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Rugby Rules

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Who controls the rules of rugby?

World Rugby, formerly known as "The International Rugby Board", controls rugby and how it's played.  They control the laws of the game.  These rules tell us how to play.

What are the basic rules?

Some rules are simple, necessary and easy to learn.  Other rules are necessary to know but very complex and technical. On this page get to know the basics. For some rules the basics are just a few words.

Where there is a link, click to get what you need to know. For full details of rugby rules, follow this link to the World Rugby Laws.

No rules specifically mention the rugby sidestep.

Sidesteps are special ways you move the ball towards the opposition goal-line when you are carrying the ball.

1 Grounds

Rugby grounds have lines everywhere! Some solid, some dashed. What do they all mean and which are most important?

Get to know more about the basics by learning about the field, also known as the pitch.

Easy, step by step, know the rugby field , some associated rules and additional interesting information.

2 Equipment

It's not round so it's a bit of a weird shape for a ball!

True, but it does make the game pretty interesting.

Get to know the ball so you catch it well or predict where it`s going to bounce and where it will go after it bounces.

You can make the ball do what you want it to do...
...when you know all about the rugby ball.

3 Players

One of the simple rules - maximum of 15 players in a team, with up to 7 substitutes allowed.

4 Clothing and footwear for playing

Rugby gear is shirt, shorts, underwear, socks and boots! - talk to current players for advice on kit. Some minimal padding is allowed.

Boots are probably the most important item. Before buying them, you may like to read this

Safety and comfort are most important. Keep in mind...

  • World Rugby regulations state that stud length must not exceed 21mm and studs should not 'burr' (create sharp edges when worn down)
  • forwards play close together and often their feet are stood on by other forwards , sturdier boots offer more protection
  • forwards require good grip for pushing, individual studs may be better than moulded soles
  • if you have boots with individual screw in studs you can have more than one set of studs and use studs suitable for the surface you are about to play on
  • for speed and agility backs may prefer lighter boots with moulded soles
  • before you buy, try on the boots with the same thickness of sock you will be wearing during a game
  • buy from a reputable trader and specify you want 'rugby boots'
  • football (soccer) boots may be suitable but tend to be a lighter construction (offering less protection for your feet)

5 Time - how long is a match

Two 40 minute halves, maximum of 10 minutes half-time break. Use any existing weather conditions, they may change (just my opinion!)

6 Match Officials - uphold the laws (rules)

Referee and two touch judges. Being a match official is not easy, officials provide a great service and deserve support.

Very important. Always remember the spirit of the rules of rugby...

  • We all make mistakes
  • What we think we saw/heard is sometimes not what really happened
  • Just like you, the Match officials are doing their best
  • Play to the whistle; it may be your advantage.

7 Mode

Players running all over the place! What's going on?

This law lays out a few details of what you can do in a match.

In a few lines it explains that any player who is 'onside' can get the ball, run with it, kick, pass or score a try with it and be tackled if they are carrying it.

We have a whole section on what you do in a game. When you want to know more, use the main menu to go to that section.

8 Play on! - even when rules are broken

What's going on! They just broke the rules, but the referee ignored it! Know and understand the "advantage" rule.

9 Points and how you earn them

Why have this team got more points than that one? Why are they trying so hard to get over that line? Why are they kicking at the posts?


Find out how you score tries and kick goals.

Method of scoringPoints awarded

Try/Penalty try 5

Conversion 2

Penalty goal 3

Drop goal 3

The team with most points at full-time (when the whistle blows for the end of the game) wins the game.

If the scores are equal it`s a draw.

If a winner has to be found, say for a Cup competition, extra time will be played. Competitions have their own rules. There is no concept of a "penalty shoot-out".

10 Fouls - what you cannot do

Foul play is doing anything in the game which is against the rules of rugby or the spirit of the rules.

This is one of the most important rules. Be fair, play fair! This rule aims to keep injuries to a minimum.

Ignoring this rule is cowardly. It may result in serious injury to yourself or other players.

Improve your game, know this rule

Foul play includes

  • obstructing opponents
  • punching, trampling, kicking or tripping players
  • tackling too early, too late, above the shoulders
  • tackling a player when they are in the air
  • doing anything which is unfair or dangerous.

REMEMBER - one of the most important Laws of the game.

You might drive this home with stories of sports(wo)manship

11 Offside and Onside in General Play

That player is right where the ball is. Why don't they pick it up?

It may be because they are offside. This is important. If they picked up the ball they would give away a penalty.

Here's a basic rule of thumb.

Aim to stay behind the ball.

Make sure the ball and the player in your team playing the ball are ahead of you in relation to the opposition goal line.

If not, avoid becoming involved in play.

12 Knock on or Throw forward

Sometimes you accidentally mishandle the ball and knock it forwards off your hands or arms. You are allowed to try and regain control.

If you catch it again before it touches another player or touches the ground you can play on. Otherwise it is a "knock on" and play may be stopped.

They want to get the ball to the other end, don't they?

Why do they always throw it backwards!

It's because a pass or "throw forward" is not permitted.

Pass straight across the field...Yes, OK

Pass backwards towards your own goal-line...Yes, OK

Pass forwards towards the opposition goal-line... NO, not permitted!

The hands and any movement must direct the ball backwards (or level).

Because of the speed of the player passing the ball, it is possible (and permitted) that the ball travels forward from the point where the ball is released.

If you intentionally knock on or throw the ball forwards you may be penalized. If what you did prevents a probable try, a penalty try may be awarded. 

13 Starts and restarts

A coin is tossed before the game.

The captain of the team that 'wins the toss' chooses either to 'kick off' or which direction to play in the first half (which half to defend).

14 Ground-ball

Sometimes the player holding the ball, or the ball alone, ends up on the ground without a tackle taking place. 

15 Tackles

When the ball carrier is tackled (brought to the ground) there are some things you must do and some things you must not do.

It depends on whether you are the ball carrier, the tackler or just another player.

This is important! You need to know about the tackle.

16 Rucks

The ball is right there on the ground, Shouldn`t they pick it up?

Sometimes you are not allowed to pick up the ball

It's useful to know about the ruck

17 Mauls

They`re all grappling for the ball. What's going on!

Learn about the maul

18 Marking

They just caught the ball, and shouted "Mark". Then everything stopped. What's happening?

Find out about the mark

19 Out of play

When the ball goes out of play over the side-line play stops and you restart with a lineout.

20 Scrums

Following some infringements of the rules play is restarted with a scrum.

21 Penalties

Depending on the seriousness of the offence, teams may be awarded a penalty or a free kick when the other team infringes the rules.

22 In-goals

Special areas at each end of the field are the in-goal areas. This is where you score tries

Maybe, after all these rules, it`s time for a bit of fun.