Rugby was developed by accident when a man named William Webb Ellis, who was attending Rugby School in England, while playing soccer, picked up the ball and ran towards the opponents' goal.  This new innovation attracted interest at other schools, such as Cambridge University.  Rugby was popularized at Cambridge in 1823 where local rules were made.  Rugby School didn't officially offer rugby until 1841; and it wasn't until 1871 that consistent rules were formulated.

The lack of specificity in the rules of the game, and interpretation of matters that the English took for granted, were intolerable to many players in the United States.  This led to modifications in the rules such as a line of scrimmage and frequent opportunities for possession.  These changes altered the free-running, kicking game to a game with emphasis on ball control.

Rugby did continue to be played in the U.S. though, until 1905.  President Theodore Roosevelt viewed pictures from a game and was shocked by the "brutal" nature of the game and insisted on reforms in the rules.  In 1906, this led to the induction of the forward pass, rather than the rugby pass, which is never forward, and to the demise of the Rugby Code in the United States.

Rugby is, however, making a resurgence.  In the U.S., the USA Rugby Football Union recently formed by regional unions, will give national cohesion so the game may prosper.  The rules of the game will be international and can be obtained by writing:  USA Rugby, 27 E. State Street, Sherburne, NY 13460.


Rugby is usually played with two teams, each consisting of 15 players - eight forwards and seven backs.  The object of the game is to kick goals between the opponents' goal posts and to score "tries."

A "try" is scored when a player grounds the ball in the opposition's in-goal area.  This is the area behind the goal posts, which is similar to the end zone of a football field.  A try is worth four points and may be converted into a goal by a successful place kick.  The place kick may be made from any mark on the field, along a straight line backwards from where the ball was grounded.  A converted try is worth six points.  A goal may also be made through a penalty kick, which is worth three points.  The game is over after the elapsed time period.  This is usually two thirty-five minute halves (international matches are forty minutes in length).  There is a five minute changeover period at halftime, during which no player may leave the field.

A rugby match is started in much the same way as an American football game.  There is a coin toss at the beginning between the captains of the two teams.  The winner decides whether to receive the kick-off or which goal they will defend.  The kick-off is made from the halfway line of the field.  The second half is also started with a kick-off; this time the team that kicked to start the game will receive.  There is also a kick-off after each score.  The only variation in this rule is that if the score was an un-converted try, the kick-off must be a drop kick; otherwise it is a place kick.

The ball must be kicked at least ten yards unless it is touched by an opposing player.  If the kick is short, that is touching the ground in front of the ten yard line before touching an opposing player, the captain of the receiving team can demand a re-kick or a set scrum at the center of the field.  If the ball is kicked out-of-play (off the field) without being touched, the non-kicking team has three choices.  These are a scrum at the center of the field, a line-out where the ball went out-of-play, or a re-kick.

If any member of the kicking team precedes the ball prior to or at the moment it is kicked, there is a set scrum at center field with the receiving team putting the ball in play.

There are only a few circumstances that stop the game during play.  These are a score, the ball going into touch over the sideline, or a penalty.  The game is not stopped when an injury occurs.  The player is dealt with once the ball is out-of-play.

Each contest is officiated by a referee.  He is the only person on the field who is in charge of interpreting the rules, keeping score, or keeping the time for each match.  The flow and success of each game is largely dependent upon his knowledge and physical fitness, as he must keep up with the players as they move throughout the field.

Each team selects a touch judge to assist the referee in keeping track of the ball if it goes out of bounds or into touch.  In addition, the judges also align themselves to determine whether or not a kick has been successful.  However, regardless of ruling by either or both of the touch judges, the referee makes the final decision.


  1. Advantage:  The referee may allow play to continue after an infringement if the nonoffending team gains either technical or territorial advantage.
  2. Ball:  Oval in shape; of four panels, which need not be of leather.  Size and weight vary with age group of playing teams.
  3. Blind side:  Normally the side nearer the touch line, being the side of the field opposite to which the fly-half (stand-off half) has taken his position at line-out, scrummage, ruck or maul.
  4. Cross-kick:  An attacking kick across the field, usually made by a wing three-quarter, forward of the play.
  5. Dead-ball:  The ball is considered dead when the referee blows his whistle.
  6. Defending team:  The team in whose half of the field the stoppage of play occurs.
  7. Drawing your man:  To make an opponent commit himself to tackle the ball carrier, rather than the player to whom the ball is about to be passed.
  8. Dribbling:  A player controls the forward movement of the ball with his feet, never kicking it far; the shins are used extensively and often the feet are turned out to control the awkward bouncing ball.  This tactic is sometimes used by a pack of forwards on the advance.
  9. Drop kick:  The ball is allowed to fall from the hand(s) to the ground and, as the ball rises, it is kicked at the rebound.
  10. Drop-out:  The method, by drop kick, of starting play from behind or at the 25-yard (22-meter) line after an attacking player kicks, carries, passes, or knocks the ball into the opponents' in-goal area, but does not score.  A drop kick is also used to restart the game from the center of the field after an unsuccessful conversion attempt.
  11. Dummy:  To pretend to pass the ball.
  12. Falling on the ball:  The player dropping on the ball attempts to do so by turning his back to the opposition.  It is good play as it stops the opponents' foot rush; however, a player falling on the ball must not handle the ball subsequent to his falling upon it and must not intentionally hinder play.
  13. Five-yard scrum:  If a defending player knocks the ball, carries, passes, heels, or kicks it over his own goal line and there it becomes dead, having been touched down or has gone out of the field of play, the referee calls for a scrum to be made five yards from the goal line opposite to the place where the ball went into the in-goal area.  The ball is given to the attacking team.
  14. Fly-kick:  A wild, unpremeditated kick.
  15. Foot-up:  Any member of the front row of either team in a scrum who, before the ball has touched the ground, advances either foot incurs a penalty.
  16. Foul-play:  It is illegal for a player to:
    1. strike an opponent
    2. tackle early or late
    3. willfully kick, hack, or trip with the foot
    4. cause a ruck or a scrummage to collapse
    5. obstruct, hold, charge, or push an opponent not holding the ball
  17. Free kick:  One from which a score may be made; allowed after a fair catch (mark) and may be taken as a place kick, drop kick, or, if no score is being attempted, by a punt.
  18. Grounding the ball:  A player grounds the ball by placing his hand(s), arm(s), or upper body on the ball with downward pressure to score a try.
  19. Hacking:  To fly-kick the ball.
  20. Kick:  A kick is made by propelling the ball with any part of the leg or foot (except the heel), knee to toe inclusive.
  21. Knock-on:  This occurs when a player propels the ball, with either hand or arm, in the direction of his opponents' dead-ball line.
  22. Line-out:  The line-out is formed by at least two players from each team in single lines parallel to the touch line waiting for the ball to be thrown in between them.  The line-out may stretch from five yards (five meters) from the touch line to 15 yards (15 meters) from that touch line.
  23. Locks:  Back-row forwards in a set-scrum, number 8.
  24. Loose-head:  This is determined by the position of the head of the left prop-forward.  His head is always to the outside of a set-scrum.
  25. Lying deep:  In attack, the backs (halves and three-quarters) adopt a more shallow formation closer to their opponents.
  26. Lying on the ball:  Will incur a penalty as it arrests play.
  27. Lying shallow:  In defense, the backs (halves and three-quarters) adopt a more shallow formation closer to their opponents.
  28. Mark:  A fair catch made from a kick, a knock-on, or an intentional throw forward, by a player having both feet on the ground who cries out "Mark."
  29. Maul:  Created by players of each side around a player in possession of the ball.
  30. No-side:  This is the end of the game.
  31. Number of players:  There are 15 or fewer members on each side.
  32. Off-side:  Generally a player is in an off-side position because he is in front of the ball when it was last played by another member of his team.  There is no penalty for being off-side except when the off-side player obstructs an opponent, plays the ball, or remains within ten yards (ten meters) of an opponent waiting to play the ball.  It is the duty of every off-side player to attempt to make himself on-side and in so doing, not interfere with the play.
  33. Penalty kick:  This kick is awarded to the nonoffending team after an infringement of the laws.
  34. Penalty try:  If, in the opinion of the referee, a try would have been scored had it not been for the defending team's foul play, obstruction, or misconduct, he grants a penalty try between the posts. Thereafter, a conversion may be attempted.
  35. Place kick:  This is made by kicking the ball after it has been placed on the ground for that purpose.
  36. Player ordered off:  A player who has been ordered off the field of play may take no further part in that game.
  37. Punt:  The ball is allowed to fall from the hand(s) and is kicked before it touches the ground.  A punt is a tactical but not a scoring kick.
  38. Push over try:  When the ball is in a scrum and the defending team is pushed over its goal line into its in-goal area by the attacking pack, which, having possession of the ball, allows some member to fall upon it and ground it, thus scoring a try.
  39. Referee:  He who controls the game and is sole judge of fact during the process of the game.
  40. Ruck:  A loose scrum, the ball being on the ground.
  41. Scrummage:  A scrum is formed by players from each team in readiness to allow the ball to be put into the tunnel between the front rows.  The front row of each side is a scrummage and must be comprised of three players.
  42. Substitutions:  Replacement of players is not allowed, except in special selection matches or international games, where no more than two players from each team may be replaced, and then only when a player is so badly injured (and medically assessed to be so) that he is unable to continue to participate.  A player so substituted may not return to that game.
  43. Tackle:  This is made upon the player holding the ball by one or more opponents so that while he is so held:
  44. the ball touches the ground, or
  45. if he is on his feet he cannot free himself to play the ball.
  46. The handling game:  The ball is in touch having been carried onto or over the touch line or when the ball bounces on, or passes over, the touch line, usually from a kick.  If a ball is in the air, has passed over the touch line, and the wind blows it into play again, the ball is considered to be in-touch where it passed over the line.
  47. Touch-down:  This is not a score.  A touch-down occurs when a player first grounds the ball in his own in-goal area.
  48. Try:  A try, worth four points, is scored by a member of the attacking team grounding the ball in the opponents' in-goal area.
  49. Up and under:  A high kick within the field of play timed so that the kicker's own players are under the ball as it comes down.
  50. Wheel:  In a set-scrum, when the ball is at the feet of the number 8, the scrum is rotated, often placing the opposing side under pressure.


The following visual skills can be enhanced through correction or training and can improve a player's performance.

  1. Visual Acuity:  Rugby players need both static and dynamic acuity.  Dynamic acuity is used to follow other players and track the ball, particularly in following the ball into the player's hands when passed sideways by a teammate, or in discriminating the ball against the sky or surrounds in attempting to catch a ball kicked into the air or along the ground.
  2. Peripheral Vision:  This is important to players because they need to be aware of fellow players to whom to pass, while attending to opponents moving in to tackle.  The player must be continually aware of position on the field in relation to the goalposts, sidelines and 25 yard lines.
  3. Depth Perception:  This skill allows players to judge how far to pass the ball, accurately judge kicks, and judge relative positions of opponents when running at them.
  4. Eye Motility:  A rugby player must be able to constantly follow his teammates, opponents and the ball at all times.  At the same time, saccadic skills should be automatic, accurate and well-sustained to facilitate transfer of fixation from player to player or ball.
  5. Eye-Hand/Body/Foot Coordination:  A rugby player should be able to accurately and flexibly coordinate eye-hand skills in catching or passing the ball, and eye-foot skills in kicking the ball, usually while in motion or off-balance.
  6. Visualization:  Necessary in judging the options for kicking and chasing the ball, kicking into open spaces between players, sensing a potential defensive gap through which to run with the ball, and in mentally rehearsing a kick at goal.
  7. Speed of Recognition Time:  This is important to all players on the field as the ball is moving at all times, either by being passed, or kicked, or by the players running with it.  At the same time, players must quickly and accurately process visual information about opposing players and the relative position of the ball.
  8. Speed of Focusing:  Players must be able to quickly and accurately adjust focus from far to near, or near to far, in both smooth change as well as rapid adjustment.
  9. Ability to withstand eye fatigue without decreased performance:  Visual performance should be automatic and able to be maintained at high levels for a period, despite significant physical fatigue.
  10. Color Perception:  This would mostly be used to identify your teammates and opponents.
  11. Fixation Ability:  This is important for players who are receiving a pass, as well as for defensive players trying to intercept the ball.
  12. Central/Peripheral Awareness:  A player attempting to pass needs to attend to the potential receivers while he is aware of approaching defensive players.  Similarly, the defending player should be able to attend to his opponent and be aware if his teammates are in position to cover other opponents.


    1. Static Visual Acuity

Snellen Chart

    1. Dynamic Visual Acuity
      1. Kirschner Rotator
      2. Keystone Rotator with Sherman Chart
      3. Motorized J.W. Engineering Rotator
    2. Contrast Sensitivity
      1. Vistech Tester
      2. Stereo Optical Contrast Sensitivity Targets - distance and near
    3. Peripheral Vision
      1. Automated Perimeter
      2. Wayne P.A.T. - Peripheral Awareness Tester
      3. B&L Vision Tester with Attachment
    4. Depth Perception/Eye Teaming
      1. AO Vectographic Slide
      2. Randot
      3. Stereo Fly
      4. Worth Four-Dot
      5. Brock String
      6. Keystone Visual Skills
      7. Vectograms - near
      8. Vectograms - projected for distance
    5. Eye Motility
      1. Projected King-Devick
      2. Entrance Eye Movements
      3. Wayne Saccadic Fixator
      4. AcuVision 1000
    6. Refractive Condition
      1. Autorefractor
      2. Retinoscope
    7. Eye-Hand/Body/Foot Coordination
      1. Wayne Saccadic Fixator Footboard
      2. AcuVision 1000
      3. Reaction Plus
      4. Reaction Coach
    8. Eye Muscle Posture
      1. Maddox Rod
      2. Cover Test
      3. B&L Vision Tester
      4. Brock String
      5. Keystone Visual Skills
    9. Color Vision
      1. Ishihara Plates
      2. B&L Vision Tester
    10. Accommodative Flexibility
      1. +2.00/-2.00 Flipper
      2. 8 BI/BO Flipper
    11. Speed/Span Recognition


  1. Timing/Anticipation Skills
    1. Bassin Anticipation Timer
    2. Wayne Speed Trac
  2. Visual Localization
    1. Phosius
    2. Brock String
    3. Vistech
    4. Anaglyphs
  3. Ocular Health
    1. Ophthalmoscope
    2. Tonometer
    3. Biomicroscope
    4. Visual Fields Tester


    1. Visual Acuity
      1. Accommodative Rock for pseudomyopia
      2. Dynamic - Marsden Ball
      3. Bean bag pitch.  Attach different sized letters and shapes to bag.  Bounce bag into pitch-back net and call out shapes, letters or colors before you can catch it.
      4. Attach one-inch cutouts of colors, shapes and letters to a rugby ball.  Bounce the ball off the pitch-back and call out shapes, colors, letters as they catch the ball.
      5. Use a Sherman Sports Disc and make a record of different sized letters and numbers.  Set the speed at 33 1/3 rpm and have the player call out the letters and numbers.  Increase the speed as the player becomes more proficient.
    2. Peripheral Vision
      1. Tape an X on a screen and align the middle number of a seven number flash from a tachistoscope on the X.  Have the player concentrate on the X.  He must call out the outside two numbers on both sides of the X.  When he has mastered this level, the number of digits flashed can be increased.
      2. Hang a ball from a string at eye level as the athlete sits.  Swing the ball in a circle around his head and shoulders as he concentrates on a point on the wall in front of him.  As soon as he spots the ball in his peripheral field he should say "now."  With increased skill he will say "now" sooner.
    3. Depth Perception
      1. Vectograms - near and projected for distance
      2. Depth perception may be improved by increasing BI and BO reserves.
      3. Red/Green sports tranaglyphs from Bernell
    4. Eye Motility
      1. Pegboard Rotator
      2. Wayne Saccadic Fixator
      3. AcuVision 1000
      4. Marsden Ball
      5. Pong-Atari
      6. Nintendo Baseball
    5. Eye-Hand/Body/Foot Coordination
      1. Wayne Saccadic Fixator with Footboard (C&S strobe light)
      2. Video Games
      3. Bean Bag Toss with Strobe Light
    6. Visualization
      1. Analyze, Visualize, Center, Execute and Playback
      2. Close eyes and visualize a rugby ball, opponents line in a scrum, pass attempts, etc.  Open your eyes and again visualize the same thing.  Next try it with audio distractions.  If you maintain a clear picture with these distractions, you have mastered the exercise.
    7. Speed of Focusing
      1. Wayne Saccadic Fixator
      2. Flippers
      3. Wachs Mental Minus
    8. Fixation Ability
      1. AcuVision 1000
      2. Wayne Saccadic Fixator
    9. Visual Memory

The "playback" step of visualization.  It helps you build a frame of reference from successful past experiences.

  1. Spatial Localization
    1. Brock String
    2. Computerized Anaglyphic Trainer
    3. Have someone hold a straw at arms length from you.  Hold a toothpick out in space, somewhere to the right of the straw.  Then concentrate on the straw with both of your eyes, paying only slight attention to the toothpick, and slide the toothpick into the straw.


The most common ocular injuries suffered in rugby include blunt trauma to the eye from the fist, elbow or ball, possibly resulting in corneal injuries, hyphema, iris damage, vitreous hemorrhage, retinal edema and retinal detachment.  It is not uncommon to encounter corneal abrasions, contusions or lacerations due to fingers or fists, and soft tissue trauma may be encountered due to illegal gouging.  Blowout fracture to the inferior or nasal wall of the orbit is possible, and any diplopia, restriction of gaze, or enophthalmos should be considered suspicious of fracture.  Protective eyewear is almost unheard of in rugby.

Since head protection is only permitted to be worn in rugby with medical permission, special attention should be paid to the visual manifestations of head trauma, especially post-concussion syndrome.

There are several first aid procedures that trainers and coaches (even players) should be prepared for.  Any blunt trauma requires immediate attention.  This should include an ice pack applied to the injured area as soon as possible and a trip to the optometrist's or ophthalmologist's office.  A laceration to the orbital rim should be closed with a butterfly bandage and evaluated for stitches.  In addition, the trainer or coach should be able to lavage the eye if a foreign body is present and insert and remove contact lenses.

As in any sport, for the rugby player to perform at his highest skill level, he must have a good visual system.  This does not only include the trainable visual skills mentioned earlier, but also keeping the system free of injury. Rugby is a tough sport, and while not all injuries can be avoided, a great many ocular problems can be minimized with appropriate and immediate treatment.


  1. The Complete Guide to Sports Injuries, H. Winter Griffith, M.D., The Body Press, 1986.
  2. Sports Injuries Handbook, Barron's, Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1988.
  3. Rugby, A. Jon Prusmack, Hawthorne Publishing, New York, 1979.
  4. Burke MJ, Sanitato JJ, Vinger PF et al (Children's Hosp Med Cent, Cincinnati, OH) Soccerball-induced injuries.  JAMA 1983; 249:2682-2685.