Five key rules to understanding rugby union
Sport

Five key rules to understanding rugby union

FOR those unfamiliar with the rules of the sport, World Rugby's 'laws of the game' is available to download in full online, but at 212 pages long we thought we'd save you the bother of overloading on information.

Get your head around these five simple regulations and you'll have a sufficient idea of what's going on when the Six Nations hits our screens this weekend.

FORWARD PASSING AND KNOCK-ONS

The most important rule in rugby is that the ball must not travel forward when released from a players' hands. It's one of the few field sports in which the ball cannot be passed forward. If the ball is thrown or knocked forward by a player with the ball in hand, a scrum is awarded to the opposition. If the recipient of a legal pass fumbles the catch and the ball is knocked forward and then connects with the ground or another player, it is deemed a foul, called a 'knock-on'.

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OFFSIDE/OFFSIDE

When the ball is in play, players must get onside by getting behind their team-mate who is in possession of the ball. Any player in front of a team-mate in possession of the ball is deemed offside and will be penalised if they come into play from such a position. Different offside rules apply to backs during a scrum, when players other than the scrum half must stay within line of the rear of each side of the pack. Additionally, players are deemed offside if they enter a ruck or maul from anywhere other than behind their team-mates' side.

OBSTRUCTION

When opponents are running for the ball, either player must not charge or push the other except shoulder-to-shoulder. Players can also be punished for obstruction if they run in front of their ball-carrying team-mate, thereby preventing opponents from halting the run of the player in possession. Players are also forbidden from obstructing an opponent from making a tackle on the ball carrier – only the player in possession can be tackled. Furthermore, a player must not intentionally move or stand in a position that prevents an opponent from playing the ball. Players running with the ball cannot make contact with a team-mate in front of them and, finally, a scrum-half cannot be blocked during a scrum. Any of the aforementioned infringements are deemed obstruction and are punishable by a penalty being awarded to the opposite team.

REPEATED INFRINGEMENTS

As with all sports, repeated infringements wear thin on officials in rugby. Time-wasting, intentionally throwing or knocking the ball out of play and deliberately breaking the rules are all deemed 'unfair play', but doing so repeatedly is considered cynical and disruptive. If a player or indeed a whole team commits several of the same infringements - conceding a penalty on each occasion by the way - they will be cautioned. If the infringements persist, a yellow card is shown to the offender, meaning they must sit out 10 minutes of the game in the 'sin-bin' before returning. If their offending continues when they return, a red card is shown.

DANGEROUS PLAY AND MISCONDUCT

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Some of this could go without saying but, just to confirm, it is illegal for a player to punch, strike, stamp, trample, kick or trip an opponent. Less obvious forms of misconduct include tackling a player above shoulder height, tackling a player who is airborne and so-called 'spear-tackling' whereby an opponent is picked up and dumped head-first on the turf, much like Brian O'Driscoll was against New Zealand in the 2005 British & Irish Lions Tour. A late charge, which means to tackle or hit someone after the ball has gone, is also punishable under misconduct.