What to expect at your first rugby practice

Rugby is one of the only sports in the world that anyone can play. If you are willing to learn, practice, and care about rugby, then there’s a spot for you on the pitch. It’s a sport that needs so many different types of players; short, tall, built, fast, scrappy, strong, smart.

The players on a rugby team are extremely diverse, and with some hard work and dedication, it is possible to excel at the sport. If you are preparing to attend your first rugby practice, then the most important thing to bring is an open mind and willingness to learn. Oh, and a water bottle.

What should I wear?

When dressing for your first rugby practice, there are a few key things to keep in mind. It is important that you wear spandex underneath your shorts. There are a couple of instances where spandex is crucial. Sometimes when trying to tackle or slow down a player, shorts are grabbed, and they can fall. 

If you wear a tight pair of spandex underneath, then you should be saved from any on-field embarrassment. Also, there is a position in rugby where you for into the air by two other players, and since they have to grab your butt, it is courteous to wear a pair of spandex or compression tights.

Although you are usually required to wear rugby shorts during matches, it is not necessary to buy them for your first practice. Wear whatever you feel comfortable working out in, but keep in mind that you will be rolling around on the ground. Jewelry and earrings of any kind are not allowed on the field for safety reasons. Hair ties are also not allowed on your wrists so make sure to pull your hair up before practice begins. I have seen many hair-pulling incidents on the pitch, so it is beneficial to keep long hair pulled back into a tight ponytail.

When you play your first rugby match, you will need to wear proper rugby cleats. But running shoes are acceptable for your first rugby practice. If you have old soccer or lacrosse cleats hiding in the back of your closet, I would highly recommend wearing those instead of regular sneakers. It is much easier to run on grass when you have the grip that cleats provide you. For your first practice, you will not need to purchase anything that you don’t already own, dressing for rugby practice is just like dressing for the gym.

What should I bring?

What you need to bring to Rugby practice will depend heavily on the weather. It is important to bring hydration, especially on a hot day. Sports drinks are fine, but I always feel water does the best job at re-hydrating during practice. If it is chilly, make sure to bring something warm that you can work out in because some of the skill-based drills can be stationary so it might be chilly without a jacket.

Since rugby is a contact sport, you will be required to use a mouthguard for protection. The best type of mouthguard for rugby is a gel one that you can mold to your teeth. There is a lot of communication during a rugby game and the mouthguards that mold to your teeth make it easy to talk even while they’re in. Also, bring a good attitude! Rugby is all about teamwork and bonding. Your new teammates will be excited to meet you!

What should I expect at my first rugby practice?

A rugby team consists of 15 players divided into two groups; backs and forwards. When you arrive at your first rugby practice, you can expect to be assigned to either the forwards or the backs to try it out. When I first joined my team, I practiced with both the backs and the forwards. I have played several different backline positions, and it’s common for my role on the team change depending on the circumstances and our other personnel. The beauty of being on a rugby team is that you are always learning and evolving as a player, and are challenged to master new skills. You learn how to be well rounded and adaptive, which is a skill you can carry into other areas of your life.

Forwards are part of the scrum. They are known collectively as “the pack.” Rugby How describes them as “the players who use size and strength to get the ball and move it towards the opposition goal-line.” Forwards also participate in lineouts and do most of the rucking and mauling on the field. Being a forward takes a lot of skill as well as strength. Each subtype of forward in the pack has a very different role, and they have to learn to work together to get their job done. On my team, the pack does their own separate pregame ritual because they need to be in sync with one another.

Being a member of the back-line is more running-intensive than the forward pack. The job of the back line is to sprint the ball down the field. They use their speed and agility to score tries, as opposed to the forwards who tend to use strength and force. The backs set up in a diagonal line off of the fly-half, who is similar to the quarterback on a football team. The fly-half is the boss. They will call some different plays, which the backs then execute. I am a member of the back line on my team. Although I wasn’t in shape when I initially joined the team, running plays and doing some conditioning during practice made me a much faster player.

Both backs and forwards will be taught how to tackle, ruck, and kick. When in a game, every player does whatever is required of them to advance towards the try line or prevent the other team from scoring. You will learn how to execute your team’s specific offensive and defensive plays. As a new player, it took me a while to fully understand how the game works. It took some repetition and practice until it became second nature.

At your first practice expect to be told to “talk more.” Rugby is a highly vocal game. There are 30 people on a field nearby, if you aren’t loud, you won’t be heard. I remember feeling a little timid at first yelling at my new teammates, but I was constantly encouraged to talk. Once I started to understand the game better and got to know my teammates, I found my voice on the field.



Important rules to be aware of

There are several ways to score in rugby. The two most common would be scoring a Try and then completing a Conversion kick. Scoring a Try is awarded 5 points, and after a Try is scored the team that scored allows one player to attempt a kick the ball through the posts. These kicks are called Conversion kicks, and they are worth 2 points. If you are good at kicking, or maybe played soccer at some point in your life, talk to your coach or teammates about practicing conversion kicking! It’s a guaranteed way to increase your value to the team.

Two less common ways of scoring are penalty goals and drop kick goals, each awarded 3 points. Games span two 40 minute halves. In rugby, once a player is subbed out of the game they cannot go back in. There is no overtime in rugby unless a winner has to be determined (for a Cup tournament or something of the like). If at the end of a normal game the scores are equal, it is determined to be a draw (or tie).

You can only pass the ball backward! It can be hard to get used to this Law at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never have to think twice about passing the ball backward. When you are on the ground, you can not throw, kick, or cover the ball. It is sometimes hard to resist the temptation to move the ball towards your team once you have been tackled, but you will get penalized for doing so. In fact, once you get tackled and hit the ground, you have to release the ball. You can hold it in place with a finger or two, but you can’t obstruct ball play if you are on the ground.

Lastly, you have to play fair. Rugby is a full contact sport, but that does not mean that you can take players down by whatever means necessary. That would make the game very dangerous. You will be learning how to properly tackle and ruck in practice so that your coach can ensure the game is played safely by all parties involved. You can only tackle a player if they have the ball in their hands. If you tackle or obstruct a player who does not have the ball, your team is penalized.

If you body check, kick, trample, punch, or high tackle (bring a player down by their neck or head), then you can risk being taken out of the game. Of course, you would also be risking the safety of the person who you are tackling incorrectly. If you have signed up to be a rugby player, then you have made a commitment to the rugby community that you will play a safe game. Besides, it is only rewarding to win a game if you play it fairly.

Most of these rules you will not have to worry about during your very first practice, but it is important to keep these in mind before your first game!

Will it hurt?

Before I stepped onto the pitch for my first practice, I was a little nervous about playing rugby. My brother had played for a couple years, so I saw first hand how intense the sport can be. I had never played a contact sport in my life, and wasn’t in excellent shape at the time. My brother loved the game so much that I felt it was worth a try.

Of course, when playing a full contact sport, you are going to get some bruises, and your legs are going to be sore from running for over an hour during a game. You will also be sore in your upper body from tackling, rucking, and scrums. That is the nature of the exercise, if you are building muscle, then you have to get a little sore. You can help accelerate your recovery using a recovery stack or whey protein powder. I noticed after just a couple of weeks playing rugby that I started to build muscle definition in places I had never felt strong before. It is such an accomplished feeling to be in shape, and rugby is a fun way of getting there.

As with all sports, injuries can happen. For this reason, you are taught how to tackle and how to be tackled so that you don’t get seriously hurt. The few bruises I wear after an intense rugby game, I wear proudly. I know that I played hard and gave it my all. When you play in a match, adrenaline will be pumping through your veins, and you won’t even feel a bruise when you originally get one. Playing rugby is like having a runner’s high for 80 minutes long, it is fun, and it feels great.

You won’t just find a team, but a family

Joining a rugby team will change your life in a great way. You will be amazed at how much you can physically accomplish, you will acquire a new sense of self-confidence, and you become surrounded by a team of lifelong friends. I met most of my best college friends through the sport, and am extremely close to all members of my team. The friendship comes naturally on a rugby team because you are training together every day, and overcoming the physical and mental hardships of the game.

Rugby teams also hang out off the field constantly; it is part of the culture. Be it team dinners, drink ups, banquets, or movie nights my team is always together because we have more fun with each other than anyone else! I played many different sports growing up, but I have found the team chemistry on a rugby team to be the absolute best. There is friendly competition without the undermining and the politics found on other teams. Every player on my team (beginner or veteran) is essential, and we all try to make one another feel that way.

Don’t worry about being confused or making mistakes, in the beginning; rugby takes time to master, but you will improve if you continue to be dedicated. Everyone was a beginner at some point, and your teammates and coach will do everything they can do to help you learn. The rugby community isn’t some exclusive club, but it is a family that is always welcoming new members!


Nora Cowherd

Nora Cowherd

Nora is a Sophomore studying Classics at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. She is in her third season playing for Holy Cross Women's Rugby Football Club. She has been an athlete her whole life and her favorite type of exercise is a long run.