Phil Bishop playing singles against Dave Fox

Rugby fives is a handball game, similar to squash, played in an enclosed court. It has similarities with Winchester fives (a form of Wessex fives) and Eton fives. It is played mainly in the United Kingdom.

It is most commonly believed to be derived from Wessex fives, a game played by Thomas Arnold, famous Headmaster of Rugby School, who had played Wessex fives when a boy at Lord Weymouth's Grammar, now Warminster School. The open court of Wessex fives, built in 1787, is still in existence and use at Warminster School.

An early mention of the game can be found in the novel Tom Brown's School Days (1857) by Thomas Hughes. The author attended Rugby School during the period when Dr Arnold was Headmaster.

The game is played between two players (singles) or between two teams of two players each (doubles), the aim being to hit the ball above a 'bar' across the front wall in such a way that the opposition cannot return it before a second bounce. The ball is slightly larger than a golf ball, leather-coated and hard. Players wear leather padded gloves on both hands, with which they hit the ball.

How to play

Either singles or doubles can be played.


Rugby Fives Court Dimensions
Rugby fives court dimensions

A standard Rugby fives court is four-walled, with the floor being rectangular in shape. It is 28 feet long by 18 feet wide and the upper limit of the in-court area is 15 feet for the front wall, sloping down the side walls to 4 feet 10 inches at the back wall. Previously, the height of the back wall was higher at 6 feet but was reduced for architectural reasons as it removes the need for a balcony in new facilities thus reducing building costs and improving communication between coaches and players. In addition, a wooden board running across the front wall with an upper height of 2 feet 6 inches marks the lower limit of the in-court area.

The ball is designed to bounce well on the concrete floor. The walls may be stone or brick but covered in a smooth layer of hard-wearing plaster or alternatively they may be of the same construction as modern squash courts being hollow engineered wood filled with sand.

Rugby fives courts tend to be somewhat idiosyncratic and the dimensions stated above are not always adhered to exactly, particularly those built before 1934 when standard dimensions were established.

A ball is available to allow Rugby fives to be played on a squash court. It is a little bouncier and zippier than the usual ball to account for the larger dimensions (4 feet longer and 3 feet wider), the cushioned wooden floor and lower board height, or rather 'tin' as it is termed.


Usually a 50-50 chance scenario is adopted at the start of a match in order to determine who should serve first (e.g. one player puts the ball behind their back and their opponent guesses which hand it's in); however, sometimes a ‘roll’ is used to determine the team that serves ‘seconds’ or ‘second hand’, a ‘roll’ requires the ball to be bounced off of the front wall, the team who rolls closest to the back wall serves ‘seconds’. In order to initiate a point, the server must first throw the ball so that it hits the front wall above the bar, then clips the side wall. Once the ball has done this, the server can choose to retake his serve or continue by hitting it so that it hits the side wall followed by the front wall. If, on the hit part of the serve, the ball hits the front wall first then the serve is referred to as a 'blackguard' (pronounced 'blaggard'). The receiver has the option to take a blackguard, as long as they say 'yes' before striking the ball. If three consecutive blackguards are served without being taken then the server is deemed to have lost a rally.

In doubles, only the receiver initially designated to return serve may do so, unless the serve is a blackguard. In this instance, either receiver may choose to say 'yes' and return the ball.

As the ball may be hit with either hand, right-handed players will typically use their right hand and the front, right-hand corner of the court to serve. Left-handed players will serve with their left hand, using the front, left-hand corner of the court.


Following the serve, the receiver and server take alternate turns to strike the ball against the front wall. The ball must be struck prior to it bouncing twice and while it may hit any combination of back and side walls on its way to the front wall, it must not hit the floor or an out-of-court area. Failing to validly hit the ball against the front wall loses the rally, which results in the following:


Points are scored from receiving the serve in Rugby fives, as well as in Winchester fives. Thus, a point is only scored if the receiver wins the rally.

Games are played either to 11 or 15, normally agreed before the game commences. If the score is tied at 1 less than the originally agreed winning total (i.e. 10-10 or 14-14) then the winning total is increased by 1 (12 and 16, respectively) but no further (unlike in tennis where you have to win by 2 points in a tie-break).

The receiver's score is said first, so if the receiver has 10 points, and the server has 5, the score is 10-5. Zero is said as 'love'.

At the start of a game of doubles, the servers only need to win one rally in order to switch so that they are receiving (for the rest of the game the usual two before switching applies).



Tournament name Age restrictions Singles Doubles
National Singles (Jesters Club Cup)* None Yes No
National Doubles (Cyriax Cup)* None No Yes
West of England None Yes Yes
South-East Open None Yes Yes
South-West Open None Yes Yes
North of England Open None Yes Yes
North-West Open None Yes Yes
Scottish Open None Yes Yes
London Open None Yes Yes
Yorkshire Open None Yes Yes
National Veterans Over 45s Yes Yes
National Vintage Over 55s Yes Yes
National Masters Over 65s No Yes
National U25s Under 25s Yes Yes
National Universities (BUSF) Championships Student Yes Yes
National Schools' Championships U13, U14, U16, U18 Yes Yes
West of England Schools' Championships U16, U18 Yes Yes
Schools' Winchester Fives Doubles U18 No Yes
RFA President's Cup None No Yes
Winchester Fives Open Doubles None No Yes
Winchester Fives Northern Doubles None No Yes


Tournament name Age restrictions Singles Doubles
National Ladies Singles and Doubles None Yes Yes
National Ladies U23 Singles and Doubles Under 23s Yes Yes
National Ladies Winchester Fives None Yes Yes
National Schools' Girls Championships U13, U16, U18 Yes Yes


Tournament name Age restrictions Singles Doubles
National Mixed Doubles None No Yes
Owers Trophy (Old Boys' Tournament) None Yes Yes
National Club Championship (Wood Cup) None Yes Yes

The asterisk indicates that these tournaments have qualification rounds to play in the main knockout. The top 4 players in the singles rankings automatically qualify for singles tournaments, and the similarly the top 4 doubles pairs qualify automatically.

The Rugby Fives Association (RFA)

The RFA is the governing body for the sport of Rugby Fives. The association aims to promote the playing and coaching of Fives at schools, universities and senior level, and throughout the community in general. It does this by organising matches and tournaments throughout the season and advising on – and wherever possible supporting financially – the regeneration of facilities and provision of suitable coaching and equipment to further the game's development across the country.

The RFA is the source for all of the information within this Wikipedia entry - verification and additional information can be found on the RFA Website: See [1]

National singles and doubles champions

The current national singles champion is Ben Beltrami (December 2023) and national doubles champions are Ed Kay and Dan Tristao (April 2023).


Grade II listed Rugby fives court, Retford, Nottinghamshire

A Grade II listed[2] Rugby Fives Court in Retford, Nottinghamshire, was built in memory of Captain William Eyre of the Lancashire Fusiliers who died at Gallipoli, and was a former pupil and teacher at the school. Only about 20 courts (including this one) are listed. The court was recently refurbished as part of the redevelopment of the site. It is classified as a War Memorial.[3]

See also


  1. ^ The Rugby Fives Association - Governing Body for the Sport of Rugby Fives
  2. ^ "Fives Court War Memorial". Historic England.
  3. ^ "Bassetlaw Outdoor War Memorials Survey 2015" (PDF). Bassetlaw Council. 2015.