By DR. J. ZIMMERMAN
The Sharks rugby squad split the last two matches, winning big at home against the Philadelphia Gryphons, 55-7, in mid-September.
Liam Marshall of Longport was named “Man of the Match” for his multiple long breakaway runs resulting in a major points on the scoreboard. On Sept. 29, the Sharks hosted Brandywine Rugby Club in Galloway and had a rough time getting started, as the Sharks trailed 34-7 at halftime. The men in blue and gray were fired up after the halftime break and successfully put 19 points on the board while at the same time conceding none. Sadly, there was not enough time in the match to make the comeback truly remarkable and the Sharks lost, 34-26. “Man of the Match” was awarded to Tim Lenzsch Jr. from Somers Point.
The Sharks’ next match is Oct. 6 in Philadelphia against the first-place N.E. Irish Rugby Club. Our co-ed youth rugby league has started and takes place every Friday night, 6-7:30 p.m. in Galloway at Veteran’s Park, ages 6-14. New players are always welcome to join our men’s club (over age 18) and our youth league. No experience is necessary. We can turn any athlete into a rugby player!
Rugby is the second-most popular spectator sport in the world behind soccer (based on match attendance and TV analysis). It is also the fastest growing sport in the United States, growing at a rate of 13 percent faster than lacrosse. Rapidly expanding youth leagues, high school teams, college leagues and adult club divisions mixed with a new professional league shows the increasing popularity of rugby in the United States.
Since rugby is on such a rapid rise and the fall 15s season is upon us, it is the perfect time to discuss how the 15s game of rugby union is played.
Here is your Rugby 101.
The main attraction to rugby is its physicality mixed with speed and skill. This is why most people cannot look away, despite not knowing the rules, when they pass by a rugby match while browsing the television channels. Also, the fact that the games consist of 80 minutes of non-stop action with both teams defending and threatening to score at a moment’s notice makes rugby extremely exciting.
The main object of the game is to take an oval ball (larger than a football) and run the ball across a goal line. The ball progresses down the field by backward passes. Unlike American football, there is no forward passing. Once the player crosses the goal line, the score does not count unless the ball is touched down to the playing field with downward pressure. This is one of the reasons why you see rugby players diving over the goal line with the ball, trying to press the ball to the ground.

Tim Lenzsch of Somers Point was named the Sharks’ “Man of the Match” during a recent contest against Brandywine Rugby Club. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


Incidentally, when a player crosses the goal line and touches down, the score is called a “try” which is worth 5 points. Here is where it gets interesting. The point where the ball is touched down over the try line is where the kicker lines up to kick the extra point. The kicker has to move back about 25 yards from the try line and kick from the point of where the ball was touched down. If the player scores in the corner, the kick comes from that corner angle 25 yards back.
The kick is worth two points, which makes the conversion very important, and that is why the players will do their best to score a try and touch the ball down in the center of the goal posts, which takes some of the pressure off of the kicker. And that is not an easy feat since most of the time you are fighting to get across the line without being tackled.
Players will always take the five points where they can get them unless there is a chance of moving closer to the goal posts without losing the ball.
Since we are talking about scoring, if one team commits a major rule violation, the other team is awarded a penalty. The team awarded the penalty has three choices. If they are close to the goal posts, they can kick a “field goal” for three points. If they are even closer and feeling adventurous they can quickly grab the ball and go for a run toward the goal to score a try, or if they are far away in the other team’s territory they can kick the ball downfield out of bounds and receive the ball in their opponent’s territory.
Also, at any time during the match if a player has an opportunity, he or she can dropkick the ball through the posts for three extra points. Any player can attempt this if they have a chance. It is difficult to do and is usually used as a last resort when a team is down by two points and there is very little time left.
Speaking of time, rugby matches are 80 minutes long. They are divided into 40-minute halves with a 5- to 10-minute halftime. Substitutions are allowed (eight per team), but once a player leaves the field, they cannot come back into the game. Subs are used for injuries or for fresh legs near the end of the game to give a team a boost. These players are called game finishers and are just as talented and important to the team as the starters.
As far as the rules go, they are not complicated. First there are the minor rules. The ball cannot go forward, meaning no forward passes or dropping balls forward. Once a player is tackled they have to release the ball so that everyone has a fair shot at taking it. If any of these minor rules are broken, the other team is awarded the ball via a scrum.
A scrum is one of the unique aspects of rugby. It is like a face-off in hockey, but instead of involving two players it involves two sides of eight players each. The team that is awarded the scrum gets to “put-in” the ball or roll it into the scrum with the plan being that their team of eight will push over the ball and have the ball come out on their side for their team to recover and play. The problem is that the opposing team’s scrum is not supposed to cooperate. Their objective is to push back hard and try to win the ball for their team.
Scrums are fun to watch and an integral part of the game.
If a team commits a major rule violation, the opposite team is awarded a penalty. Penalties are major and can vary from illegal tackles to foul play to illegally blocking an obvious try. There is also an offsides rule and an obstruction rule. Some penalties result in a yellow card. The offending player is placed in the rugby “sin bin” and the offending team will play the match with one less player for 10 minutes. A red card means you have done something so bad you are out and cannot come back. Again, your team would be a player short for the duration of the match.
Lastly, one more aspect of rugby needs to be explained: If a ball is kicked or knocked out of bounds, the game needs to be restarted. This is accomplished with a line-out. As many as eight players from each team line up next to each other near the sideline and the team that didn’t knock the ball out of bounds gets to throw the ball in. Just like a jump ball in basketball, either team can recover the ball.
That’s it. Rugby 101 in a nutshell. A very simple game that is extremely fun and exciting. Every player on the field plays offense and defense. Every player gets to run the ball, every player has an opportunity to score. It’s awesome! I hope you enjoy your next match on TV or live at our field! Or, better yet, as a player on the Sharks!
Dr. J. Zimmerman is the president of the Jersey Shore Rugby Club Board of Directors. He is the men’s club head coach and director of youth rugby. Dr. J. is also the team chiropractor. For more information on Jersey Shore Sharks Rugby, including our high school rugby team, or if you are interested in playing, visit www.JerseyShoreRugby.com or on Facebook at Jersey Shore Rugby Club, or call 609-652-6363 or email Jerseyshoresharks@gmail.com.