December 1, 2023


A game which started out as a simple pastime has been transformed into a global network around which vast stadia have been built, an intricate administrative structure created and complex strategies devised.

Rugby football, in common with any activity which attracts the interest and enthusiasm of all kinds of people, has many sides and faces.

Apart from the playing of the game and its ancillary support, rugby embraces a number of social and emotional concepts such as courage, loyalty, sportsmanship, discipline and teamwork. What this Charter does is to give the game a checklist against which the mode of play and behavior can be assessed. The objective is to ensure that rugby maintains its unique character both on and off the field.

The Charter covers the basic principles of rugby as they relate to playing and coaching, and to the creation and application of the Laws. It is hoped that the Charter, which is an important complement to the Laws of the Game, will set the standards for all those who are involved in rugby, at whatever level.

Principles of the Game

The legend of William Webb Ellis, who is credited with first picking up the football and running with it, has doggedly survived the countless revisionist theories since that day at Rugby School in 1823. That the game should have its origins in an act of spirited defiance is somehow appropriate.

At first glance it is difficult to find the guiding principles behind a game which, to the casual observer, appears to be a mass of contradictions. It is perfectly acceptable, for example, to be seen to be exerting extreme physical pressure on an opponent in an attempt to gain possession of the ball, but not willfully or maliciously to inflict injury.

These are the boundaries within which players and referees must operate and it is the capacity to make this fine distinction, combined with control and discipline, both individual and collective, upon which the code of conduct depends.

Rugby owes much of its appeal to the fact that it is played both to the letter and within the spirit of the Laws. The responsibility for ensuring that this happens lies not with one individual – it involves coaches, captains, players and referees.

It is through discipline, control and mutual respect that the spirit of the game flourishes and, in the context of a game as physically challenging as rugby, these are the qualities which forge the fellowship and sense of fair play so essential to the game’s ongoing success and survival.

Old fashioned traditions and virtues they may be, but they have stood the test of time and, at all levels at which the game is played, they remain as important to rugby’s future as they have been throughout its long and distinguished past. The principles of rugby are the fundamental elements upon which the game is based and they enable participants to immediately identify the game’s character and what makes it distinctive as a sport.

The object of the game is that two teams, each of fifteen players, observing fair play, according to the Laws and in a sporting spirit should, by carrying, passing, kicking and grounding the ball, score as many points as possible.

Rugby is played by men and women and by boys and girls world-wide. More than three million people aged from 6-60 regularly participate in the playing of the game. The wide variation of skills and physical requirements needed for the game mean that there is an opportunity for individuals of every shape, size and ability to participate at all levels.

Contest and Continuity
The contest for possession of the ball is one of rugby’s key features. These contests occur throughout the game and in a number of different forms:
• in contact
• in general play
• when play is re-started at scrums, line-outs and kick-offs.

The contests are balanced in such a way as to reward superior skill displayed in the preceding action. For example, a team forced to kick for touch because of its inability to maintain the play, is denied the throw-in to the line-out. Similarly, the team knocking the ball on or passing the ball forward is denied the throw-in at the subsequent scrum.

The advantage then must always lie with the team throwing the ball in, although, here again, it is important that these areas of play can be fairly contested.

It is the aim of the team in possession to maintain continuity by denying the opposition the ball and, by skillful means, to advance and score points. Failure to do this will mean the surrendering of possession to the opposition either as a result of shortcomings on the part of the team in possession or because of the quality of the opposition defense. Contest and continuity, profit and loss.

As one team attempts to maintain continuity of possession, the opposing team strives to contest for possession. This provides the essential balance between continuity of play and continuity of possession. This balance of contestability and continuity applies to both set piece and general play.

Principles of the Laws
The principles upon which the Laws of the Game are based are:

A Sport For All
The Laws provide players of different physiques, skills, genders and ages with the opportunity to participate at their levels of ability in a controlled, competitive and enjoyable environment. It is incumbent upon all who play rugby to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Laws of the Game.

Maintaining the Identity
The Laws ensure that rugby’s distinctive features are maintained through scrums, line-outs, mauls, rucks, kick-offs and re-starts. Also the key features relating to contest and continuity – the backward pass, the offensive tackle.

Enjoyment and Entertainment
The Laws provide the framework for a game that is both enjoyable to play and entertaining to watch. If, on occasions, these objectives appear to be incompatible, enjoyment and entertainment are enhanced by enabling the players to give full reign to their skills. To achieve the correct balance, the Laws are constantly under review.

There is an over-riding obligation on the players to observe the Laws and to respect the principles of fair play. The Laws must be applied in such a way as to ensure that the game is played according to the Principles of Rugby.

The referee and his touch judges can achieve this through fairness, consistency, sensitivity and, at the highest levels, management. In return, it is the responsibility of coaches, captains and players to respect the authority of the match officials
Rewards and penalties
If a team is able to play within the Laws, they will be rewarded and if they have to play outside the Laws they will be punished.

The Rewarded Team
Being able to gain territory, retain possession and eventually score points rewards a team that is able to penetrate through an opponent’s defense. Even though they may not have the throw in, a team’s scrum may be able to push their opponents off the ball and regain possession. For this “superior” skill regaining possession of the ball is the reward.

The Penalized Team
A team in possession that has to kick the ball off the field of play because other options will be less favorable will be penalized by conceding the throw in at the line-out. Its opponents will be advantaged for forcing this option by being given the throw and the initiative in throwing to their strength to win possession.

The players of a team in defense who are ahead of the off-side line when their opponents have begun to play with the ball from scrum line-out, ruck or maul and whose actions reduce their opponent’s options will be penalized by the referee. The penalty will be in awarding their opponents a penalty kick.

Principles of Play
The principles of the game are the fundamentals on which the game is based. They enable participants to identify clearly what makes rugby distinctive as a sport.

Contest for possession
The contest for possession is a key principle in rugby. Various forms of this contest take place throughout all stages of the game. This may be in dynamic play when a player of one team is in contact with the opposition and at static restarts – scrums, or line-outs, or kick restarts.

All of these contests must have a degree of fairness for both teams, so that both teams have a chance to gain and/or retain possession. At restarts the initiative to commence the restart is given to the team that has not made an error.

Example 1
When a player who is running with the ball is tackled and places the ball on the ground in a position from which team-mates can easily pick it up, then the team is rewarded by being able to continue play.

Example 2
When a player from one team knocks the ball forward, and a scrum is ordered by the referee, the offending team is denied the right to throw the ball into the scrum This role is given to the opposing team. This gives the team an advantage in gaining possession when play is re-commenced.

Attack and Continuity of Play
The team in possession is by definition the attacking team. It tries to advance the ball, by carrying or kicking the ball forward, in the direction of the opposing team’s goal line. The attacking team’s players can use both the lateral space across the field of play, and the linear space down the field to perform the attack, and eventually score. The aim of the attacking team is to keep possession and to use their skills and physical abilities to move the ball forward.

As the opposing team is trying to stop them and regain possession of the ball to launch their own attack, the attack may be forced to regroup at a ruck or maul in order to re-establish the space to move the ball forward. A team maintains continuity of play in attack by keeping the ball and advancing the ball towards their goal-line.

Defense and Regaining Possession
The initial task for the team not in possession is to deny the attacking team space and time to advance the ball down the field. If the defending team achieves this, they may also be able to regain possession of the ball and launch an attack of their own. This action maintains continuity of play.

Game of Many Aspects and Abilities
The cumulative effect of the first three principles is to create a multi-faceted game in which all the players have the opportunity to perform a wide range of individual and team skills: running, passing, catching, kicking, tackling, rucking, mauling, line-out play, scrumming and so on.

In this way, the game offers players of very different abilities and physical characteristics the opportunity to participate in a team together. Individual players will have many skills in common while at the same time they are able to specialize in specific positional skills that best suit them.

Rugby is valued as a sport for men and women, boys and girls. It builds teamwork, understanding, co-operation and respect for fellow athletes. Its cornerstones are, as they always have been, the pleasure of participating; the courage and skill that the game demands; the love of a team sport that enriches the lives of all involved; and the lifelong friendships forged through a shared interest in the game.

It is because of, not despite, rugby’s intensely physical and athletic characteristics that such great camaraderie exists before and after matches. The long-standing tradition of players from competing teams enjoying each others company away from the pitch and in a social context, remains at the very core of the game.

Rugby has fully embraced the professional era, but has retained the ethos and traditions of the recreational game. In an age in which many traditional sporting qualities are being diluted or even challenged, rugby is rightly proud of its ability to retain high standards of sportsmanship, ethical behavior and fair play. It is hoped that this Charter will help reinforce those cherished values.

Source: USA Rugby Coaching Development Program

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *