Rugby terminology explained: Everything you need to know!

Darcy Graham celebrates scoring their first try with Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell 12/2/2022
The Guinness Six Nations brings in fans from far and wide, some of whom have been following rugby for years and others who are brand new to the game.

The Guinness Six Nations brings in fans from far and wide, some of whom have been following rugby for years and others who are brand new to the game.

As Teen Wolf star Orny Adams showed us, it is not always easy for newcomers to understand everything that is going on, particularly because rugby has so much unique vocabulary.

With that in mind, we have put together a list of the basics that should help out anybody keen to learn.

And for those who missed it, make sure to check out our positions breakdown which will help you know your loosehead prop from your openside flanker.

So here we go, the terms you need to know before settling into Rugby’s Greatest Championship:


We’ll start with an easy one. Probably the most important word to learn in rugby. A try is scored when the ball is placed over the goal-line and before the dead-ball line of the opponent’s half. It is worth five points and is followed by a kick worth a further two points. Speaking of which…


The name of the kick after a try is a conversion. The kicker can take the conversion from wherever they like, provided it is in line with where the ball was touched down. The kicker will try to split the uprights and put the ball over the horizontal bar. For a try scored close to the posts, that can mean a very easy conversion, but for one scored out wide the goal-kicker faces a much stiffer challenge to add the extras.


If a try is the primary method of scoring in rugby, then penalties offer another valuable source of points. Penalties are awarded for a whole host of different infringements, and if they happen to be awarded within kicking distance of the posts, a team can choose to kick for goal for the chance of three points.

Drop goal

There is another method for kicking points, which comes in open play. A player can drop the ball onto the ground before kicking it, just as it hits the ground, to split the uprights as with a conversion or a penalty. Like a penalty, it is worth three points.

Penalty try

The final means of scoring points, a penalty try is awarded if a player on the defending team commits an infringement without which a try would probably have been scored. It is worth an automatic seven points, with no need for a conversion, and usually also results in a yellow card for the infringing player – we’ll get to them later!


A word you will hear a lot about during a game. A ruck is formed when the ball is on the ground and two opposing players on their feet meet over the ball. These generally occur after a player has been tackled and involve players from both sides then trying to win possession by counter-rucking.


Similar to a ruck, but this time the ball stays off the ground. This often happens if the player carrying the ball is tackled but does not go to ground. Quite often you will see a maul in an attacking situation, with a player then passing the ball back to his teammates also in the maul – which can move forward and be very difficult to stop. If a maul is stopped and the ball does not come out immediately, the defending team earns a scrum. Which is…


The eight forwards on each team bind together to restart the game after a range of different scenarios. The ball is introduced by the scrum-half and then usually hooked back by the hooker with their foot.


If the ball goes out of play, it must then be reintroduced through a lineout. This usually occurs with both teams lining up with the same number of players, and the hooker from the team who did not take the ball out of play throws it in. Players not in the lineout must stand ten metres back from play, allowing space to the team that wins the lineout to attack. If a penalty is awarded, players can kick the ball out of play and will get the throw-in at the resulting lineout.


A player who catches the ball on the full in their own 22 can call a mark which brings a temporary stop to the game. Opposition players must then retreat ten metres and the player who called the mark must then kick the ball to restart the game, either by kicking long or tapping with their boot and passing to a teammate.


One of the most complex laws in the sport, in simple terms, a player is offside if they are in front of the offside line. In open play, any player on the ball-carrier’s team who is in front of the ball is offside and must make the effort to retreat until they are back onside. Offside lines also exist around rucks and mauls and players must stay behind them or risk being penalised.


A term for the passage of play immediately after a tackle when teams compete for possession around a ruck.


A knock-on occurs when the ball bounces forward off the upper body of a player and either hits the ground or another player before it can be regathered. This results in a scrum to the opposition. An intentional knock-on, where a player deliberately knocks the ball forward to prevent an attack, is a penalty and often leads to a yellow card.

Forward pass

The name says it all. In rugby you must always pass the ball backwards, so a pass that goes forward is a forward pass and results in a scrum to the opposition, just like a knock-on.

Garryowen/Up and under

The term for a very high kick by the team in possession. This is usually done with the aim of recovering the ball when it lands, but further up the pitch.


A new law that was introduced in 2021. A team who kick the ball from their own half into the opposition 22, which then bounces into touch, are rewarded with the throw-in at the lineout.

Grubber kick

A low kick from the attacking team that bounces a few times on the ground and either puts the defending team in a difficult position to recover, or allows a chasing player to reach it and look to score a try.


At a ruck, a turnover occurs when a player from the defending team gets over the ball before any of the attackers teammates have arrived to support him. The defender puts his hands on the ball and picks it up to complete the turnover. If the attacker fails to release the ball, he is then penalised.


If a player is deemed to have committed an offence which is worth more than a penalty, they can be shown a yellow card. This can be due to dangerous play, a build-up of offences by a team, or cynical player. The player who is shown the yellow card must then spend the next ten minutes in the sin-bin. There is also a red card which sees the guilty player excluded for the remainder of the game.