One of the best ways to dip your toe in the waters that are a new sport is to understand how points are scored.

Not only does understanding the scoring provide you with a fundamental understanding of the game, but it also allows you to pick up on strategies, tactics, and the logic behind the decisions that are made throughout the course of a match.

As we try to grow the sport of rugby, one of the best places to start is by introducing all of the ways to score points in a rugby union match. If you are familiar with the scoring system in American football, rugby scoring won’t be too hard to understand.

Try – 5 points

A try in rugby is very similar to a touchdown in football. As a matter of fact, touching the ball down to the ground (grounding the ball) in the in-goal (endzone) is the way to complete the act of scoring the try. To score a try, the ball carrier must be over the goal line and apply downward pressure on the ball. In the video below, Chad London finishes the act of scoring a try by diving over the line and onto the ball in the in-goal.

Not all tries look like the one in the video above, though. Sometimes the ball is grounded against the pads that cover the posts and that will also count as a successful try. In the video below, you will see Jordan Manihera ground the ball into the post because that’s his best option for the try.

If the ball slips out or is knocked out of the ball carrier’s hand, that player has just committed a knock-on and the other team gains possession of the ball. While I couldn’t find any botched tries that have taken place in Major League Rugby, here is a compilation of botched tries from around the world.

One of the advantages to a try not being completed until the ball is grounded is that it allows for the ball to be strategically placed to make the conversion attempt that follows easier. In the video below, you will see Robbie Petzer run to the middle of the in-goal before grounding the ball. This is because the conversion will be easier to attempt from right in between the posts rather than from the left of the posts.

Conversion – 2 points

As previously mentioned, a conversion takes place after a try is scored and is dependant on where the ball is grounded. The person attempting the conversion can bring the ball as far back as they’d like, but the ball must stay on the vertical plane of where the try was scored. That’s why working to ground the ball towards the middle of the posts to make the conversion attempt easier is so important.

It is very similar to an extra point attempt in football in the sense that the ball is teed up and has to be kicked through the pipes to count. Unlike in football, where the team that scored the touchdown can opt for an extra point or try for a two-point conversion, kicking the conversion is the only option after a try is scored.

You’ll see in the video below, that J.P. du Plessis grounds the ball in the corner of the in-goal for the San Diego Legion. Because of where du Plessis grounded the ball, Joe Pietersen must make the conversion from a tough angle to help the Legion advance to the 2019 MLR Championship.

Penalty Goal – 3 points

When a team commits a penalty, the team on the receiving end of the penalty is presented with a few options to restart play. Those options are:

  • Scrum
  • Kick to touch
  • Quick tap
  • Take a shot at a penalty goal

When a team elects to attempt a penalty goal, they must attempt the kick from wherever the penalty occurred. Just as a field goal can be attempted from anywhere on the field in football, a penalty goal can be attempted from anywhere on the rugby pitch.

As you’ll see in the video below, a NOLA Gold player commits a penalty down near their own in-goal for not wrapping up during his tackle attempt. Considering the match is in stoppage time and the Raptors trail by two points, the best option on the table is to attempt a penalty goal (kick for post), which is exactly what Robbie Petzer does to seal the match for Colorado.

Drop Goal – 3 points

This is something that has only happened a few times in MLR’s existence, but it’s something that does happen and almost always alters the match when it happens. Unlike a conversion or penalty goal, which both happen during breaks in a match, a drop goal happens during the play. A player must complete a drop kick, like Doug Flutie did for the New England Patriots in 2006, by bouncing the ball off the ground and kicking it through the pipes during the action.

One of the best examples of a drop goal occurred in the 2019 MLR Championship match when Joe Pietersen of the San Diego Legion hit a 40-meter attempt to give his side a four-point lead over the Seattle Seawolves. You can watch the attempt in the video below.

Penalty Try – 7 points

A penalty try is awarded either when the official has warned a team to stop committing a certain penalty or when a penalty is deliberately committed to prevent a try from being scored. Penalty tries are often awarded if illegal scrummaging happens over and over down near a team’s in-goal, when someone makes an illegal tackle deep inside their own zone to prevent a team from scoring or when a ball is intentionally knocked-on to prevent a try.

In the video below, you will see Jasa Veremalua of the Legion deliberately knock a ball down to prevent Rugby United New York from scoring a try. After checking with the television match official, the head official awards RUNY a penalty try and gives Veremalua a yellow card for the penalty.

Those are all the ways points can be scored in a rugby union match.

Is there something else you want to know? Shoot us a DM on Twitter at @DNVR_Raptors and let us know.

Colton Strickler

Colton Strickler is a Colorado guy through and through. He is a Wheat Ridge Farmer and a Colorado State Ram. He has been involved in the Colorado rugby community in some capacity since 2011. He was Major League Rugby's lead writer in 2018 and 2019 before joining DNVR Rugby.

  • Thanks Colton! Great article to start explaining rugby. Now I can at least get the scoring down when I watch some older matches with the guys in Ireland!

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