Laws of Football as played at Rugby School (1871)

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1. A Drop-Kick, or Drop, is made by letting the ball fall from your hands on to the ground, and kicking it the very instant it rises.

2. A Place-Kick, or Place, is kicking the ball after it has been placed on the ground in a small nick made with the heel for that purpose.

3. A Punt consists in letting the ball fall from your hands, and kicking it before it touches the ground.

4. A Maul outside goal-line takes place when a player holding the ball is held by one or more players of the opposite side, and if he cannot get free of them or give the ball to some other of his own side (not in front of him) who can run with it, he cries, "Have it down," when

5. A Scrummage commences, i. e., the holder puts the ball down on the ground, and all who have closed round on their respective sides begin kicking at the ball.

(N. B. -- For a Maul inside goal, cf. Rule 13.)

6. A Fair Catch is a catch from a kick, or a knock on from the hand, but not from the arm of the opposite side, or a throw on, when the catcher makes a mark with his heel, provided no one else on his side touch the ball.


This Plan does not represent the shape, but only the arrangement of the ground; it is better to have it an oblong than a square.

Plan of the Field of Play (Rugby School, 1862).png

AA. AA. Lines of Goal.

PP. PP. Goal Posts.

TT. TT. Lines of Touch.

M. Imaginary place where mark is made after touch down in goal.

O. Imaginary place whence kicked.

Q,Q,Q,Q, Touch in Goal.


Football is played on a large level field or piece of ground, near either end of which is erected a goal, composed of two upright posts of indefinite height, exceeding 11ft., placed 16 in. apart, with a cross-bar 10ft. from the ground. From each goal a line is cut to the edge of the field, called the line of goal (AA AA), all the part behind this line is in goal, the part between the goals being the field of action. The sides are marked off by lines similar to the line of goal, and all the edge of the field outside them is said to be in touch. [The part behind the goal-line and also behind the touch-line is called touch in goal (QQ QQ).]. If the field in which the football is played is larger than the actual space in which the game is played, the touch-lines and goal-lines are considered as indefinitely produced. Thus much about the field.

The game is commenced by a place-kick (Def. 2) from the middle, the object of the game being to kick the ball over the adversary's goal, which can be done by any kind of kick except a punt. (Def. 3) A goal may be "dropped" in the course of the game, by any player over his adversary's goal. A goal may be "placed" either after a touch-down in goal, or after a fair catch. (Def. 6). The touch-down is accomplished in the following manner: Any player who catches the ball, either fair or on the bound (provided he be not off his side, vide Rule 6), may run with it if he can till he gets behind his adversary's line of goal, where he will touch it down as near as he can to the goal, if possible between the posts. This feat is called "running in". The method of kicking a goal after such a run is twofold.

A. If the touch-down be too far from the goal posts to try a goal (vide B), one of the side who touched it down takes it up, and makes a mark with his heel inside goal-line, then touches the ball down in that mark, retires a little, keeping inside goal-line, and then "punts" it out towards his own side, who spread out to catch it. The moment it is punted, the opposite side, who are standing at the mark and along the line of their goal, may charge as above, but if any of the other side have caught it and made his mark, they are obliged to stop charging and not go beyond the mark made by the catcher. He who has caught it may either, if desirable, take a second punt or proceed to place it for another to kick, as hereafter described in the case of a fair catch, or else has a drop at goal himself. In the latter case he may kick from as far behind the mark as he likes, and the opposite side may charge the moment he kicks the ball; or in any case if any but the catcher touch the ball, the opposite side may charge and maul him.

B. If the touch down be near enough to try a goal, then two of the side that touched it down are deputed by the head of the side to take it out -- one to place the ball on the ground, and the other to kick it. Then he who is going to kick it takes it up, brings it to the line of goal, and touches it down inside or on the goal-line, and in a line with the place at which the person who ran in touched it down; if the runner in touched it between the posts, he touches it down at either of the posts He then makes a mark with his heel on the spot, taking care to keep all the time within the line of goal (and touches it down in that mark as in A, v. supra.) The players of the opposite side may then come as far as the mark, but no farther, and stretch forward with a view of 'mauling' (v. infra) the two who are taking it out, if they do not succeed in the following action. The player who is to place-kick, goes just out of the reach of the opposite side who are stretching forward. He then, still standing within the goal-line, kicks the ball gently off his toe into the hands of the other, who is standing just outside the goal-line to receive it. The moment it is in his hands, he makes a mark with his heel outside the goal-line, and of course as far as he can stretch in the direction of the goal-posts, which his opponents may prevent if they can by charging, but not until the ball has left the toe of the player behind the goal-line. (This is called "mauling.") This however they cannot do when he has made his mark, so that only in the cases where they prevent his catching the ball, or he fails in making his mark directly, or makes it inside the goal-line, or touches the ball before it is off the toe of the other, do they succeed in mauling him. When he has made his mark, he carries the ball out in a line with the mark, at right angles to the goal-line, until it is at a suitable distance from the goal for a place-kick. A small nick is then made in the ground for the ball to rest upon, and in it he places the ball. If however the ball be touched when once outside goal by any but the player taking it out, the other side may charge or maul. The ball being placed in the nick the kicker takes a place-kick at it. The moment the ball is on the ground, the other side may charge from a line drawn through the mark made by the player who took it out parallel to the goal-line; but the kicker's side may not charge till the ball is actually kicked, and must all stand behind or on a level with the ball in accordance with the rules of on side. If the ball goes over the cross-bar, whether it touches or not, at whatever height, it is a goal. If it rises directly over the end of one of the posts, it is called a poster, and is no goal.

Whenever a fair catch is made (see Rule 4), the catcher makes his mark. At that mark and on a level with it the opposite side may stand, but not before it, and the catcher may either "drop" it himself or place it for another to place-kick it, at any distance behind his mark. The rules about charging for both sides are the same as in the case of a touch-down in goal, as described above. (B.)

If one of the opposite side succeed in touching the ball after it has been kicked and before it goes over the bar, it is no goal. When the ball goes outside the line of touch, except it pitch within 25 yards of the kicker's goal (in which case it must be brought out in a straight line from wherever it is first touched down), the first player who touches it down, takes it up and brings it up to the touch-line in a straight line from where it pitched, and (a) throws it out at right angles to the line of touch, where the players are standing in two lines to receive it, or (b) bounds it outside the line of touch, i.e., in the field of play, and runs with it, or "drops" it himself; or (c) walks out with it in his hands at right angles to the touch-lino, through the two lines of players as in (a), and puts it down at a distance of between 10 and 15 paces from touch-line, at his discretion, first declaring how many paces he intends to walk out.

When the ball goes into touch in goal it is considered as out of the field, and is taken out by the side whose goal it is, as if they had touched it down in their own goal (v. infra).

Whenever the ball goes into either goal, either it is touch down by one of the opposite side, as nearly as possible between the goal-posts, in which case it is proceeded with as in the case of a run in (see above), or if the ball be bounding, one of the side in whose goal it is takes it up and runs with it or "drops" it out of goal, or, if not bounding, kicks it out of goal, or touches it down in his goal, in which case the opposing side retire, and one of the side who touched it down takes it out, but not farther than 25 yards, and "drops" it. (Accordingly it is advisable to place posts on the touch-line to mark the 25 yards.) But if the ball when so dropped out pitch in touch, it must be brought back and the kick take place over again.

When the player has the ball, any of the opposite side may either maul him or pull him over, or get the ball from him, or else "hack" him over, but he may neither hack him and hold him simultaneously, nor may he hold him after the ball is gone, except in case of Rule 18.

Generally, three or four of the swiftest runners and most expert at dropping, remain some distance behind the rest, and are called "back-players," or "backs;" some, too, who are clever at "dodging," play "half-back," i.e., between the back players and the rest.


1. There must be two umpires for every Big Side and House Match, one appointed by each head of the side (either having the power of putting a veto on any one proposed by the other).

2. Kick-off from the middle must be a place-kick, and cannot count as a goal; the opposite side must stand at least 10 yards before the ball.

3. Kick-out must not be from more than 25 yards out of goal.

4. Charging is fair in case of a place-kick, as soon as the ball touches the ground, but the kicker's side may not charge till the ball has been kicked; in case of a drop-kick as soon as the player offers to kick, but he may always draw back unless he has actually touched the ball with his foot.

5. On side. A player is on side, when the ball has been (kicked, touched) or run with (5 yards) by any player on the opposite side.

6. Off side. A player is off side when the ball has been (kicked, touched) or is being run with by any of his own side behind him.

7. A player entering a scrummage on the wrong side is off side, and a player is off side even when a player on his own side has kicked the ball from behind him and then runs before him.

8. A player being off side is to consider himself out of the game, and is not to touch the ball in any case whatever (either in or out of touch), or in any way to interrupt the play, or obstruct any player.

9. Knocking on and throwing forward are disallowed; in case of this rule being broken a catch from such knock or throw shall be equivalent to a fair catch.

10. It is not lawful to pick up the ball off the ground (except in touch, or after it has been touched down in goal, to take it out) for any purpose whatever.

11. It is not lawful to take up the ball when rolling, as distinguished from bounding, and whenever the ball is (in the opinion of the umpires) unfairly taken up, it must be brought back to where it was taken up and put down.

12. In a scrummage succeeding a maul, it is not lawful to touch the ball with the hand, except in the event of a fair catch.

13. Maul in goal. When a player, holding the ball, is mauled by one or more of the opposite side, outside goal, and carried inside goal by the scrummage, then only those who are touching the ball with their hands may continue in the maul inside goal, and when a player has once released his hold of the ball he may not again join in the maul, and if he attempt to do so may be dragged out by the opposite side. (The object of such maul being, of course, to touch the ball down.)

But if a player running in is tackled inside goal-line, then only the player who first tackles him, or if two or three tackle him simultaneously, may join in the maul.

14. The goal-line is in goal.

15. First of his side is the player nearest the ball on his side.

16. Running in is allowed to any player on his side, provided he does not take the ball off the ground or through touch.

17. Running in. If in any case of a "run" the ball be held in a maul, it shall be lawful for a player on the same side to take it from the runner, provided he is at the time behind him.

18. Any player obtaining a ball in a maul must have it down as soon as possible when outside the 25 yards' posts, at his own end, and any player refusing to do so may be hacked.

19. Hacking above or on the knee, or with the heel, is unfair, and no player may be hacked and held at the same time, except in the case of Rule 18.

20. No one wearing projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots or shoes, shall be allowed to play.

21. Try at goal. A ball touched down between the goal-posts may be brought up to either of them, but not between them.

22. The ball when punted must be within, and when caught, without the goal-line (Vide Rule 13.)

23. No goal may be kicked from touch.

24. It shall be a goal if the ball go over the bar, whether it touch or no, without having touched the dress or person of any player, but no player may stand on the goal-bar to interrupt it going over.

25. A goal may be obtained by any kick except a punt. (Vide Def. 3.)

26. The match is won by either side obtaining two goals.

27. The part of the island which is in front of the line of goal is in touch, that behind it in goal.

28. The discretion of sending into goal rests with the heads of sides, and they are the sole arbiters of all disputes.

29. All matches are drawn after five days' play, or after three days if no goal has been kicked by either side.

30. Two Big Side balls must always be in the close during a Big Side.

31. No Football shall be played between the goals till the Sixth Match.

32. Three Præpostors constitute a Big Side, and the player highest in the school on each side shall toss up.

33. Old Rugbeians may play in any Big Side match, and strangers in any match (excepting the Sixth Match, the Old Rugbeian, and the Two Houses), with the consent of the heads of both sides; but only actual members of the school may have a place-kick at goal.

34. The walk and the grass up to the wall in front of the Headmaster's house, leading the Barby Road, is in goal; the path behind the island goal is also in goal.


  1. Compare with the first laws of the Rugby Football Union, dating from 1871.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.

The author died in 1924, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.