugby.

Rugby Canada also has both men’s and women’s Sevens teams. Sevens is another form of rugby derived, again, from the real OG rugby (union). To keep it simple, sevens is a stripped down version of rugby with the main difference being the number of players on the field pitch. Rugby has 15 players on the pitch (reminder: league has 13) and sevens has eight. Gotcha, we’re  JKing! Sevens has seven players on the pitch.

By now, you may have hopped on to the Toronto Wolfpack wagon. If you haven’t, why TF not?  Wolf Pack became the first league team in Canada when they were inaugurated into the British Rugby Football League in 2016. Yeah, baby! Yeah!

Since we have a rugby league team in the GTA, we obvi had to get a rugby union one! And they say you can’t have your cake and eat it too… Pfft! The Toronto Arrows joined the Major League Rugby (MLR) this year. Their first game on January 26th in New Orleans.

Do rugby players really not wear protective padding or equipment?

Who wears short-shorts? Rugby players do! And, besides the shorts, jersey, mouth guard, cleats and socks rugby players do not wear any protective padding or equipment which is v different from other contact sports we’re used to seeing (hockey, football, lacrosse, etc.). However, rugby has certain laws such as high tackles and neck contact (Law 10.4), challenging players in the air (Law 10.4), and scrum feed (Law 20.6) that players must abide by to help avoid serious injuries to themselves and other players. Grab my Chihuahua; I’m ready for Harvard Law now.

Elle Woods from legally blonde

Since concussion prevention is a major focus in contact sports these days, you might be also wondering why rugby players don’t wear helmets to help prevent them?

Some rugby players wear scrum caps that can provide additional protection from cuts and head injuries but, TBH, it has nothing to do with preventing concussions. The scrum cap is a fashion faux pas very thin padded layer; it was created to prevent cauliflower ears. Wearing head gear any larger than a scrum cap wouldn’t exactly work for this game as it would be impossible for the players to bind in the scrum.  

Which sport is rougher: rugby or football?

Depends if you ask the player on the pitch or the one on the field but, I mean, the fact that rugby has a ‘blood bin’ could probably answer this question…

Does rugby have a Superbowl like football?

No, not exactly. Rugby union has a World Cup Rugby and a Women’s World Cup Rugby which are international championships that are formatted more relatable to FIFA World Cup. Teams from countries have to qualify to be in the (women’s) World Cup Rugby (Rugby Canada has qualified for the World Cup 2019 in Japan this September!).  
Rugby also has the prominentSix Nations Championship (aka the Guinness Six Nations) which is an annual international rugby union competition between England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales. Since we weren’t invited to the Six Nations, we said ‘f*ck ‘em’ and started our own thing called theAmerica’s Rugby Championship (we even sometimes call it the ‘America’s Six Nations’), a competition that hosts Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, US, and Uruguay.

Written by Guest Writer Sam Brewer

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