What Kind of Rugby Boots Should You Wear?

Detail of rugby boots

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Not all rugby players have the same footwear needs. If you've never played before, or wonder where all the blisters are coming from, you need to understand rugby footwear to play your best and be as safe as possible.

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What Not to Wear

Under Armour Men's Hammer Detachable Football Shoe

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It is illegal for you to wear boots made for American football unless you cut off or otherwise remove the cleat in the middle of the toe. That particular cleat is illegal because, unlike in American football, there is a good chance you will get your face stepped on in rugby. There is also a good chance that particular cleat could end up in your eye socket, should the person stepping on you be wearing it.

Unmodified football boots are illegal. Other athletic shoes, like sneakers, trainers, and plimsolls, are merely unwise as you need some sort of cleat for traction even if you're playing on artificial turf, which is getting more and more common. Anyone who wears gym shoes on the pitch is likely to be targeted for having their toes stomped on; this is another physical risk of the sport. While several types of boots provide some protection, running shoes do not.

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Mid-Cut Boots for More Than 230 Pounds

Gilbert Celera cleat

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If you weigh more than 100 kilograms or 230 pounds, you will likely be playing in the pack either now or in the next few years.

You'll need what are known as "mid-cut" boots, or formerly known as "high-tops" if you played basketball.

Mid-Cut Boots Support You

Mid-cut boots serve a number of purposes. The first is the extra ankle support they provide for a larger rugby player, reducing the risk of a twisted or broken ankle.

The second purpose is to protect your toes. Mid-cut boots are heavier than low-cut boots, so the manufacturers assume that if you need the extra ankle support, you're probably going to need more protection against getting your toes stepped on. Playing in the pack is like close combat; it's a lot of very large and competitive people in a very small space for a good part of the match. The chances of getting one's toes trod upon are much higher for pack players than for backs.

They Help Pack Players

While this may sound like a trivial risk, comparatively speaking, we're talking less about accidentally getting your foot stepped on at the mall and more about getting it run over by a car, repeatedly. Losing toenails or breaking toes are not out of the question in the more severe cases.

Pack players are more than willing to give up that extra bit of speed that wearing a heavier boot costs them if that means keeping their toes from being mashed in a maul, lineout or a scrum. Ultimately, playing in the pack is still more about power than speed.

It Keeps Your Feet From Slipping

Bringing us to our third purpose for the mid-cut boot: it acts as an anchor and a bludgeon. When you're in a scrum, mid-cut boots help keep your feet from slipping out from under you. As you're simultaneously pushing and being pushed, the extra weight making you that much harder to move. If you're hoisting in a lineout, the mid-cut boot helps you get to purchase and supports your body weight as you heave. When you step on your opponent, the extra weight hurts a lot more.

Overall, mid-cut boots will rob you of speed and tire you out a bit quicker, but they give you the extra support to be truly effective in the set plays that make up the bulk of the pack player's work on the field.

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Get Low-Cut Boots for Rainy Days

Rugby boot

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If you play somewhere like the UK, where it never stops raining, you're going to need low-cut boots with screw-in cleats. Unlike the mid-cut, the low-cut boots are more like regular shoes that don't encase the ankle, making them lighter and allowing for greater freedom of movement.

Why the Screw-in Cleats

You may be wondering why you can't use your soccer boots with the molded cleats to play rugby. If you play on ground that is frequently wet or muddy, or on natural grass in a place that gets enough rain so the ground isn't that hard, you'll need the additional traction a screw-in cleat provides, which is longer than a molded cleat, normally.

The mid-cut boots also have screw-in cleats for the same reason, but you may not want the extra weight or ankle support. If you play flanker or number eight, you may wish to get low-cut boots with screw-in cleats and hard toes, a true compromise between speed and protection.

Increased Sensitivity

Back players may crave the increased sensitivity that a soft toe low-cut boot gives them. The likelihood that they'll have to kick the ball is much greater than the chance they'll get their toes stepped on, so backs tend to buy the low-cut soft-toe boot with screw-in cleats. This maximizes their speed and kicking ability while minimizing the possibility of slipping and falling.

Screw-in cleats are better for moving the ball back with your foot in a ruck and they also hurt more when you step on someone with them than molded cleats.

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Molded Cleats for Turf, Hard Ground or Sevens

Molded Cleats

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Playing the version of rugby called sevens or practicing late in the season and giving your sore soles a rest may require different footwear like molded cleats. Molded cleats are similar to soccer shoes. Companies like Canterbury of New Zealand make molded cleats for use on turf, hard ground or to play sevens where speed is more important than any other concern.

More Durable Than Soccer Cleats

Molded rugby cleats are more or less the same as soccer cleats but are made with the understanding that they will be used to play a more violent sport, and thus are more durable than soccer cleats.

Unlike with the boots described above, where you are better off getting boots specifically made for rugby, the distinction is not as important here. The assumption is that the ground is going to be unforgiving in a way that actually makes it counterproductive to wear screw-in cleats. The soles of your feet will be shredded and your knees will ache more than they normally would, and this overrides any other advantages the screw-in cleats will provide you.

Soccer Boots With Molded Cleats

Playing on hard ground or artificial grass changes the nature of the sport. Tactical kicking becomes more effective because the ball bounces higher when it hits the ground. The game opens up as a result and there's less call for the type of close play that necessitates using one's feet for raking or stamping. This is also true in sevens, which is more about running and passing and less about mauling and tackling. In these conditions, your best bet is a light shoe with small cleats such as soccer boots with molded cleats.