What is Touch Rugby?


Much like all good things, touch rugby comes out of Australia where various forms of rugby are the national religion. Touch rugby was developed in the 1960s as a warm up and conditioning game that features simple rules, low risk of injury and is fast and fun to play.

The version played in the gorge is based on the Federation of International Touch (FIT) rules which are now used internationally.

Who Plays

Touch rugby is the only (correct me in the comments if I’m wrong) sport played at an international level with men and women playing on the same teams. While the various gorge teams may not quite be to international standard (yet), all the teams are a mix of genders, ages and fitness levels. The only physical constraints to play touch rugby are that you need to be able to run forwards and backwards and be able to catch a ball (at least some of the time).

How to Play

Before we get to exactly how to play we have to define a few terms.


Ball: The ball is oval – something like a pregnant NFL ball. Don’t worry if you’ve never seen one, there will be plenty for you to look at when you arrive.

Field: A grassy area. Officially this is half a tackle rugby field, but in the gorge we play smaller fields depending on the space available.

Touchdown: A score. This is when you touch the ball to the ground on or behind the defending team’s try line.

Touch: This is when a defending player touches the player with the ball (or vice versa).

Roll ball: The player with the ball rolls the ball gently along the ball toward their own try line. The player may also step over the ball as it rolls. The ball is picked up by the dummy.

Dummy (or dummy half): whichever player picks up the ball after a roll ball.

Passing the ball: Throwing or hitting or heading (anything but kicking) the ball to another player on your own team.

The Mark: the spot on the field where the person with the ball was touched.

Turnover: The ball is handed to the defensive team who become the attacking team.

 Object of the game

To have fun, get fit, be social and (occasionally) score touchdowns.

To get close enough to the try line to score, the attacking team will advance the ball up the field by running with it. If the player with the ball is touched the that player performs a roll ball on the spot where they were touched and the dummy then plays the ball.

The attacking players may choose to pass the ball to another player on their team – however the ball must be directed away from the try line when this occurs. It’s the equivalent of a lateral pass in American football. A forward pass is when the ball moves toward the try line. A forward pass is a penalty.

After six touches, the ball is turned over to the other team for them to try to advance the ball.

Being Onside

If you’re on the attacking team, it’s easy. Keep the ball between you and the try line and you’ll always be onside.

As a defender you must retreat to be five yards or more from an imaginary line drawn across the field at the mark whenever a rollball occurs, or ten yards for a penalty or restart. Note that the attacking team does not have to wait for the defenders to get onside. In fact they won’t. Get used to it.

There’s a lot of running backwards.

If a player in an offside position is involved in the play then the other team gets a penalty.


After a penalty is given, the defensive team retires ten yards from the penalty spot. A player on the attacking team puts the ball on the ground on the penalty spot, touches it with their foot and then picks it up and plays as normal. The touch count is reset to be zero.


A turnover occurs when:

  • a player drops the ball
  • a player runs out of bounds with the ball
  • the dummy is touched when they have the ball
  • the attacking team has used up all six touches

When a turnover occurs, the ball should be placed directly on the ground.


Play continues until everyone is too tired to stand or needs a beer.

2 thoughts on “What is Touch Rugby?”

  1. Can I just show up and play today? I live in Vancouver and my wife’s away this week so I can go sail the gorge and find todays (wed 8/7) game/practice.

    1. Actually we don’t play Wednesdays. We play Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. You’d be very welcome at any of those times.

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Touch Rugby in the Columbia River Gorge