After all the preamble, finally the Rugby World Cup 2015 is upon us - first game: England v Fiji kicks-off at 8pm on Friday - and this time it’s actually in our country. How exciting is that?
But what if you’re not really a rugby follower and are worried that you won’t know your ruck from your maul?
Rugby union can seem like a complex sport with lots of rules, but get a grasp of the basics of the oval ball game and you’ll be cheering on England with the best of them.
So to help you, here’s our bluffer's’ guide that will help you get the most out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup...
1. Object of the game:
Just like football, it’s really very simple. Two teams of 15 (eight forwards and seven backs) play two 40-minute halves and try to score the most points.
Five points for a try (when the ball is grounded with downward pressure over the try line)
Two points for a conversion (when the ball is kicked through the posts and over the bar after a try)
Three points for a penalty or drop-kick (where the ball must strike the ground before being kicked).
The ball can be moved by hand or foot. It can’t be passed forward, but can be kicked forward.
Forwards (or the pack)
Rugby union can seem like a complex sport with lots of rules, but get a grasp of the basics of the oval ball game and you’ll be cheering on England with the best of them
- Front row: Three big, grizzled characters with broad shoulders and stubble who lead their team at scrum-time, when their job is to push the opposition backwards. The two props and the hooker are experts in the ‘dark arts’ that go on hidden deep in the scrum.
- Locks: Two tall, athletic but also heavily-built men. As well as scrummaging, important for calling and catching line-out throws.
- Back row: Trio of two flankers and a no 8 who combine the grunt of a forward with the mobility of a back. Particularly important to secure possession at the breakdown (when a tackle is made).
- Backs (otherwise known as pretty boys)
- Scrum-half: Often diminutive but spiky sort who gets the ball from the forwards and gives it to the backs.
- Fly-half: Like an orchestra conductor, leader of the backs who calls moves, finds holes in the defence and kicks for territory. Soft hands and a brain like a computer.
- Centres: Duo who are often a combination of brain and brawn - one a quicksilver will-o-the-wisp who darts through gaps, the other a tackler built like a brick outhouse.
- Wingers: Two speedsters, once willowy but now beefed up in the modern game
- Full-back: The last line of defence, but also joins the attacking line when his team has the ball. Has to read the play and be safe under the high ball.
3. The scrum:
Eight forwards from each team bind together and push, with the hooker in the middle trying to win the ball with his foot and secure possession for his scrum-half.
4. The line-out:
Forwards line up parallel with each other and the hooker of the team in possession throws the ball in. Jumpers can be lifted by their team-mates, but the opposition’s jumpers must not be obstructed or pulled down.
If a team commits an infringement, a penalty is awarded. The team given possession can kick the ball out of play to receive a line-out, take a free-kick (where the ball can be ‘tapped’ to restart play quickly) or take a penalty kick at the goal.
6. The tackle:
Players on the team without possession of the ball will try to stop the ball carrier by grabbing and bringing them to the ground (a tackle). Once a player has been tackled they must immediately pass or release the ball, allowing the two teams to try to get possession of the loose ball.
7. The ruck:
After a tackle, when the ball is on the floor, players from both sides try to secure possession. Often looks like a legalised brawl.
8. The maul:
Similar to a ruck, only the ball and ball carrier are held up in the air as both sides fight for possession.
Anybody who says they truly understand the offside laws in rugby is lying. Players not involved in rucks, mauls, scrums or lineouts must remain behind the back foot - that is, behind the last attached player. If they don’t, they’re offside. But it’s not an exact science.
10. How the Rugby World Cup works:
There will be 20 teams competing in five pools. Each team plays all other teams in their pool. The top two teams from each pool qualify for the quarter-finals. From then on matches are on a knockout basis through to the final at Twickenham on October 31.
11. Phrases that will help you to blend in during the Rugby World Cup:
- ‘Swing low sweet chariot’ (the England anthem sung by the Twickenham faithful)
- ‘In from the side’ (not entering a ruck through ‘the gate’ behind players on your team)
- ‘Not releasing’ (being tackled and not letting go of the ball on the ground)
- ‘He’s boring in’ (an offence in the scrum when players don’t push straight)
- ‘Pool of death’ (England have to play tough pool games against Wales, Australia and Fiji)
- ‘Crossing’ or ‘blocking’ (players obstruct by getting in the way of tacklers)
- ‘A good shoeing’ (what can happen if you are caught on the wrong side of a ruck and don’t roll away)
- ‘Handbags’ (a fight that doesn’t amount to much, with no significant blows landed)
- ‘Not straight’ or ‘feeding’ (when a scrum-half puts the ball in towards his own front row)
- ‘Bomb’ (a high kick)
- ‘Grubber’ (a kick that bounces several times end-to-end, low to the ground)
- ‘Gain line’ (a hypothetical line the attacking team has to get past to gain territory after a set piece or a breakdown in play)