Rugby is one of the most popular sports for children in New Zealand. Whether you are watching or playing, rugby is a part of being kiwi. We overview rugby as a great game for kids.

What is Rugby?

The game originated in a town called Rugby in England in about 1823, when a lad playing soccer at a private school picked up the ball and ran with it. This was the beginning of the distinctive game that became known as Rugby Football. The game was introduced to New Zealand in about 1870, and by 1893 we were ready to field our first national team on a tour of Australia.

The adult version of rugby is played by two teams of 15 people, for 40 minutes in each half, and features an oval ball, a referee, a field 90 metres long, and two goal posts in the shape of an “H”.

Rugby is a game which requires high levels of fitness, speed and strength, combined with excellent ball skills and the ability to be a team player. Traditionally a male sport, rugby now has an increasing number of female players and we have our own women’s national team, the Black Ferns.

Where do you play Rugby?

In New Zealand we are lucky to have a strong rugby infrastructure which works hard to help Small Blacks become All Blacks.

Budding rugby players can sign up to play at either school or a local rugby club . However, there is an important distinction to be aware of: only clubs will offer Saturday games for small children.

If your child plays at the school, games will generally take place during normal school hours. See the websites below for local club contact details (the national list is way too big to replicate here!).

What age can your child start Rugby?

Kids as young as 5 can start to play rugby and they will be welcomed onto school or club teams. For mums who are a bit nervous about their little angel getting hurt, you can be encouraged by the introduction of a special rugby programme for littlies…

Small Blacks Rugby is for children from the age of 5 to 13. It has been designed to help players develop their rugby skills as their physical ability develops, making the game as simple and safe as possible for all NZ kids, regardless of their age, shape or size.

The kids start with small teams of 7-a-side, playing across the width of the field for no more than 30 minutes. There is no tackling – they start with two handed touch or play the Rippa Rugby alternative (for primary school boys and girls alike — pull a flag from the ball carrier’s belt instead of tackling).

How do you progress over time?

As kids get bigger and stronger, they can progress through a range of rugby grades within the Small Blacks Programme. The grades run from age 5 to 13:

Age School Team Size Field Size Time
Under 6 Year 1 7 Width 2 x 20 mins
Under 7 Year 2 7 Width 2 x 20 mins
Under 8 Year 3 10 Width 2 x 20 mins
Under 9/10 Year 4/5 10 Width 2 x 25 mins
Under 11 Year 6 15 Full Field 2 x 25 mins
Under 12/13 Year 7/8 15 Full Field 2 x 30 mins

At the age of 14 (or when they start Year 9, i.e. college) your child will be expected to play for their secondary school, and will not be permitted to play for their club again until they have left high school. They will then be able to participate in inter-school competitions at different levels, which take place on Saturdays. The top three teams in each school are known as the 1st XV, 2nd XV and the 3rd XV.

After leaving school, there are a whole range of other levels at which they can play, including Divisional XV, Sevens, Under 19s, Under 21s, and the Junior All Blacks.

Ultimately, they can aspire to our national level teams, including NZ Maori, Black Ferns (women), & the All Blacks. There is no minimum age for joining these teams; in fact, Jonah Lomu made the All Black team at the tender age of 19.

What gear do you need to play Rugby?

The list of gear you need to play rugby is fairly brief:

  • Rugby Boots: after the age of 8 at most clubs. Can be found at sports stores.
  • Rugby Socks: rugby socks in club colours – can be purchased from the club or a specified local clothes retailer.
  • Rugby Shorts: rugby shorts can be purchased from the club, or a specified local clothes retailer.
  • Team Jersey (shirt): usually supplied by the club, and then returned at the end of the season.
  • Mouthguard: compulsory for every game and practice, a mouthguard is usually supplied by the club as part of your annual subs.
  • Optional items: a sports bag, drink bottle, practice ball. Check out sports stores for these items.

How much does Rugby cost?

Here is an estimate of the cost of a primary school age child playing rugby for a season:

Item Cost
Club Sub for year $60.00
Boots 1 pair $40.00
Socks 1 pair $12.00
Shorts 1 pair $25.00
Shin Guards 1 pair $10.00
Mouth Guard 1 $8.00
Practice Ball $20.00
Total Cost $175.00

We’re presuming that you can rustle up a bag and a drink bottle from home, and we haven’t included travel costs to games, or all the washing powder you’ll need!

How much time does Rugby take to learn?

For most children, they will have one practice and one game per week. Games are usually played on Saturday morning, and practices take place on a week day after school. You can expect to be at the playing field for about an hour each time, but then there is travel time on top of that. Realistically, you can expect to put in four hours per week.

The rugby season starts in late April, and runs until the end of August. There are a total of 17 weekly games with one rest weekend occurring in the middle of the July holidays.

Of course, you may choose to put in extra time helping your child practice at home; but that’s not work – it’s fun!!

Great Rugby Websites


The official website of the All Blacks Rugby Team and NZ Rugby. This site is jam-packed with information about rugby, teams, players and events. It’s brilliant!!


The Small Blacks site is a fun interactive site for kids. Take some time to help them get registered – they’ll thoroughly enjoy themselves.


The official community rugby website of the NZ Rugby Union

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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