Rugby orig­i­nated out of a vari­ant of foot­ball (soc­cer) in the Eng­lish School of Rugby that allowed par­tic­i­pants to use their hands. Rugby folk­lore has it that William “Webb” Ellis first picked up the ball and ran with it. From there, the game spread through theUK, and as a result of colo­nial­ism, around the globe, becom­ing one of the world’s most par­tic­i­pated sports.

Steeped in his­tory and tra­di­tion, Rugby believes very much in the found­ing prin­ci­ples of the game that still remain at its core today. Rugby embraces a num­ber of social and emo­tional con­cepts such as courage, loy­alty, sports­man­ship, dis­ci­pline, and teamwork.

Rugby has four main prin­ci­ples in which the play and laws are based:


At first glance it is dif­fi­cult to find the guid­ing prin­ci­ples behind a game that 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 wil­fully 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 15 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 660 reg­u­larly par­tic­i­pate in the play­ing of the Game.

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, line­outs 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 line­out. 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.

Click here for a more thor­ough look at the IRB’s Laws of Rugby.