You’ve probably seen flyhalves bounce the ball off the ground a few times before they kick-off.
Of course, this isn’t mandatory. But why do so many players do it?
I asked a few number tens and got some different answers. Some mentioned several of these reasons. Let’s run through them.
Checking The Firmness Of The Ground For Bouncing The Ball
Rugby is played in all weather. The pitch may be softer or more firm on different weeks.
Of course, this affects how high the ball will bounce when dropped from the same height.
A couple of bounces allows the kicker to adjust where they hold the ball to get the height that they want.
A Practice Run For The Drop Kick
Kicking off isn’t as easy as it looks. This is because the ball has to hit the ground and bounce before it’s kicked.
The rest of the team expects the kick to be angled with the trajectory in the game plan. This may be a short but high lateral kick to allow the winger to compete for it.
Or the game plan may be to kick long for position.
It’s not unusual to see a young flyhalf miscue and kick the ball off the park. This is a bad mistake that gives the opposition a scrum on the halfway line.
The extra challenge for kickers is that the ground may be uneven in the spot where they’re standing.
A test bounce may result in the ball shooting off to the side. The kicker can adjust their position a meter to the right or left and try another practice bounce.
Checking The Inflation Of The Rugby Ball
Kickers practice their restarts in training sessions with a properly inflated ball.
But all rugby balls lose air over time – even the most expensive.
Several out halves told me that they bounce the ball at the start of the match to be sure that it’s well inflated. This is something that referees check too in their pre-match inspection.
You may be thinking that this isn’t why top players bounce the ball in an international match. Surely, they can be confident that the elite tournaments have correctly inflated the balls.
But there have been problems with the highest-profile tournament in the past. The Rugby World Cup took place in France in 2007. Players like Jonny Wilkinson were complaining about the balls during the tournament.
When the organizers investigated the issue, they found that some balls had been over-inflated.
Like a tennis player bouncing a tennis ball, an experienced out-half will have a feel for when the ball isn’t “right”. They can call this to the attention of the match referee, who has the ultimate decision on whether to change it.
Making A Divot In An Uneven Pitch
When players take penalty kicks at goal, they now use a kicking tee. Before kicking tees were introduced, players could use a handful of sand to create a little mound.
And before that, players stamped the heel of their boot into the ground to make a little divot. This holds the ball straight.
One outhalf told me that he bounces the ball on a muddy pitch to create a little divot for the dropkick.
Calming Nerves With A Repetitive Action
I’ve written elsewhere about measures that players use to calm their nerves before a match. Some rugby players will chew gum as a calming habit.
In some ways, out-halves are in the worst position. They have to take the first action of the game, and it’s an action that requires skill and accuracy.
Things can get worse in elite matches. There can be delays while the referee gets communication devices sorted with the sideline.
The out-half is left waiting for the whistle. That’s a perfect time for butterflies to erupt in the stomach.
Bouncing the ball off the ground lets the out half focus on a repetitive action that is under their control.
Does The Ball Have To Bounce Before Kicking In Rugby?
I mentioned that the ball has to bounce for a kick-off. But that is a special case.
The ball does not have to bounce for most types of kicks in rugby. That includes kicking for territory in open play.
You’ll also see scrumhalves picking up the ball from the back of a scrum and kicking it over their heads. They don’t have to bounce the ball either.
You can check out our article on box kicking in rugby.
The only kicks in rugby where the ball has to bounce are kick-offs and dropkicks for goal.
Do You Bounce The Ball In Rugby?
There are many other ball sports where all players bounce the ball as part of normal gameplay.
Basketball is probably the most famous example. But there are other sports like Gaelic football (in Ireland) where players must bounce the ball as they run with it.
Rugby players don’t have to bounce the ball during usual gameplay.
In fact, if they were running forward, this would be penalized as a knock-on. A scrum would be awarded to the opposition.
If the player was running backward for some bizarre reason and decided to bounce the ball, there would be no infraction.
But I’d imagine that the coach would take the player off to be checked for concussion!