You don’t need to be a brute to take part in one of humanity’s oldest and most traditional sports with rugby in the backyard!
History of the sport
Rugby is a timeless sport chalked full of heritage and culture. It is a tradition that is regarded by many people around the world as a way of life. It is certainly an older sport, forever linked to modern football, (soccer) and American football. The Canadian version of football in fact still has the words “rugby-football” embroidered on it. Rugby dates back much further than football, however with roots as far back as the Roman era. The game “harpastum”, which is the Greek word for “seize”.
Legend has it that modern Rugby was born in 1823 at a school called Rugby in Warwickshire, England. A man by the name of Ellis picked up the ball during a football match. When the opposing team gave chase, rugby was born. It is no coincidence then that the Rugby World Cup Trophy would be named after him: William Webb Ellis in full.
The first international match took place in 1871, between England and Scotland. The English were beat with a final score of 1 – 0.
Rugby became a Summer-time Olympics sport in 1900, but would have a shortlived Olympic status, being dropped in 1924,
The first World Cup wouldn’t happen until 1987, with the All-blacks (Who we will be learning more about) of New Zealand defeating France to take it home.
There is no mentioning of the world of professional Rugby without speaking of the New Zealand All-blacks. They took home the first World Cup, setting the precedent for all-time. Turn there is no mention of the All-blacks without mention of the South African Springboks. The New Zealand and South African rugby teams are the world’s finest, and their longstanding rivalry is one of the deepest in sports history, dating all the way back to 1921! Since 2004 these two teams have even had their own tournament, the Freedom Cup. A Rugby Union trophy that is contested exclusively by the New Zealand All-blacks and the South African Springboks. While the world of rugby is home to some of the oldest rivalries, it is also home to some of the oldest tournaments.
The first Rugby Sevens took place in 1883, created by two butchers from Melrose, Scotland. Teams play short-handed, with only 7 players, 3 forwards and 4 backs, as opposed to the standard 15 men. Shorter halves of 7 minutes meant that entire tournaments can take place over the course of the weekend.
While these festival-like tournaments were immensely popular in Scotland and were used to raise money for hospitals and charities, the Rugby Union in Lancashire banned any tournaments of less than 15 men and for a long time, the Sevens did not take place in England. They did however spread around the globe as a popular, more relaxed tournament version of the game, and this version of the sport is going to serve as the foundation of our backyard version which we will explore later on in this article.
England did eventually come around to the Sevens, and even hosted their own first tournament in 1921, with the Scottish Selkirk Rugby Club taking it over Melrose. Currently, the Hong Kong Sevens is an extremely popular event helping to popularise the sport even further in Asia. This incredible tradition continues to grow to this day.
Tradition, culture, way of life
Rugby players all over the world share a really unique bond. The reason for this is bond that a sport as old and traditional as rugby has its own true culture. While rugby is considered an aggressive, even violent sport, it must be noted that sportsmanship is also at its pinnacle of respect on a rugby pitch.
Players are taught from an early age the values of rugby. Play ferociously to your opponent, but respect them. Brutality on the field is often starkly contrasted with comradery off the field and many rugby clubs around the world have developed their own crazy, funny, wonderful rituals over the years. Rugby is described as ” a hooligan sport for gentlemen”, and is actually a social sport, with post-match socials at the local pub as much a part of the game as the field time. Singing and chanting and drinking all come together as solidarity reigns post-match. Traditions like “man of the match” where each team picks the best man of their opponent’s team who demonstrated exceptional character in their play are a staple of rugby culture.
Once again there can be no mention of rugby’s exuberant culture without mention of New Zealand’s contribution: The Haka. An enchanting and frightening spectacle performed by the whole team. Players perform with stomping, making captivating faces that stick their tongues out like demons, and hypnotize their opponents with wild movements. To witness this in a massive stadium is among the most stirring experiences in the sporting world.
To witness a haka is truly an honour. This ceremonial dance was used by the Maori people as a challenge or war-preparation dance since pre-colonial times and was first used on the Rugby pitch in New Zealand in 1888. It is a unique, and captivating display to witness, and I highly recommend finding a youtube video of this incredible spectacle, you will not be disappointed.
While rugby may not be as popular in North America as it is in other parts of the world, for those that love it, it is truly a way of life.
Many families choose to send their young ones off to rugby schools, like the original Rugby School in Warwickshire, for which the sport is named. This school teaches its students 450 years since its founding, about values such as community, academic excellence, spiritual awareness, friendship, responsibility and leadership. this day these values are pushed out through rugby schools all over the world, and their lasting effect on and off of the pitch is a wonderful legacy of this ancient tradition. It is simply an enriching, endearing culture steeped in heritage that unites people from all over the world in brother and sisterhood.
Why would you want to play rugby in your backyard?
To some, setting up a rugby pitch in the backyard might seem like a daunting, silly, impractical task. For others, nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to teach your children some incredible, time tested values, then rugby is a great way to sneak valuable life lessons into a game that is fun at the primal level. Rugby teaches social skills. Instilling a strong sense of character in a child at a young age can serve as a wonderful crutch for your kids’ through the inevitable tribulations of life. Learning to stand up and perform in the face of adversity is at the heart of the values that rugby teaches. You can’t hold their hands forever, but you can teach them to be strong. It takes a great depth of character to be what rugby teaches – a ferocious adversary and a respectful opponent. A respectable pillar of the community. With a backyard, some time and very minimal equipment you can teach your children values that will help them to take on life in stride. Rugby is a discipline and it teaches fortitude, solidarity and perseverance. These are things that everybody needs to succeed, and your children will likely thank you down the road for introducing them to these monumentally important ideologies.
All seriousness aside, rugby is just good, plain, old-fashioned, unadulterated FUN! While there are sports with similar rules, there are no sports that have the same level of action and physicality as that of rugby. It is sometimes shocking, who the people are that you come to find love this sport. You will sometimes find the most seemingly docile, gentle people in normal life, are absolute beasts on the rugby pitch! Men, women, boys girls alike it doesn’t matter!
For those who may not yet have children but would like to partake in the beautiful sport, you may want to consider setting up a pitch to practise. Remember, a lot of rugby people have been learning the sport since they could walk, so, catching up on some practice could serve you well in self-preservation on the pitch.
Aside from the social aspect playing and practising rugby has numerous physical health benefits. Cardiovascular health is vastly improved in a sport that involves as much running as rugby. Hand-eye coordination and ball technique go together like sweat and mud on the pitch and improving your coordination can help you in all aspects of your physical life. Preventing injuries by simply not losing your balance, and or saving you money on phone screens by not losing your grip is just a couple of examples among a long list of potential benefits. Strength, endurance, and agility keep your body sharp. Self-discipline and character reap vast rewards on your mind, spirits, and mental health. With all this in mind, how exactly, do you play?
So how do you play rugby? It’s like football isn’t it?
Well, sort of but not really. Let’s have a start by breaking down the official 15 vs 15 rugby rules of gameplay, for reference, and any ambitious would-be tourney-hosts out there. So, here are the basics. The object of the game is to move the ball up the field to the other team’s try zone. A try zone is essentially the same thing as an end zone in American football and features similar goalposts. The offensive team may not pass the ball forward, only back, and all attacking players must remain behind the ball.
I must share an anecdote about my mother who was never graced with much athleticism, and watched every match of my younger sister’s, as she advanced all the way to varsity level rugby. It was not until she was at this stage that my clever mum piped up and said “Why don’t they just throw the ball forward?”. She will never live that line down! Ok, so we’re clear on that rule: no forward throws! You may, however, kick the ball forward and give chase, or carry the ball forward, of course.
The defensive team must try and stop the offensive team by tackling the man with the ball or gaining possession. If a team scores a try by running the ball into the try zone, then they are awarded a conversion kick. This is where they have a chance to score two additional points by kicking the ball between the H shaped posts that stand at the front of the try zone. This looks similar to a field goal set up in American football.
An important aspect of rugby play is the scrum. This is a play where the two sets of players opposing teams lock arms with their teammates, each team essentially forming one unit. The play starts as the ball is hurled between the 2 deadlocked sets of players. They grapple, jockey, batter and ram each other to position the player known as the “hook” whose job it is to pull the ball back to their respective teams using his or her feet. It is a close-quarters style hard-fought element of gameplay. Perhaps being so close to each other on the field is part of why players are so close off the field!
What happens when the ball goes out of bounds? Another style of play set up unique to rugby occurs, called a line-out. A line-out is similar to a throw-in play in soccer (or football, depending on where you are reading from), except rather than simply throwing the ball back into play and carrying on, the two teams line up 7 players. The ball is thrown and each team literally lifts one of their own above their shoulders to battle for possession. Is there nothing in this sport that isn’t a huge spectacle? It’s easy to see how it has remained so widely popular for so long.
If you are reading the gameplay rules and thinking to yourself that there is no way to recreate this in the backyard, don’t worry, because those two butchers from Melrose I mentioned early have had you covered since 1883! Playing Rugby Sevens rules is a great way to get to playing rugby in the backyard, without having to make any strange ads on craigslist. You need a minimum of 3 up to 7 players per team to make for a more engaging game. Rugby Sevens rules vary from the traditional rules in that there are only up to 7 players per side, with 3 players per team scrums, instead of the traditional 8. The halves are only 7 minutes in official Rugby Sevens rules.
For backyard purposes rugby can be converted to flag rules as well, to reduce the contact level for more casual fun. In flag rugby, each player has two flags either tucked into their waist or attached to a velcro belt – if you want to pay for the official gear. Once an attacking player has had both flags removed both they and the player who removed the flag may not move. The attacking player then has 3 seconds to pass the ball. Once the ball is passed the player is given back their flag and both are free to resume. Even in the flag version, the play is continuous, making it an awesome way to blow off steam and get a workout without the risk of injury.
Backyard requirements, equipment and safety
Alright, so what do you need to get started? This game is definitely ideal for a medium – larger sized yard. The bigger the better in this case. If you are fenced in and worried about losing a ball in the neighbour’s yard on a conversion kick, you can use a kids hockey/soccer net instead of goalposts to keep the ball lower to the ground. Goalposts for backyard rugby should be about 5 – 7 feet apart. you can buy soccer nets that come with goalposts for rugby or improvise. Even using the afore mentioned children’s hockey net works great, although I will leave debating the close calls up to you! You will want to use any cones or improvised markers you have to establish try zones at each end of the field. You can pick up small markers for drills from your local sporting goods store, and they work and look perfect. Likewise, you should be able to find inexpensive, brightly coloured flags at the same place. A word on safety, I would strongly recommend using flag rules to get started, even if you are intending to go to full contact. Until you get a feel for the gameplay and develop some strength and agility, you will want to refrain from going full contact. If this is your intention I would also strongly recommend getting in touch with somebody from your local rugby club, who can show you the proper form and technique. Rugby may look like utter chaos from a bystanders perspective but there is a ton of strategy and technique involved. You definitely are going to want to ease in to the physicality aspect to avoid injury. Another note on gear and safety: invest in some cleats. The spikes on the bottoms of the shoes may look intimidating but they are not for hurting people they are to keep you from sliding on the grass and seriously hurting yourself. Cleats, shinguards, and kneesocks are mandatory for touch or full contact play. You need a good pair of shorts and of course a collared rugby jersey of your favourite team to complete the look. For those of you looking to learn and work towards full contact play, you will also need to purchase a mouth guard and scrumcap, if you intend to play a scrum position. I would also highly recommend going on youtube and researching some common moves and drills to prepare yourself for the intense and rewarding journey you are setting out on. Practise rugby-tossing the ball back and forth, it’s harder than the pros make it look! Practise up, use the protective gear and ease yourself into the physicality to stay safe, but don’t forget the social aspect. Rugby is as much about chumming as it is about tackles. Invite your pals over for a rugby sevens’ style tournament, and watch the competitive sides come out! Make sure to call out your opponents best man of the match when you’re done though!
A sport that brings so much more to the table
There are few sports that you can set up in your backyard that can connect you with history and the world the way rugby can. While many sports do come with culture, there are few that are as ancient and defined as the culture and values that accompany rugby culture. It is often misunderstood as a brutal game for brutal men but the latter could not be further from the truth. Rugby is about teaching strength, determination, perseverance, and respect. This is a wonderful game to set up in your backyard and simultaneously set up your children with the skills to conquer life. The rewards have the potential to echo for generations to come, just as they have for 2 millennia. While this tradition pits man against man, woman against woman, on the pitch, off the pitch it brings people together. The world is woven a closer place thanks to this sport and its endearing culture. The second you set out to learn the discipline this game has to offer, you become connected with the world and history in a way that is just about impossible to do in any other way, from the comfort of your backyard. Rugby is so much more than just a sport, more than a tradition and a culture. It truly is, without a doubt a defined way of life. Play at your own risk, but most importantly, enjoy!