rugby rules

Rugby sport is generally seen as one of the most physical sports in the world. The competitions come in different forms. The tri national competition (‘tri’ as in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa), the six-nation competition (featuring France, Wales, Italy, Scotland, England, and Ireland) and the Heineken Cup – these are all tournaments that are held in high esteem all over the world. But, the highest of them all, the apex of the competition is the Rugby World Cup involving a competition for championship between all qualified players in all the nations of the world. The World Rugby, formerly known as the International Rugby Football Board at the initial stage, and then the International Rugby board, is the organization in charge of the rules that govern the rugby union. They are enforced by the referees and assistant referees, usually two, who assist the referees in ensuring that the laws are kept.

Objective of the Game

Rugby union is a spot consisting of two teams of 15 players each, with each team playing against the other. The Rugby game’s main objective is to score more goal points than your opponents within the allotted 80-mimute time frame. At the end of the game, the team with the highest goal points is declared winner. Although, sometimes the game may end at a draw. The game is kicked into motion when one team drop kicks the ball towards the opponents from the halfway line. Moving the ball forward can either be by kicking or by carrying, never by throwing. Opponents can them tackle one another to binder moving forward. The players carrying the ball are the only ones to be tackled after which competition for the ball can start.

A play stops when:

  • the ball crosses the dead ball line or the side line,
  • a try is scored, or
  • one of the laws has been broken.

The Rugby Rules in the Past

Rugby union is a very old sport, dating back to the 1800s. In the early days of the game, the rules were decided by the pupils (players) before the game starts. The legality of carrying or running with the ball is decided at the 11th hour, i.e. just before the game commences. One popularly used set of rules then were the first set published in 1845 by pupils at rugby school. Many other clubs followed these rules but, despite that, there were still so many variations in how the game was being played.

 In 1863, the Football Association had an intention to adopt and incorporate the universal code of laws but, before they could, many newspaper publications had already published it in Cabridge rules. Unlike the Football Association, the Cambridge rules added ‘running with the ball’ and ‘hacking (an act used to characterize kicking a rival in the shins)’ rules in the set of rules. As a result of this, many rugby clubs left the Football Association.

Nevertheless, rules by which rugby was being played still differed greatly between clubs. There were many clubs with many players with scattered ways of playing the ball. To remedy this, in 1870, about 21 clubs joined bands and formed the England-based Rugby Football Union (FRU) making official the rules governing the game. As the popularity of the game increased, disagreements arose concerning how the rules were interpreted. The International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) became the overseeing body over the games in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and RFU. As a result, the development of new laws became possible.

Summarily, the rules back then were that:

  • tries and conversions had no points awarded to them. Scoring goal points through tries was introduced in the late 1880s. By the year 1881, a try was awarded one point while a conversion got two points. Two years following that, the points were increased by one such that tries got two points while conversion got three. In 1893, three points were given for a try and two for a kick. Come 1900s, precisely 1971, the points for a try were increased to four, drop goals to four points, and penalties to three points.
  • Kicking the ball through posts was awarded a point before the year 1905. Also, in 1977, three points were awarded for kicking the ball into a goal after taking a mark. In their respective years, both styles of scoring were banned.
  • The defense used to be granted the opportunity to try and charge down a conversion kick as soon as the ball was played on the ground making it impossible for the kicker to place the ball by himself and them make a run. In 1958, the law changed to granting the kicker to only place the ball and prohibiting the defense from moving towards the kicker. He can only go closer when and after the kicker has begun his run-up.
  • Until the 1860s, the ball in use was an almost spherical leather around a pig’s bladder. By the time it was 1862, rubber bladders came into existence and the manufacture of the ball began to take shape with a more pronounced oval shape. Soon, in 1980, they became balls encased in synthetic waterproof materials that make the ball stronger and easier to play.

In 2006, the International Rugby Board (IRB) recognized about 23 changes made in the rules since the first time. Some competitions in Scotland and Australia incorporated them into their game styles. Much more recently, New Zealand Rugby joined hands with World rugby and set some significant changes during the Mitre 10 Cup held in the year 2016.


There have been several amendments made to the rules since its inception and they are as follows:

The Officials

There are three main officials involved in rugby union, each one with his own responsibility. The three officials are the referee assisted by two touch judges (assistant referees). Their responsibilities:

The Referee:

  • Makes sure order is kept on the pitch and none of the laws are broken.
  • Keeps the time – i.e. he ensures the game does not exceed the alloted 80 minutes.
  • At the beginning of the game, he gathers the captains for both teams for a coin toss to decide who would kick start the game – literally.
  • Records the goal points scored by each team.
  • Makes the final decisions on the field.
  • Is responsible for making signals through the blowing of a whistle to indicate the beginning of a match, stop or begin a half, and to indicate the score.

The Assistant Referees

There are usually two of them and their major duty is to assist the referee in his duty. They:

  • Inform the referee whenever an infringement of law has occurred
  • Raise the flag if it happens that the ball has crossed the touch line or was a goal.
  • Point the flag horizontally to indicate a foul play.

In higher levels of the game, a fourth and fifth officials are added. The fourth official is a substitute assistant referee who is put there to replace an assistant referee. The fifth official is w television match official to whom the referee can go to if he isn’t sure of the game scores.

Scoring goal points

The rules governing how goal points are scored are as follows:

  • A try is worth five points.
  • A try is scored when the ball touches the ground right between the opponent’s try line and the dead ball. This goal is referred to as the ‘in goal’.
  • A try can be scored by the goal by a player if he carries the ball into the in goal and then touches it to the ground without losing his grip on it.
  • There is no downward pressure required but the player is expected to keep his hold on the ball in at least one of his hands so that he doesn’t lose it to the opponent thereby losing a point. He can also hold it with at least one of his arms – as long as he’s holding on to it.
  • A goal point can be scored by a player if he applies downward pressure with his hands, arms, or the ventral part of their body (i.e. the front of the body). The goal is scored if the ball lands in the opponent’s in goal as a result of either a kick or the opponent losing his grip on the ball thereby losing possession of it. If the player is outside the court when he touches the ball, a goal point is scored.
  • If the ball is held down on the try line or against one of the goal posts, a try is scored.
  • Should it happen that the ball touches any of the sidelines or the dead ball line within the in goal, the ball is said to be out of play, i.e. dead, hence, no goal point is awarded.
  • Scrums are awarded in rugby union. If any of the competing teams is awarded a scrum near the try line, they are free to try and push their opponent back into their in goal (the opponent’s in goal). If the team is able to keep the ball in the scrum, any of the players in the team can dive on it as soon as it passes over the try line. This score is termed the ‘pushover try’.
  • The team offered a try by the referee has the right to try a conversion. This is done by kicking, drop kick or place kick, the ball to pass through the two goal posts and then across the crossbar thereby scoring a goal.

Penalties and Free Kicks

If any minor foul or infringement is committed, the team that didn’t offend gets a scrum or a free kick. If it is worse than minor, the referee calls for a penalty. The non-offending team gains an advantage over the offending team. If this happens, the play is allowed to continue. Whatever the case may be, the decision is at the mercy of the referee’s discretion. The penalty or free kick is usually taken where the infringement occurred, either right there on the spot or they move out some five meters especially if the infringement happened somewhere close to the goal line. For penalty, the ball can be kicked towards any direction of the court and then replayed. While the penalty is being played, the team members of the penalty kicker stands behind him until he has kicked the ball. Meanwhile, the opponents are expected to move back by 10 meters or retire completely to their goal line.

Penalties are awarded if and when:

  • A player is caught offside;
  • A player from any team is involved in foul play. Foul plays include offending intentionally and/or repeatedly, blocking the opposition, misconduct (such as striking, kicking, stamping or tripping other players and also illegally tackling players after they have already kicked the ball), or throwing the ball into the touch line.
  • Any player offends at the tackle;
  • A player is involved in dangerous plays (at line outs –pushing, charging, obstructing an opponent, or levering on the opponent. At scrums – charging at rival players, not binding to opponents correctly, using both feet to strike the ball, twisting, dipping or lifting an opponent, and collapsing) at lineouts and scrums.
  • Team has too many player putting on unacceptable clothing;
  • Intentionally throwing the ball into touch or knocking on it;
  • Refusing to let go of the ball after taking into touch;
  • Handling in the scrum and half-kicking ball in the scrum.

Deciding the Winner

As in any kind of sport, declaring the winner in rugby union is all about which team has the highest goal points at the end of the game. To be declared winner, you must have scored more goal points than your rival team within the stipulated 80-minute period of the game.

The Game play

The game starts as soon as a team has scored a point after playing a kick-off. The team that kicks is expected to take a drop kick from the center of the halfway line for the game to be put into motion. After this, the ball must travel beyond the 10-metre line in the halfway line of the opposition. No one of the members of the team which the kicker belongs to should be seen in front of the ball until after it has been kicked. Drop-outs are normally made use of in order to restart a play in the event that the attacking team put the ball into their rival’s in goal and then grounded by a defender. Or perhaps the ball goes over the dead ball or touch in goal line.

Once the kickoff is successful, the ball is in play and then passing, kicking, catching, picking up and/or grinding up can start by any member of any of the teams. Whichever player is holding ball is allowed to go in any direction as long as he doesn’t use his teammates to block opponents from tackling. The ball must not be dropped forward or travel forward on its own after touching a player’s hand or arm.

Players and Their Equipment

The Court: Generally, rugby union is played on a field or pitch with a grassy outlook or surface. Artificial grass, sand, clay, or snow is allowed by the laws. However, permanently hard surfaces such as concrete are not allowed. There’s no law as to whether the field should be flat or leveled, as long as it is safe to play on. Should any of the teams feel unsafe or that the pitch is unsafe, it lies within the responsibility of the referee to see to the issue and get it resolved. The play must not start until all arising issues concerning safety have been resolved.

The standard measurements are: 70 meters in width, 100 meters in length, in goal areas at the ends of the court must not be more than 22 meters or at least 10 meters beyond the pitch. The pitch is marked with solid lines to indicate the pitch touchlines, the dead ball lines, touch in goal lines, goal lines, 22-meter distance from each goal line and the halfway line.

The pitch is divided into three areas, one designated to be the main playing area not exceeding 100 meters in length, and the other area is the dead goal area that can range from 10-20 meters. Goal posts are to be in an H-shape and should be about 5 to 6 meters wide apart. There must be not restrictions in the height.

The Players: the rule states that each rugby team must consist of 15 players. The team is then split into two groups and are named forwards and backs. The forwards are 8 in number while the backs are 7 in number. Forward positions are Hooker, Prop, Second row, Flanker, and Number 8. 8 members are put in the forward position. The backs positions, consisting of 7 players, are scrum half, fly half, inside center, outside center, full back, and wingers.

Their Equipment: players are expected to put on studded boots along with gum shields, shoulder and shin pads, and head guards. Every player in each of the teams have to wear matching jerseys with matching shorts and socks. The jerseys are to be colored – depending on which color each team chooses.

A summary of all the rules

The rules of rugby can be summarized in the following:

  • The whole game is a total of 80 minutes plus a 10-minute rest observed. The 80-minute period is divided into two, each half being 40 minutes. The 10-minute rest is in between the halves. There is no stoppage time for the game so it stops once it is exactly 80 minutes.
  • Each team is allowed to make up to 7 substitute. 15 players are needed to start the game. Substituted players will only be allowed back on the field when it is sure that the reason why they were substituted was satisfactorily solved. For instance, if player left for an injury, he will not be allowed back unless he’s been treated.
  • There are 5 separate lined markings on the field (5 meter line, 22 meter line, 10 meter line, halfway line, and dead ball line), with each line serving a specific purposes. Also on the field is a spot, the center spot, where the game is restarted after being halted for a penalty, try, or drop goal.
  • The game has 3 major officials: a referee and two assistant referees (also known as touch judges). The referees’ duty is to keep the time, make sure the game runs according to stipulated rules and regulations, and also to make the final decisions. The assistant referees are there to assist the referee and inform him of any law infringement he himself might have missed.
  • The game will be stopped if any of these three happens: the ball is played out of bounds, a try or drop goal is scored, or a player is fouled.
  • a defense player is required to tackle his opponent by grabbing his shoulder and pulling him to the floor – it must not go higher than the shoulder otherwise a foul would be declared against him.
  • An offside will be called against an attacking player who stays in front of the ball while attacking. Other players who are not attacking can stay in front of the ball, but are required to get behind it when they want to attack.
  • A line out is awarded the moment the ball enters the touch. Team members can work together to win the game i.e. they can lift any one of their 7 team members allowed in a line, if they have to, to catch a ball being thrown in.
  • A penalty or kick is considered successful if the player was able to hit the ball such that it goes above and over the goal. Otherwise, the ball is still in play.

Rugby Union is adjusted to serve only young people due to the rigorous hitting and hacking that takes place in the game.