In league you have six tackles (think downs) to make it to the end zone. In Union, you have as long as you can keep hold of the ball. Imagine Gridiron played like that. There would be a lot of running the ball up the gut.
Ladies and gentlemen, Rugby.
The idea is you get the ball and run with it. You are then tackled. Then a variation upon the following happens:
- You fall to the ground, and release the ball.
- Your mates run in and play stacks on.
- The other team runs in and plays stacks on.
- This is called a "ruck".
You then try to get the ball out with your feet, assuming you are not already paralyzed from the neck down, and then throw it to your mate and keep playing.
Only not really. Strangely there are many different ways of playing the game. You can
a) Throw the ball around and run fast. This looks cool. You can score lots of points, but it is risky. If you're not skilful enough, you'll either get a neat impact crater in your sternum from someone else's shoulder, or an opposing player with a good eye for trajectories and a better sense of timing will snatch it out of the air and quite possibly score at the other end. Like playing Spread Offence in the NFL.
b) Run the ball up the gut with your forwards (traditionally, the fat guys; nowadays, they generally look like they could run down a power lifter and eat them alive). Not so entertaining, but it works. This is the equivalent of the conservative "three yards and a cloud of dust" strategy for which the Big Ten was historically famous.
c) Either kick field goals (known as drop goals), or rely on the other team messing up and kicking penalty goals.
d) Kick for field position by kicking the ball into the other end of the ground making the opposition play the ball out, and hope they cough it up for you.
This may not sound like much, but there are quite a few philosophical approaches to the game which can produce many different results. For newcomers, it can be quite difficult to understand, but no more so than watching NFL for the first time.
Rugby Union is a version of football supposedly started at Rugby School in Warwickshire when a player picked up the ball and ran with it. It is played in Britain, France, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, a good proportion of the south Pacific, South Africa, Japan, and even (a little) in the U.S. note which has separate championships from normal Rugby Union and even different "great powers" - reigning Olympic Champion Fiji being a big name in Sevens but no match for New Zealand in fifteen on fifteen Rugby Union. However, Rugby Sevens, a shortened form of Union returned to the Olympics in 2016. Neither Fiji or Samoa had ever won an Olympic medal at any sport, and both are among the strongest sevens nations, so they were among the most ferocious competitors in Rio de Janeiro. And indeed Fiji brought home gold, endearing the world both to the plucky underdog nation and the sport's much faster paced "little cousin".
The differences from Rugby League (a related football code) are mostly subtle to outsiders. Union has 15-player teams; League has 13-player teams. Union is traditionally the gentlemen's game (though it can be played by women); League is the working-class game. This distinction is only (if ever) true for certain regions, specifically the North and South of England, with the North being a traditional stronghold of Rugby League and Union dominating across the South, and the North and South of France, where it's inverted, and the accusation is commonly used by League fans as an insult. It's also averted in Wales and New Zealand, among other places. However, in England at least, it holds true at international level. In 2013, 12 of the 24 members of the England squad were privately educated, while 12 were state educated (while one player, Ben Foden, managed to be both). Only 7% of the entire British population is privately educated. By contrast, 6 of the 33-man Rugby League Squad were privately educated. This is still disproportionate, but less obviously so.
Players can and do cross codes from one to the other (usually from League to Union these days; back in the 80's the reverse was true, mainly because League was professional while Union was still amateur) and some, like legendary England winger Jason Robinson are very successful. Others, not so much. Rugby League is also a bit more similar to American Football than Union (the limited number of tackles/downs for instance) and a handful of players have tried crossing over, one even making it to the NFL. Even more recently, converts from American football to rugby sevens have turned the USA men's sevens team into a major threat to that code's traditional powers, with Team USA finishing a narrow second to Fiji in the 201819 World Rugby Sevens Series. The only player to date to have been named by World Rugby as its (men's) Sevens Player of the Year more than once is Perry Baker, who played NCAA Division II football and in the Arena Football League before converting to sevens, leading the Sevens Series in tries in 201617, and being named as World Player of the Year for 2017 and 2018. Another former D-II football player, Carlin Isles, led the Sevens Series in tries in 201718 and 201819.
The differences between both versions of Rugby and American Football are much greater: players wear no body armour beyond a gum shield and an optional scrum-cap, and play continues without interruption and time-outs for much longer. Also, no forward passing under any circumstances, you're not allowed to tackle someone not holding the ball and to get the points for a try (think touchdown) you must be holding onto the ball when it is placed onto the ground. (There have been numerous instances of amateur players forgetting about this and spiking the ball.) This applies to both codes, which tend to share a disdain for the perceived softness of American Football and delight in mocking it to that end. Rupert Giles sums it up by saying, with a hint of mockery, "I just think it's rather odd that a nation that prides itself on its virility should feel compelled to strap on forty pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby."
However, things aren't quite that simple - a good rule of thumb is that Rugby has almost no protective gear and fairly strict rules about what you can do to people, and American Football has a lot of protective gear and almost no rules about what you can do to people. Also, American Football players run the gamut from very big and heavy to rather lightweight - especially at the semi pro level. In Rugby, while there are certain positions that tend to attract players of more or less weight, the specialisation is a lot less pronounced than it used to be - Forwards used to be huge, fat and slow,(Unless they were flankers, who were - and are - huge,very chunky and frighteningly quick) while Backs, especially wingers, were small and fast. The last great example of the latter was Shane 'Shimmering Shane' Williams, a 5'8" multiple Grand Slam Winner with Wales and was called up to the Lions squad (composed of the best players in the British Isles) as injury cover at the age of 36 when he'd be due to fly out as a commentator. (In the end, he didn't play in any of the Tests, though he did turn out for midweek matches.)
Now, the backs are usually faster, less hairy and more technical versions of the forwards, who have themselves slimmed down, skilled up and sped up. Indeed, it's not out of the ordinary to have a winger who's actually heavier than some forwards. The Trope Maker and Trope Codifier for today's giant wingers was late All Blacks great Jonah Lomu, who weighed in at about 260 pounds (a touch less than 120 kilos). Since then, many modern wingers approach or even exceed Lomu's size, with current examples including Wales' George North, who clocks in at "only" 240 pounds, and Fijian Nemani Nadolo, who's listed at close to 300 pounds. You do not want someone like that coming at you without any protection. In other words, everyone is a Lightning Bruiser.
As with most sports codified and then popularised around the world via the British, the pinnacle of the game is the competition between international teams. As with most sports in general, there is a Tier System in which certain teams are generally more likely to triumph over others. The thing about rugby however is that, due to the complexity and physical intensity of the game and the variety of differing ways to score, major upsets are fairly rare. When you go up against a significantly better rugby team than you, you can generally expect that you will be beaten. This has the effect (appropriately, perhaps, for a sport that emerged in Britain) of producing a sort of "caste system" in both domestic club competitions and the international circuit. At the top rung are the nations defined by the sport's governing body as "Tier 1" teams - the best of the best, all of whom have or are involved in professional or semi-professional competitions each year.
These teams can also be divided based on which hemisphere they are found in, as this determines which transnational competitions they compete in. In the Northern Hemisphere, these are England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales. In the Southern Hemisphere, they consist of Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Note that, with the curious exceptions of Italy, France and Argentina, all of these nations were once part of the British Commonwealth, which is how the game was popularised there. And Argentina really isn't that large of an exceptionBritish expats, who played a major role in Argentina's industrial development, brought the sport to the country in the 1870s.
As time goes by the dominance of the top teams is diminishing - at the 2015 World Cup, Japan stunned South Africa and pretty much the rest of the world by recording a win over the Springboks, which was also their second ever win in the entire history of the World Cup (with their first coming against Zimbabwe in 1991). For reference, South Africa had won the whole thing twice at the time of Japan's upset, and were (and still are) at any given time very likely to be in the top 3 teams in the world. Japan, by contrast, had never been higher in the world rugby rankings than ninth... until the next World Cup at home, when they took down Ireland and Scotland in group play. The Boks got a measure of revenge, defeating Japan in the quarterfinals on the way to their third World Cup.
It is one of the few sports that the English can claim to be genuine world beaters at, with their making appearances in four out of nine Rugby World Cup finals and winning it once, with that famous drop goal from Jonny Wilkinson in 2003. They're the one Northern Hemisphere team that can consistently (i.e. not counting the French) go into matches against the Wallabies and the Springboks with even odds of winning, and with the All Blacks with even odds of not being absolutely thrashed. The England rugby team is renowned both for the poshness of the players, as mentioned above, and for the sheer power of the forward pack (think linemen and linebackers). Whatever state the rest of the team is in, the England scrum is generally a thing to be feared and always a force to be reckoned with.
That said, they are still an English sports team and as such are never all that far away from a really spectacular public collapse. Even with this general tendency, they outdid themselves in 2015, becoming the first sole hosts of a World Cup to fail to make it past the group stage after an injury hit Wales squirmed past them at Twickenham. They bounced back very quickly, however, to win their first Six Nations Grand Slam in 13 years; they made it all the way to second in the world and stayed there as recently as March 2018, but a disappointing 2018 Six Nations campaign dropped them to fourth, and they dropped as low as fifth before clawing their way back up the rankings and making the 2019 World Cup final, losing there to South Africa. (England ended the 2019 RWC at #3 in the rankings.) In Sevens, Team GB did quite respectably for itself, coming in second at the inaugural Olympic men's tournament behind dominant Fiji. The women's side placed fourth behind Canada, New Zealand and gold medallists Australia.
Rugby is also one of the best places to find proof of the non-wussiness of the French, who love the sport and on their day dominate, challenging the likes of the All Blacks. When it isn't their day, the Home Nations tend to roll straight over them. Interestingly, it surpasses even (association) football in popularity in the southern part of the country (particularly the région of Midi-Pyrénées, which despite being cobbled together from disparate provinces to create a région for Toulouse to call its own has developed a strong identity around rugby).
The Italians, meanwhile, had each of the other teams in the Six Nations regarding their match against Italy as a chance to rack up points and have a bit of fun. However, after years of pushing and patiently developing a formidable forward pack, they finally beat Scotland in 2015 and ran (an admittedly very off-form) Wales close in a World Cup warm-up match later that year. That said, even their own players admit that they lack strength in depth, and the Azzurri have lost every Six Nations match they've played since that win over Scotland (27 in a row following the 2020 6N).note
In Wales and New Zealand, it is something close to a national religion, with both nations dominating their regions note despite their relatively minuscule populations. Wales are perennial favourites for the Six Nations title (though in a good year, there are at least four serious challengers for the title) and completed the Grand Slam, defeating all five other teams, four times in the 21st century (2005, 2008, 2012, 2019). New Zealand extend this dominance worldwide, and the All Blacks have long since developed a global reputation for invincibility which is only rarely challenged.
Indeed, the All Blacks are unique in international sports in that they have a winning record against every single team that they have ever played.note Consequently, it has historically been considered a major achievement for any of the Northern Hemisphere superpowers (England, France, Ireland and Wales) to even run the All Blacks close: France have won the most encounters with New Zealand with 12 from 61. England have won 8 from 42, Wales 3 from 35 (and they haven't won since 1953...) and Ireland only 2 from 31, with their first win not coming until their 29th attempt in 2016 (in, of all places, Chicago). Their closest competitors, the Springboks of South Africa, have a record of 3658, plus four draws, against New Zealand. The next-closest, Australia's Wallabies, have a record of 50133, plus seven draws, against New Zealand. However, these records reflect the entire history of said countries in the sport. In the professional era (since August 1995), the Boks are 1540 with one draw against the All Blacks,note and the Wallabies are 1747 with two draws. It should be noted that both the Boks and Wallabies are nearly as invincible for other teams that aren't New Zealand, with only England, Ireland, Wales, and France (the latter two on their better days) generally giving them a contest. The Boks can't manage a 40% win rate against New Zealand, and the Wallabies can't even get to 33%.
The Southern Hemisphere teams tend to have nicknames: South Africa are known as the Springboks, Australia as the Wallabies, Argentina as the Pumas and New Zealand, most famously, as the All Blacks. The Northern Hemisphere teams, however, don't, save for the French team called Les Bleus, and the Italians, the Azzurri (confusingly, both teams' names translate to "the blues", though for entirely unconnected reasons). With that being said, the British and Irish Lions, a touring side made up of the best players in the British Isles, are usually just referred to as 'the Lions'. Note that the official symbol of the All Blacks is a silver fern, while Les Bleus are supposedly designated by a rooster. However, all the British teams are commonly associated with a flower - a red rose for England, a leek/daffodil for Wales, a thistle for Scotland and a shamrock for Ireland.
- The Rugby World Cup Held every four years in the year before the Summer Olympics, this is the sport's highest prize for national teams. The victors receive the Webb Ellis Trophy, named for William Webb Ellis, apocryphally credited with creating the game. Due to the same quirks of history which resulted in the game going professional only in 1995, almost a century after it was created, the Rugby World Cup has only been running since the 1980s. However, with the primacy placed on international competition in the sport, it has already become the grandest stage on which to perform in all of rugby union. South Africa are the reigning champions, winning in 2019 in Japan.
- The Six Nations Championship Europe's premier national competition, currently involving the Northern Hemisphere's six top teamsEngland, France, Ireland,note Italy, Scotland, and Wales. The event grew out of a competition informally known as the Home Nations Championship, involving the British and Irish sides only and launched in 1883. France joined in 1910, creating the Five Nations, but were kicked out after the 1931 edition. They were invited back after the 1939 edition, but World War II ended international rugby in Europe until 1947. The competition became the Six Nations with Italy's entry in 2000. The competition is held as a single round-robini.e., each team plays the others once. The current champions are England, who won the 2020 championship after months of delays due to COVID-19. Any team that defeats all 5 others in the same season earns the Grand Slam; the last country to do so was Wales in 2019. The bottom team gets the so-called 'wooden spoon', a tradition that goes back to the 1890s, if not before. These days it's usually held by Italy, but both Wales and France have held it before (once each), and it used to regularly be held by Scotland, leading to the mocking song sung by English fans, 'O spoon of Scotland...' to the tune of their national anthem.
- The Rugby Championship Created as the Tri Nations Series in 1996, shortly after the sport became professional, and initially involving South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. In 2012, Argentina was invited to join and the competition adopted its current name. It's played in a home-and-away format except in World Cup years, in which it's truncated into a single round-robin series. The governing body is SANZAAR, a joint venture between the governing bodies of the participating countries (originally SANZAR until Argentina became a full member in 2016). South Africa are the reigning champions, having won the abbreviated 2019 edition, but New Zealand won the previous three editions, all played in the normal home-and-away format.
- Rugby World Cup Sevens Traditionally the top prize for national sevens teams, it was first held in 1993. The winner receives the Melrose Cup, named after the Scottish town where sevens was first played. When sevens was added to the Olympic program for 2016, it was initially decided that the World Cup Sevens would be scrapped after 2013. However, it was later decided to retain the World Cup, with the next edition held in 2018 and future editions every four years thereafter. New Zealand have won the two most recent editions (Moscow in 2013, San Francisco in 2018).
- World Rugby Sevens Seriesnote An annual series of tournaments for national sevens teams conducted since 19992000. The 201920 series was scheduled to make 10 stops: Dubai, South Africa (Cape Town), New Zealand (Hamilton), Australia (Sydney), the USA (the Los Angeles suburb of Carson, California), Canada (Vancouver), Hong Kong, Singapore, England (London), and France (Paris). However, COVID-19 cut the season short. Each tournament involves 16 teams competing for two distinct trophies, plus points toward the overall series championship. Fifteen of these teams are "core teams" that compete in each event during a given season. The Hong Kong event incorporates a separate 12-team tournament that, since the 201314 season, has been used for core team qualification for the following season. The winner of this tournament is assured a core team place in the next season, replacing the core team that finished with the fewest points at the end of the series. New Zealand have traditionally dominated this series, with 13 titles in all, but their win in the abbreviated 201920 season was their first since 2014. The other nations to have won are Fiji (four times), South Africa (three), and Samoa (one).
- There are also a number of parallel women's competitions to the above, which draw far less interest. A brief rundown:
- Rugby World Cup Historically known as the Women's Rugby World Cup, but in 2019 the sport's governing body, World Rugby, officially removed gender-specific language from the name of the World Cup. First held in 1991, but outside the authority of World Rugby. WR took over sponsorship in 1998, but didn't officially recognise the 1991 and 1994 editions until 2009. Currently held every four years; New Zealand won the most recent edition in Ireland in 2017.
- Women's Six Nations Much like its men's counterpart, it began as an event for the Home Nations, though not until 1996. France joined in 1999; Ireland left in 2000 and was replaced by Spain. It became the Six Nations with Ireland's return in 2002. In 2007, the (men's) Six Nations committee took over the tournament, kicking Spain out in favor of Italy to align the two competitions. The current holders are England, who won the 2020 title with a round to spare and went on to claim the Grand Slam.
- Rugby World Cup Sevens The women's version, held at the same site and the same time as the men's tournament, was first held in 2009 in Dubai. As in the case of the men's tournament, New Zealand have won the last two editions.
- World Rugby Women's Sevens Series Launched in 201213 with four events; had either five or six in each subsequent season through 201819. The 201920 season was planned to be the first with eight stops, six of which were to be held at the same time and venue as a men's Sevens Series event. Only the USA and Canada stops are standalone events. The events are in the USA (the Denver suburb of Glendale, Colorado), Dubai, Cape Town (new for 201920), New Zealand (Hamilton; new for 201920), Australia (Sydney), Hong Kong (new for 201920), Canada (the Victoria, BC suburb of Langford), and France (Paris). An event in Japan (Kitakyushu) was temporarily removed from the schedule due to the country being scheduled to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. However, COVID-19 also cut short that season (and forced the Olympics to be moved to 2021). Each tournament features 12 teams (instead of the 16 in the men's version), with 11 core teams. Promotion and relegation operates in the same manner as in the men's series, with a core team qualifying tournament structure similar to that used on the men's side. The reigning champions are New Zealand, which have won every season except one (Australia in 201718).
- Super Rugby - A contest between domestic teams (generally referred to as franchises rather than clubs) from the SANZAAR nations (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina), plus one, slightly token team from Japan. It is contested annually, and as you'd expect from a competition featuring teams from some of the best rugby nations in the world, the quality is generally considered to be second only to international rugby. This is somewhat debatable at times, and for years there has been a lengthy argument to be had regarding the devaluing or otherwise of the competition as it slowly expanded. It started life as a competition between 6 provincial sides from Australia and New Zealand, but gradually expanded to incorporate a total of 18 franchises (5 each for New Zealand and Australia, 1 from Argentina, 1 from Japan and 6 from South Africa - the sixth South African team being added partially for money but mainly for domestic political reasons).
Further changes were announced in 2019 the Japanese side, the Sunwolves, were to be axed after the 2020 season, after which the competition was intended to return to a single round-robin format, followed by a 6-team playoff. However, COVID-19 led to the effective demise of Super Rugby, at least in its previous form. With travel restrictions in place throughout and between the SANZAAR countries, the Australian and New Zealand sides respectively established their own fully-domestic competitions, Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa. South Africa, under much more severe lockdown conditions for several months, could not immediately launch its own domestic mini-league, but began Super Rugby Unlocked in October 2020. After a row between the Aussie and Kiwi national federations, both countries decided to continue with their domestic-only leagues for at least 2021. South Africa then made a long-rumoured pivot toward European competition. One of the two teams that had moved to Pro12 folded, and the 202021 season will be the last in Europe for the other. The country's four remaining Super Rugby sides are now all but certain to move en masse to that competition, expanding it to Pro16. A further sign of this expansion is that the aforementioned four SA sides will play in the Rainbow Cup against Pro14 sides in the northern spring of 2021; this will also give SA players needed high-level playing time to prepare for that year's British and Irish Lions tour of SA.
Under its various guises, Super Rugby has been a showcase of "basketball" style rugby, played in generally agreeable weather on firm grounds by teams whose primary concern after winning is to put on a great show. It helped that the big four countries' "playing styles" from which franchises were drawn have an interesting dynamic based on a cultural disposition to play a certain brand of rugby - the Australian and New Zealand teams favour skilful passing and inspired unstructured play (with the Australians far more unpredictable for both good and ill), South African teams share the Springboks' mastery of the set piece, and the Argentines make it a point to beat the living daylights out of their opponents - surely an exciting spectacle when you see the techniques thrown against each other. The tournament's supervising body also aims to encourage a grand spectacle. It has seen a fairly broad spread of winners, with the most successful teams unsurprisingly tending to hail from New Zealand - but both Australian and South African teams have won it as well, and the Argentine side made the 2019 final. The Crusaders of New Zealand won the last three titles before the competition's effective breakup (20172019), also winning Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2020.
- European Rugby Champions Cup - Broadly speaking the Northern Hemisphere equivalent of Super Rugby, this is an international competition between the best teams from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy (although the Italian sides are very much also-rans). Because the season is more fragmented in the Northern Hemisphere and also because the national competitions are stronger and run at roughly the same time, this competition is more truncated than Super Rugby - where the latter runs for 17 regular season rounds followed by 3 elimination rounds, the former has only 6 regular season rounds before the elimination stage. Like Super Rugby the competition undergoes periodic mutation, but has remained more stable in structure.
- Top 14 - the premier French domestic competition. 14 (clever, eh?) teams compete against each other across 26 regular season games and a six-team playoff, with two quarterfinals, a pair of semifinals and a final. The final, normally at Stade de France in the inner Paris suburb of Saint-Denis (though held in Barcelona in 2016 due to a scheduling conflict with UEFA Euro 2016), is one of France's biggest sporting events and has a party atmosphere. The competition has been running since 1892 and is without much question the most popular non-international domestic competition in the world. The French, it turns out (especially in the south), are crazy about rugby, and the T14 is rapidly becoming rugby's equivalent of the English Premier League, with star players from around the world turning out in front of huge, rabid crowds and being paid comparatively substantial sums of money.
- Gallagher Premiership - the English domestic competition. 12 teams from around the country compete every year across 22 regular season games (playing each opponent once at home and once away), two semi-finals and one grand final, played out at the home of English rugby, Twickenham Stadium. Very much plays second fiddle to the Top 14 in terms of revenue and even the Pro14 in terms of viewership, but despite this the Gallagher Premiership is one of the top leagues in the world and is slowly gaining pace and success. In particular, the standard of rugby played in the Premiership is generally considered, currently at least, to be higher than the Pro14 and more interesting than the Top 14, and the increase in commercial success is starting to mean that the best international players are increasingly being drawn to England over France (though the language issue is also likely a factor). Like the T14 it operates with a promotion and relegation model, but the more amicable relationship between the English national administration and the clubs compared to the situation in France and the less frenzied financial pressures mean that teams are not quite as risk-averse. The reigning champions, in a season that was interrupted by months due to COVID-19, are Exeter Chiefs.
- Guinness Pro14 - formerly (and in some quarters unofficially still) known as the Celtic League,note as Pro12 before its most recent expansion in 2017, this is a curious beast by domestic rugby standards, involving an international domestic competition at the level below the ERCC. As of its current 202021 season (delayed due to COVID-19), it consists of 4 teams from Ireland (including Ulster which overlaps with Northern Ireland), 4 from Wales, 2 from Scotland, 2 from Italy (who were just happy to be invited), and 1 from South Africa. Yes, that makes only 13 teams... keep reading for the explanation. Played to the same general structure as the Gallagher Premiership, it has higher viewing figures thanks to being played across a less concentrated population. The standard of rugby, at least among the top teams, is very high and several teams who contest the Pro14 have gone on to become famous European champions. In particular the Irish provinces (it's a local thing) of Leinster and Munster enjoyed something of a golden age in the 00s, and after a decline in the first part of the 2010s are on the rise again. The other thing to note about the Pro14 is that it doesn't have promotion or relegation, meaning teams are free to play in a more carefree, Southern Hemisphere-esque fashion than they are in the Gallagher Premiership or Top 14. The three-time reigning champions are Leinster, which completed the rare double of domestic/regional and continental titles in 2018 and missed out on a chance to repeat the double by losing to Saracens (out of London) in the 2019 ERCC final.
- The competition began in 2001 as strictly a Celtic affair, involving Irish provinces, Scottish super-districts, and top-level Welsh clubs. Two years later, Wales regionalised its top tier of rugby, going from nine clubs to four regions. (The clubs turned into developmental operations for the regions.) In 2010, two Italian sides were added, bringing the competition to 12 teams. Next, the two clubs that South Africa had axed from Super Rugby after its 2017 season were invited to join from the 201718 season forward. The league duly changed its name to Pro14 at that point.note Most recently, one of the two South African sides, the Southern Kings (Port Elizabeth), was liquidated in 2020 after an intended takeover bid collapsed in fraud. The Cheetahs (Bloemfontein) are playing in the 202021 season, but after that will leave the league. South Africa's "Big Four" Super Rugby sidesthe Bulls (Pretoria), Lions (Johannesburg), Sharks (Durban), and Stormers (Cape Town)are now likely to join, making the league Pro16.
- Before the first South African expansion was announced, the league was discussing an expansion into North America, with Georgia (the country) and Germany also pushing to be included. In the end, nothing came of it.
- Mitre 10 Cup - New Zealand's premier entirely domestic competition, and thus arguably the highest quality (on average at least) rugby competition in the world. It is however not particularly well-known outside of rugby mad New Zealand, for the simple reason that Super Rugby is generally treated as the Southern Hemisphere equivalent of the domestic competitions listed above. All the same if your primary concern is watching the highest consistent levels of skill on a regular basis the Mitre 10 is probably where you should look. It operates with a promotion and relegation structure, but the New Zealand rugby culture means that it still averages a very high number of tries scored per game, which is usually a hallmark of both high quality and teams playing with risk and abandon. The Mitre 10 also functions, like all domestic competitions, as the pipeline for the next generation of rugby talent, so it provides an opportunity to see up-and-coming All Blacks as they first arrive on the scene - along with the current ones in fact, because the competition runs at a different time to Super Rugby (Aotearoa) and thus allows players to keep getting games in and honing their skills when normally they'd be in the off-season. The reigning champions are Auckland.
- Currie Cup - the South African equivalent of the Mitre 10. As with the Mitre 10 the CC has a comparatively low profile, but South Africa is sufficiently rugby mad that it still has a decent buzz surrounding it. The competition has been running since 1892, and is probably the most efficient way to watch a combination of rugby, and men getting put through the wringer South African rugby has a well-deserved reputation for physicality, and the players who compete in it are no shrinking violets. The reigning champions are the Free State Cheetahs, playing out of Bloemfontein as the main feeder side for the Cheetahs of Pro14.
- The National Rugby Championship - Australia's equivalent to the Mitre 10 and Currie Cup competitions. The NRC is, in contrast to most other domestic rugby competitions, very young indeed, having been established in 2014 (although there have been other similar competitions in the past). Rugby faces a unique challenge in Australia - although the only major rugby countries where it is the most popular sport are New Zealand and Wales, in most of the rest of the world it only really has to compete with Association Football (and maybe Gaelic games in Ireland) for the public's affections. In Australia however, not only is rugby not the most popular national sport, not only is it not the second most popular sport, it isn't even the second most popular form of football. Association Football, Rugby League and Australian Rules Football are all generally more popular than rugby union, not to mention the national obsession that is cricket. As a result Aussie rugby has generally been slightly anaemic at the domestic level, fuelled mainly by intense popularity among the nation's private schools and a few local club competitions (especially in the state of New South Wales). The NRC represents the latest attempt to surpass that obstacle and raise the profile of the game among Australia's sports-mad population - as yet the jury is out on how successful that attempt is. The NRC has had either eight or nine teams since it formed; it started out with nine, but one of Sydney's three original sides went belly-up after the 2015 season. The league returned to nine teams in 2017 with the arrival of the Fijian Drua, which joined as part of a regional initiative to improve the 15-man game in the Pacific islands.note A second Sydney side folded just before the 2018 season, which the Drua won. The reigning champions are the Western Force from Perth, which had been axed from Super Rugby after that competition's 2017 season.
- The USA is now on its second try at a truly professional league. The first attempt, PRO Rugby, was founded in late 2015 and was initially planned to involve 6 teams, but ended up with only 5 when play started in 2016. These teams competed against each other home and away, with the winner (unusually in rugby, which has embraced the end-of-season playoff concept in virtually all domestic competitions) determined by the highest placed team at the end of the season. PRO Rugby was in a slightly awkward position lying somewhere between "professional rugby competition" and "proof of concept", but its first season was considered a success based on performance vs. expectations. However, the league found itself in a nasty dispute with USA Rugby (the national federation), including claims of unpaid wages by some of the league's highest-profile players, that caused the league to fold before it got a chance at a second season. The plans of the former Pro12 to expand into North America also didn't help matters. The inaugural and only champions were the Denver Stampede. After a year without a pro league, and the end (for now) of Pro14's North American expansion plans, the void was filled by Major League Rugby, which launched in 2018 with teams from Austin, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and Seattle. The original seven teams were joined in 2019 by sides from New York City and Toronto, plus teams from Atlanta, Boston, and Washington, D.C. in 2020. The league currently operates on a single-entity model much like Major League Soccer, with the league owning all teams and the team operators being shareholders in the league. Of note in this regard, several serious investors bought into the league in the 201920 offseason. The Scottish Rugby Union took a minority interest in the incoming DC side, Australian fitness entrepreneur Adam Gilchrist (not the Aussie cricket great) bought the Austin team, and Top 14 power Clermont bought a piece of the New Orleans side. Several major international stars on the downside of their careers also signed up, among them Wallabies Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane, and Drew Mitchell; All Blacks Ma'a Nonu, Rene Ranger, and Adam Thomson; Springbok Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira; France's Mathieu Bastareaud; and England's Ben Foden. Unlike PRO Rugby, MLR ends its season with a four-team playoff. The Seattle Seawolves have won both MLR titles to date; COVID-19 led to the cancellation of the 2020 season.
- On a much lower profile to the above competitions, the Welsh Premiership is the highest level of purely domestic Rugby in Wales and was where (prior to the consolidation of Welsh professional Rugby into regional sides in what is now the Pro14) most of the Welsh national side played their week-in-week-out Rugby, though it is now a mixture of professional and semi-pro players. With many of the biggest teams coming from small towns or large villages in the notoriously rainy Valleys, in contrast to the running Rugby displayed in the Southern Hemisphere, this is often your archetypical muddy, cold, windy, rough and unpleasant Rugby environment. Rugby is slaughter indeed.
- The Lions Tour - a quadrennial tour by the British and Irish Lions (generally abbreviated to simply 'the Lions'), a squad composed of the best players in the British Isles, of one of the three traditional Southern Hemisphere nations (i.e., not counting Argentina). Traditionally, the Lions play several warm-up games against provincial sides or top club teams before taking on the national team in three matches. The results are generally fairly even; there has not been a whitewash since the All Blacks swept the Lions 30 in 2005. The 2009 tour of South Africa ended with the Springboks winning the Test series 21; the 2013 tour of Australia resulted in the same Test series score, but with the Lions winning; and the most recent tour of New Zealand in 2017 saw a drawn Test series (111). On the latter tour, the ABs convincingly won the first Test 3015, the Lions came back to win the second Test 2421, and the final Test ended 1515, with the ABs literally inches from a series-winning try. This was the Lions' first drawn Test series since their series with the Boks in 1955.
See Rugby Laws to get an understanding of how the game works.
- One episode of Full Metal Panic! has Sōsuke putting the once mellow and wimpy school Rugby team through some extreme training that turns them outright murderous.
- The manga No Side is centered on a terrible university rugby team that has just picked up a girl as its star player. She's the reincarnation of their old captain (sorta).
- Llamedosian Rules Fifteen-A-Side Foot-The-Ball is explored as a sub-theme in A.A. Pessimal's tale Gap Year Adventures. The culture surrounding "llamedosian Rules" is viewed largely via the Springboeks, a side playing in the senior Ankh-Morpork league who are drawn from emigrants from Rimwards Howondaland. A game between the Bokkies and the Fourecksian Wallabies is discussed in detail. Other Ankh-Morpork teams mentioned are the Harlequins (Fools' Guild senior XV),note the Wasps (Guild of Assassins),note the Barbarians (Young Men's Pagan Association),note and a representative team from the Foggy Islands that plays all in black. The sort of rousing songs players might give voice to are also discussed. One little ditty about Auntie Tina is quoted, with hand-gestures to get the point across to those who cannot speak Vondalaans. note
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life has a Rugby game with students vs teachers.
- Invictus is pretty much about the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
- Rob from Get Fuzzy is a Rugby Union fan, despite being American.
- Blackout Rugby is an online rugby union management game.
- Rocket Power featured a New Zealander boy named Trent teaching rugby to Otto and his friends.