To help you enjoy our extensive stats archive, and to avoid any confusion, ESPNscrum Statistician Stuart Farmer clarifies the changes the sport has seen over the years and the different interpretations around the world.
Number of Players
It was 20 a side from the first international of all between England and Scotland in 1871 until 1876. It has been 15 a side ever since although the formations have changed repeatedly.
Initially in the 20 a side matches these varied from two or three full backs, one two or three three-quarters and two or three half-backs with the rest being denoted simply as forwards.
It wasn’t until 1884 that Cardiff back J Conway-Rees introduced the “modern” three-quarter formation of a fullback, two wings, two centres and two half-backs. The Welsh national side pioneered its use in international rugby against Scotland in 1886 but it was then immediately abandoned until they met the New Zealand Natives on 22 December 1888.
It was between the wars when half-back roles were regularly split into fly-half/scrum-half roles we see today, and even later in the 1930s that specialty in forward play was commonplace.
Throughout the world there continues to be different descriptions for playing positions:
Fullback – used everywhere
Wing – sometimes winger or wing three-quarter, with either “left” or “right” added
Outside centre – Centre three-quarter in New Zealand
Inside centre – Second five-eighths in New Zealand
Fly-half In England and South Africa, First five-eighths in New Zealand, outside-half or out-half and occasionally in stand-off.
Scrum-half – Half-back in New Zealand
No.8 – sometimes lock in Australia and Eighth man in South Africa
Flanker – breakaway in Australia, wing forward is an old term, the flankers in the modern game can be blindside and openside or left and right.
Lock – sometimes known as second row
Props – used everywhere
Hooker – used everywhere
Numbering of Players
This goes back to 1897 when New Zealand played Queensland in Brisbane although not in internationals until 1922 when England met Wales. Wales even wore letters in 1932 against Scotland, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the standard “modern” numbering system was adopted in internationals with 1 for loose-head prop through to 15 for fullback. Prior to this full-backs often wore “1”.
Up until 1875 international rugby matches were decided by the number of goals scored (conversions and dropped goals), but from 1876 the number of tries scored could be used to decide a match if teams were level on goals.
The scoring of points was not formally introduced until the late 1880s, a try scoring one point, a conversion two and a drop goal three. Various experiments were tried until 1890/91, when the International Rugby Board’s system was adopted to make points scoring uniform in international matches.
This was in an attempt to cure inconsistencies which meant for instance that when England visited Scotland in 1890 their two tries were worth two points each under SRU laws, but two weeks later against Ireland at Blackheath, England’s three tries were worth just one point each under RFU laws!
Below is a table denoting the changes in the scoring systems over the years:
|Era||Try||Conversion||Drop Goal||Penalty Goal||Goal from a Mark|
|1891-92 to 1892-93||2||3||4||3||4|
|1893-94 to 1904-05||3||2||4||3||4|
|1905-06 to 1947-48||3||2||4||3||3|
|1971-72 to 1976-77||4||2||3||3||3|
|1977-78 to 1991-92||4||2||3||3||Void|
|1991-92 to date||5||2||3||3||Void|
What constitutes a Test match?
In rugby union it is a game where ONE country awards full test caps for its players, not like cricket when both sides must award caps for it to count.
Also, one country may even award caps when the opponents are not even a country (as with Wales against the Barbarians in 1990 and 1996, or even when countries play against another country’s second teams or age group sides.
For the purposes of completeness games involving the British and Irish Lions (and their forerunners) and the Pacific Islanders have been included, although are not strictly official caps as the games were not for a single country but a combined team.