Rugby World Cup: 10 things you need to know about rugby union

Rugby World Cup: 10 things you need to know about rugby union

1. Rugby union is played in more than 100 countries around the world, but is particularly popular in Ireland, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

2. Rugby union only became a professional sport in 1995, but its origins date back as far as 1820, with Englishman William Webb Ellis credited for inventing the sport. As such, the World Cup trophy is named after him.

3. The most famous team in the sport is New Zealand – commonly known as the All Blacks – who won the first ever Rugby World Cup in 1987. They are once again favourites to win the 2015 event.

4. It is the tradition of many international teams from the Southern Hemisphere to perform a war dance before their opponents. This is an ancient method of psyching oneself up as well as intimidating opponents. 'The Haka' by New Zealand is the most recognisable and one of the great spectacles in sport, but Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all perform similar rituals.

5. A rugby team is made up of 15 players – eight forwards and sevens backs. Forwards are usually powerfully built at around 6ft 5in tall and tend to weigh around 17st. Backs are usually shorter and smaller in frame as they are required to be more skilful and agile.

6. Teams can attack their opponents' territory by running with the ball in hand and passing it to team-mates, but a pass may not be thrown forward. However, kicking the ball forward is permitted, and can be used to gain territory by kicking into touch for a line-out, from which they can attempt to regain possession in an advanced position.

7. There are four main ways of scoring points. The main objective is to ground the ball in the opponent's in-goal area for a try (five points). A try leads to the opportunity to kick a conversion over the posts from distance (two points). From play, a penalty can be won and converted over the posts for three points, while the less common drop-goal is also worth three. A fifth method – a penalty try – is somewhat uncommon and is awarded to a team for deliberate or repeated foul play from their opponents.

8. Rugby union has pioneered the use of technology to aid refereeing decisions. Many live broadcasts have a Television Match Official (TMO), who can immediately review footage and decide outcomes when the referee in charge on the pitch is in doubt. Such has been its success, many soccer pundits, journalists and managers have called for a similar set-up in their sport.

9. Speaking of soccer, it is also possible to be caught offside in rugby union. Thankfully, though, it's much easier to understand. In a nutshell, a player is offside if they are in front of a team-mate who is carrying the ball. If they try to take part when in an offside position they are liable to concede a penalty. If they inadvertently become involved in the play when in an offside position, a scrum is awarded against their team.

10. New Zealand's Jonah Lomu was the sport's first superstar after announcing himself to the world at the 1995 World Cup, and he remains one of the most recognisable figures in rugby. He's still the record try-scorer in Rugby World Cup history with a total of 15. Despite his enormous 18st frame, Lomu could run a remarkable 100 metres in 11 seconds in his prime. Watch him at his bulldozing best below.

  • Look out for our Rugby World Cup special edition of The Irish Post, on the shelves on Wednesday, September 16.