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History of the Laws of Rugby Football

The First Rules

The work to draw up the first rules of Rugby football started on 25 August 1845 and ended on 28th August. The work was done by three senior pupils at Rugby School after they received instructions to codify the game of Football. 

The three pupils were William Delafield Arnold, the seventeen year old son of the former headmaster, W.W. Shirley, who was just sixteen and Frederick Hutchins.

1845 laws

They submitted 37 Rules to the Sixth Levee; they were immediately passed and a Rule Book was printed. The rules were updated regularly over the coming years, in 1846-7 for example a large committee met to review and revise the rules but only a few minor changes were made.

In 1862 an attempt was made to "codify the customs" See 1862 Rules.

Trinity College Dublin

[2] Charles Burton Barrington, had been introduced to football at St Columba’s College, where ‘we played a sort of soccer game. Having completed his schooling he entered Trinity in January 1867, and found the football club without rules or uniform. He set about introducing the Rugby rules, working with the club secretary Wall. When Barrington and Wall met to draw up rules in the secretary’s rooms in Botany Bay early in 1868, the Rugby School tradition was paramount.

‘Wall sat gravely at his little table. A small dark wiry hardy chap with a short back beard and kindly dark eyes. He wrote and I dictated. Gradually and gradually as one could remember them the unwritten laws that govern the immortal Rugby game were put on paper.’

In fact Rugby School had produced written rules in 1846, and a further set had been drawn up by Blackheath FC, one of the earliest of English clubs, founded in 1862.



1. The Kick-off from the middle of must be a place-kick.
2. Kick-out must be from 25 yards out of goal, not a place-kick.
3. Charging is fair in case of a place-kick, as soon as the ball has touched the ground; in case of a kick from a catch as soon as the player offers to kick, but he may always draw back, unless he has touched the ball with his foot.
4. If a player makes a Fair Catch, he shall be entitled to a free kick, provided he claims it, by making a mark with his heel at once; and in order to take such kick he may go back as far as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance beyond his mark until he has kicked.
5. A Fair Catch cannot be made from Touch.
6. A Player is off side when the ball has been kicked, thrown or knocked on, or is being run with by one of his own side behind him.
7. A Player off side may impede the game by standing close to the ball; but he may not, in any case, kick or touch it, charge or put over.
8. A Player is on side when the ball is kicked or thrown or knocked on, or when it has rebounded from the body of another player of the opposite side.
9. It is not lawful to take up the ball when not in touch, except in an evident hop. Lifting the ball is strictly prohibited.
10. Running in is allowed to any player onside, provided he does not run through touch.
11. If in case of a run in, the ball is held in a maul, it shall not be lawful for any other player on his own side to take it from the runner and run with it.
12. It shall be lawful for any player to call upon any other player, holding the ball in a maul, to put it down, when evidently unable to get away.
13. A Player, if he wishes to enter a maul, must do so onside.
14. No Player, out of a maul, may be held or pulled over, unless he himself is holding the ball.
15. No hacking, as distinct from Tripping, is fair.
16. Try at Goal. A ball touched between the goal posts may be brought up to either of them, but not between.
17. When the ball has been touched down behind the goal, the player who touched it down is entitled to walk out straight 25 yards, and any one of his side may take a place-kick, but as soon as the ball had been placed, the opposite side may charge.
18.  It shall be a goal if the ball is dropped, but not if punted, hit or thrown, between the posts or posts produced at any height over horizontal bar, whether it touch it or not. 
19. No goal may be kicked from touch.
20.  A Ball in Touch is dead; consequently, the first player on his side must, in any case, touch it down, bring it to the side of the touch and throw it straight out.
21. Holding and throttling is disallowed.
22. Sneaking in opponents’ goal is discountenanced.
23. The Captains of sides, or any two deputed by them, shall be the sole arbiters of all  disputes

No law may be altered or made unless at least a week’s notice be given of the meeting, and such meeting shall consist of at least 20 members or more.

Drawn up by C.B. Barrington and R.M.Wall, 16 T.C.D., Jan 1868.

Rule 15, prohibiting hacking, represented in important difference between the football played in Rugby School and at Trinity College. Barrington described the hacking practiced in the school: In those days no-one was allowed to put his head down in the scrum, if he did it was immediately pulled up again by the others. The forwards all stood straight up hacking away for all they were worth at the opposite side. All standing straight up, packed close together and wearing very heavy boots. The only swing in their kicks being made with their jerking heads.

This may seem a bit of an Irish way of putting it. Before my time they had what was called a Hallelujah at the end of a House Match ... The ball was then taken away. All the players went into the scrum and hacked each other away dutifully for five minutes. That was the finish and all went to their houses to hot water, footpans, tea and baked potatoes. The latter being a treat in a House Match always.

Writing to Watson in 1930, Barrington remarked that the front of his tibia even then had a "saw-like edge" from this practice. Dress, too, was selected by captain and secretary, as Barrington later explained:

"Little Wall and myself sat in conclave in his rooms in botany Bay and on the lines of Rugby custom drew up the schemes. We introduced, however, knickerbockers in lieu of flannels - this was done out of respect for the black earth of our College Park. We decided on the colour being Red and Black for the very same reason. The committee accepted these proposals without demur, and the arrival of the new kit, which had been ordered from Rugby, caused quite a stir in the college, as formal uniforms for football were a novel idea in Ireland. Highly delighted with his new outfit, Barrington dressed and proceeded to Fitzwilliam Square, to let my dear mother see her son in this resplendent appurtenance. She was at luncheon and Aunt Josephine was with her - a very pretty lady, daughter of Sir Matthew Barrington. Her back was towards me as she sat at table. I stooped down and kissed ker. "Look at this, Aunt Jo". She turned round and seeing the red and black and huge rough-looking person gave a terrified scream and then began to sob and cry. "Oh, that I should have lived to be kissed by an acrobat!" This was the dress of all playing members, and the fifteen wore "caps" as a mark of distinction.

In reply to a query from Watson, Barrington explained that the start of the game was more or less as it is today:

"The ball was nicely placed on the ground exactly mid-way between the two goals. The forwards lined up each side a respectable distance from the ball. Then at the word of the captain the best kicker he had ran forward and kicked off towards the opponents goal. If it went into touch the ball was brought back, replaced and kicked off again. Directly the ball was in the air both sides started on their job."

In reply to another question concerning the method of scoring, Barrington explained that:

A "touch down" meant touching down the ball in one's own goal in defence: There were no points in those days ... A "goal", a "try", a "touch down" were the points we went by ... A goal off a try and a goal dropped were the only two kinds of goals we had. There was no such thing as a "penalty goal".

When a misdemeanour was committed the ball was brought back to the spot of the crime, placed on the ground and a scrum formed round it and on again. A goal off a fair catck was the same as a goal dropped. A goal or a try were the real deciding factors. A "touch down" was only a deciding factor when there was nothing else, but that was not looked upon as a real victory.

Barrington recalled that when he played his first match in Trinity in 1867 there was no distinction between forwards or backs, the players all running after the ball. He introduced a full-back and two half-backs, one on either side of the scrum, as at Rugby School. Further light was thrown on the early manifestations of rugby in Trinity by Barrington's contemporary Arnold Graves:

Some of the rules I remember, hacking was barred but tripping was allowed. Passing was against the rules - it was called hand ball. We played without a referee. There was offside of course. The scrummages were interminable and lasted until the man holding the ball expressed his willingness to put it down, and that was only when his side was losing ground. I have seen a scrummage travel half way down the ground ... and as there was no passing one often saw very fine long runs - sometimes even three-quarters of the length of the ground, with wonderful swerves and dodges ... in every respect the game was more individual and scientific than it is today.

The 1871 Laws

On 26th January, 1871, The Rugby Football Union was founded in the Pall Mall Restaurant in Regent Street, London, to standardize the rules that also removed some of the more violent aspects of the Rugby School game.

Along with the founding of the Rugby Football Union a committee was formed, and three ex-Rugby School pupils (Rutter, Holmes and L.J. Maton), all lawyers, were invited to help formulate a set of rules, being lawyers they formulated 'laws' not 'rules'.

  rutter holmes maton  
Algernon Rutter
President 1871-74
E C Holmes
L J Maton
President 1875-76
(Wimbledon Hornets)

Most of the work was done by Maton as he broke his leg playing rugby and was laid up so he attempted the first draft. He did this in Holmes' law chambers. This task was completed and the laws were accepted by the full committee on 22 June 1871, and brought into force by a Special General Meeting 2 days later. The laws outlawed the practice of hacking and tripping.

1871 laws

Six Scottish clubs i.e. Glasgow Academicals, Edinburgh University in 1871 and Edinburgh Academicals, Royal High School and Edinburgh Wanderers in 1872, recognized that this new code was more comprehensive and up to date than their own 'Green book' and adopted it, as well as becoming members of the RFU.

Laws used for the first International

Reference: The Glasgow Herald March 25, 1871 which reported that the match would use the Rugby School rules with two minor alterations (both which were customary in the London area):
1. The ball, on going into touch, is to be thrown into the ground again from the spot where it crossed the line, and not where it first pitched into touch.

2. For a try at goal, the ball is brought out in a straight line from where it was touched down. (This would eliminate the alternative choice of punting it out after a touch down).

In the London area there was a generally-observed rule that a player could gather up a ball whether rolling or bounding. Scottish clubs only allowed it in the latter case and this was agreed for the first international.

Formation of the Rugby International Board (IB)

In 1884 England played Scotland at Blackheath, in the second half, Kindersley of England was awarded a try by Irish Referee A Scriven. This was hotly disputed by Scotland since C.W. Berry (Scotland) had knocked the ball back immediately before Kindersley picked it up and this was illegal in the eyes of the Scots, but not the English. An important point to note was that the advantage law was not introduced until 1896 and so if this was illegal, then play had to stop. It was agreed to continue the game and refer this to the Rugby Union Committee afterwards. However, the SRU and the RFU could not agree and the match the following year was not scheduled as a result. Read further article by Peter Shortell

When the Irish Union met for their AGM in 1885 they recommended that the 4 home unions meet and discus forming a body to settle any such international disputes. The unions then met in Dublin in 1886 and at that meeting Scotland offered to drop their dispute to the 1884 result if England joined such an international body which composed and equal number of representatives from each union. The international board was then inaugurated in Manchester in 1886 but the RFU were not represented and would not accept the constitutional terms the IB was established under.

When the RFU amended their laws, the other unions did not accept this and referred the decision to the IB. The RFU then offered to allow representatives of the other unions to their committee meetings but this was ignored.

In December 1887 the IB made a statement that IB rules must apply to all international matches and that no games with England would be arranged until they joined the IB. Therefore no games were played in 1888 and 1889.

The dispute then went to arbitration and Lord Kingsburgh, the Lord Justice Clerk and Major Marindin, president of the Football Association met in April 1890 and made a judgment which recognised the claim of Scotland, Ireland and Wales to share in the making of laws and thereby formalized the Rugby International Board. Henceforth all international games were played under the IB rules. Due to the size of the English union it was awarded 6 members on the board whereas the other unions got 2 a piece. A simple majority vote would be used to settle any future disputes but a three-forths majority would be required to modify the laws.

On Feb 8th, 1892 the Rugby International Board met. Discussions included a plan for a systematic revision of the laws, an agreement to fix the qualification criteria for playing internationally for a country, an agreement to for secretaries of the various unions to meet to avoid schedulling conflicts.

Members present were:

R.S.Warren (Ireland) in the chair, E. McAllister (secretary) (Ireland), J.A> Smith and R.G.Raine (Scotland), A.J.Gould and W.D.Phillips (Wales), and Rowland-Hill, J McLaren, M Newsome, J.R.S. Whalley, J Budd and W.Cail (England).

In 1910 the RFU volunteered to reduce its IB votes from 6 to 4.

Until 1930 each union had its own set of laws for its home matches. In 1930 England proposed and Ireland seconded that "all matches should be played under the laws of the International board.

Report on law changes 1931-32 by E. H. D. Sewell

Advert placed in The Sunday Post 20th January 1935

In 1947 New Zealand, Australia and South Africa were admitted with 2 votes each, then given to all member unions. France were admitted in 1978 and in 1991 Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan were admitted.

So as of 2006 the IRB consists of the eight foundations Unions each with two seats - Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France. Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan each have one seat on the Council as does FIRA-AER.



Red and Yellow cards

The system of using yellow and red cards by the referee was invented by a Association Football referee Ken Ashton.

Aston thought of the yellow and red cards while sitting at a traffic light after attending the 1966 World Cup quarter-final between England and Argentina. Newspapers had reported that both Jack and Bobby Charlton had been booked, but there was no public indication of this from the referee. The Argentinian captain Antonio Rattin had to be led off the field after being sent off as he apparently didn't understand what was happening. Aston pondered how to make the position clearer. "As I drove down Kensington High Street, the traffic light turned red. I thought, 'Yellow, take it easy; red, stop, you're off'."

The idea was subsequently adopted by Association football at national and international level. Red and yellow cards were introduced to the game at the World Cup finals in Mexico in 1970.

In 1976, colored cards made their first appearance at League matches. However, there was still resistance from some quarters. Players complained that referees were showing the cards too often. The cards were removed between 1981 and 1987. The game became more messy so the referees and the administrators had to get together to define some ground rules for the use of the yellow and red cards. The cards returned to the field in 1988 but it wasn't until 1992 that the cards were actually incorporated into the Laws of the Game and made mandatory at all levels. Ken Ashton died aged 86 on October 23, 2001.

Yellow cards are also in use in other sports, such as volleyball, women's lacrosse, field hockey, rugby union, rugby league in many countries, and handball.

In both rugby codes, a player shown a yellow card is suspended from the game for 10 minutes (colloquially termed being sent to the 'sin bin', although neither Rugby nor Ice Hockey where the concept came from, call it a 'sin bin'). The bin lasts ten minutes within a single eighty minute game. It is playing time, it stops when the clock is stopped for injury, and does not expire at the end of the first half.

Piet Robbertse, a Test and Currie Cup Final referee and later the chairman of South African referees recounts a time when Bertie Strasheim, a top referee in the Sixties who refereed Tests and the 1968 Currie Cup Final, was once refereeing a game where he ordered a prop to sit on the touch-line till he called him back, which he did after three minutes or so. Strasheim did this as there was no middle measure between letting the nuisance stay on the field and sending him off.

Robbertse says this provoked a lot of discussion and Dr Craven tested the idea in his law laboratory at Stellenbosch where there is the highly competitive internal league.

Then South Africa proposed the concept of a 'cooler' to the International Rugby Board in 1972 but the idea was rejected. They proposed it again in 1975 and again it was rejected. But in 1979 South Africa was given dispensation to use and report on the introduction of 'the cooler'. It was allowed in domestic competition in South Africa but did not apply to matches involving teams from abroad. (Two years later rugby league in New South Wales adopted the use of the sin bin.)

The 'cooler' was not intended for repeated infringement or what has come to be called professional/cynical infringement. It was intended to do what the name suggests - cool down a player who was getting heated under the collar. It was originally set to five minutes' duration.

Eventually the sin bin or temporary suspension was introduced into the game. It was used under dispensation in the Southern Hemisphere and then on 29 January 2000 it was included in the experimental law variations that followed the 1999 Rugby World Cup (set to 10 minutes). The sin bin was then used in the Six Nations that year for the first time.

A red card is a sending off as it is in Association football.

It has been possible to send a play off since 1888 when it was written down that a player should be sent off for foul play, however, the showing of a red card is a relatively recent addition. There has also been instructions to deal with deliberate infringement i.e. 1911: Referees must deal very sharply with all cases of this nature, as this has been a growing practice through players deciding to take the risk of a penalty to gain or save a try by unfair play. This practice is so contrary to the spirit of the game, that the Board have decided to deal with it upon the same footing as rough or foul play or misconduct.

The new law stated:

(a) When a player has been cautioned and temporarily suspended in an
International match the referee will show that player a yellow card.
(b) When a player has been sent off in an International match, the referee
will show that player a red card.
(c) For other matches the Match Organiser or Union having jurisdiction over
the match may decide upon the use of yellow and red cards.

The first yellow card shown in an international was during the All blacks 1995 tour of France when Irish referee Gordon Black showed it to the All blacks lock Mark Cooksley after he'd punched an opponent in a midweek match at Nancy. The ref later found out that it had yet to be introduced officially but it was shortly afterwards.

The first 'official' recipient of a yellow card in a Test match was Ben Clarke, playing for England against Ireland at Lansdowne Road. He stamped on his Bath club mate Simon Geoghegan in the 63rd minute and was shown a yellow card, but played on. Playing on after a yellow card remained law till after the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Then temporary suspension of ten minutes was introduced, signalled by the brandishing of a yellow card.

The first yellow card shown at a world cup was to Argentina's Roberto Grau (ARG) by referee Paddy O'Brien in the 15th minute of the match against Wales in Cardiff at RWC 1999, whereas, Italian Alessandro Moscardi holds the record for most yellow cards at a world cup. At RWC 1999, Moscardi was sent to the sin bin in matches against England, Tonga and New Zealand.

The first player sent off in a world cup match was Wales' Hugh Richards - by referee Kerry Fitzgerald in the 71st minute of the semi-final against New Zealand in Brisbane at RWC 1987.

Incidentally, the French at one stage had a white card as well. Yellow and red were for varying degrees of foul play, the white card for law infractions. The white card has subsequently disappeared.


The Replacement of injured players was added to the 1968-69 Laws (law 12: up to two players per team).

Mike Gibson replaced Barry John in the Lion’s first test against South Africa in 1968 was the first official replacement in a test match (although replacements happened unofficially in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia before that.

Tactical substitutions were introduced in 1996 (three replacements).

Modern Laws (provided by the IRB)

Note: For the latest laws, amendments and regulations visit the World Rugby website, there is a wealth of information there, well worth a visit.


2017 World Rugby Laws
2016 World Rugby Laws
2015 World Rugby Laws
2013 IRB Laws
2012 IRB Laws
2011 IRB Laws
2010 IRB Laws
2009 IRB Laws
2008 IRB Laws
2007 IRB Laws
2006 IRB Laws
2005 IRB Laws
2003 IRB Laws

Dec 2010 - Law Amendments
Dec 2009 - Recommended Law Amendments from Rulings
Dec 2009 - Law Book Review Amendments - Sevens
Dec 2009 - Law Book Review Amendments, Special Council Meeting
July 2009 - Law Amendment to Law 3
May 2009
Nov 2004
Apr 2004
Apr 2003 - Special Council Meeting
Apr 2003 - Law Amendments
2003 Directives - Law Amendments
Nov 2002 - Law Amendments
Apr 2002 - Law Amendments

IRB Law Clarifications/Rulings:

Date Ruling No. Request by Laws Affected Description Included into Law
15 Apr 15 Clarification 4 2015 UAR 6 Law 6 – Match Officials.
23 Mar 15 Clarification 3 2015 FMRU 4 Law 4 and Regulation 12.
2 Mar 15 Clarification 2 2015 Paddy O'Brien 10, 19 The action of throwing a player forward after he has been supported in the air to receive a kick off.
23 Feb 15 Clarification 1 2015 Joel Jutge 5 Restarting towards the end of the game.
26 Nov 14 Clarification 9 2014 FPR 13, 21 Law 22.8: Ball kicked dead through in-goal
26 Nov 14 Clarification 8 2014 FPR 13 Law 13.15: Drop-out goes into the opponents in-goal
26 Nov 14 Clarification 7 2014 FPR 20 Laws 20.9 (b) and (c).
17 Oct 14 Clarification 6 2014 HKRFU 13 Law 13 – Kick Off and Restarts.
8 Oct 14 Clarification 5 2014 RFU 6 Law 6 – Law Amendment Trial – HIA Protocol
8 Oct 14 Clarification 4 2014 RFU 15, 16 Law 15.5 and Law 16.3
15 Sep 14 Clarification 3 2014 SRU 9 Law 9 – Method of Scoring
4 Jul 14 Clarification 2 2014 RFU 9 Law 9.B.1 (e) – Taking a conversion kick
9 May 14 Clarification 1 2014 SARU 12 Law 12 – Knock-on
12 Sep 13 2013-1 IRFU 9 The Irish Rugby Football Union has requested clarification that apart from a kicking tee no other item or implement may be used.
15 Nov 12 2012-3 IRFU 3 Clarification on Law 3.14(d)
10 Jul 12 2012-2 RFU 3, 5 & 8 Clarification of Law 3.11(b), Law 5.7(e) and Law 8.3(f)
11 Apr 12 2012-1 FFR 22 Grounding of the ball whilst feet in touch
4 Nov 11 2011-04 ARU 12 Ball ripped from ball carrier by opponent (Not currently on iRB Laws site)
4 Nov 11 2011-03 ARU 11 10m Law application after ball 'touched' (Not currently on iRB Laws site)
4 Nov 11 2011-02 ARU 17 Maul going to ground (Not currently on iRB Laws site)
18 May 11 2011-01 RFU 3 Front row replacement in uncontested scrums
19 Mar 10 2010-03 WRU 22 Doubt about grounding
11 Mar 10 2010-02 WRU 13 Restart at end of match
10 Mar 10 2010-01 IRFU 3 Front row replacement in uncontested scrums
11 Nov 09 2009-09 IRFU 19 Receiver running into gap at lineout
16 Oct 09 2009-08 SRU 10 Obstruction at maul following a lineout
25 Aug 09 2009-07 USAR 10/16 binding when joining a ruck
10 Aug 09 2009-06 ARU 20/LAG^ U19 Numbers in the scrum 2009
10 Aug 09 2009-05 RFU 3 Uncontested scrums and all replacements used
11 May 09 2009-04 ARU/NZRU 15/16 Playing ball legally before ruck forms - Can player continue to handle ball? 2009
08 Apr 09 2009-03 FFR 5 Scrum Collapse after time/Lineout offence after time 2010
16 Oct 09 2009-02 Rev SARU 22 Simultaneous grounding and touch in-goal 2009
07 Apr 09 2009-02 SARU 22 Simultaneous grounding and touch in-goal
19 Mar 09 2009-01 RFU 12 Quick throw after a knock on into touch 2010
24 Sept 08 2008-04 RFU 17 Defence voluntarily leaving a maul
13 May 08 2008-03 NZRU 20 No.8 Shove on scrum engagement 2009
13 May 08 2008-02 ARU 3 Uncontested scrum sanctions
21 Jan 08 2008-01 RFU 22 Stationary & moving ball clarification 2009
1 Oct 07 2007-03 GRU 16 Defence voluntarily leaving a ruck
12 Mar 07 2007-02 IRFU 3 Substitutions at a penalty kick
17 Feb 07 2007-01 RFU 20 Scrum Engagement at all age levels
29 Nov 06 2006-09 FFR 17 Tackling the ball carrier in the maul
29 Nov 06 2006-08 FFR 16 Diving over players on the ground at a ruck
14 Nov 06 2006-07 SRU 10 Flying Wedge Question
14 Nov 06 2006-06 IRFU 10 Tackle that starts low but ends high 2009
14 Nov 06 2006-05 FFR 4 Definition of Jersey, shorts & underwear
14 Nov 06 2006-04 SARU 4 Elastic long sleeves with manufacturers mark
06 May 06 2006-03 FFR 3/LAG U19 - Do locks require suitable training?
10 Jan 06 2006-02 FFR 19/21 Penalty kick for goal hits post and goes into touch
10 Jan 06 2006-01 FFR 13/18 Mark after a restart
25 Oct 05 2005-07 ARU 20 Scrum half offside line at scrum 2009
30 Sep 05 2005-06 ARU 3 Re-request of clarification to ruling 2005-04
30 Sep 05 2005-05 IRFU 10 Spear Tackles 2009
15 Aug 05 2005-04 ARU 3 Front row replacements after a temporary suspension
30 Jun 05 2005-03 FPR 21 Intention to kick for goal, then take a quick tap
01 Apr 05 2005-02 FFR 6 Non player touching the ball in the field of play
01 Apr 05 2005-01 IRFU 16 Rucking the ball and other players 2009
24 Dec 04 2004-10 WRU 19/21 Quick throw taken into 22m & Propelling ball with thigh
23 Dec 04 2004-09 IRFU 10/22 Penalty try & Temporary Suspension
01 Sep 04 2004-08 JRFU 15 Other players in a tackle 2009
23 Jun 04 2004-07 SRU 19 Receiver in the line out 2009
04 Jun 04 2004-06 FFR 3 Front row replacements
04 Jun 04 2004-05 ARU 19 Receiver in the line out
24 May 04 2004-04 RFU 19 Receiver in the line out 2009
20 Feb 04 2004-03 JRFU 15 Players not going to ground in a tackle 2009
10 Jan 04 2004-02 FIR 3/19 Front row replacements & Played into own 22m
20 Jan 04 2004-01 WRU 3/14 Player laying on ground tackling & Front row replacements 2009
02 Sep 03 2003-14 UAR 19 Picking up a stationary ball outside the 22m with feet in 22m 2009
18 Aug 03 2003-13 SRU 15 Tackler not going to ground 2009
05 Aug 03 2003-12 RFU 3 Front row replacements
24 Jul 03 2003-11 NZRU 15/17 Forming & collapsing a maul
24 Jul 03 2003-10 NZRU 3 Blood bin over half time
24 Jul 03 2003-09 IRFU 3 Front row replacements
20 Jan 03 2003-08 IRFU 15/17 Tackling a player in a maul
03 Jul 03 2003-07 UAR 10/19 Heading a ball into touch
03 Jul 03 2003-06 SRU 17 Players forming a maul in specific order
27 Jun 03 2003-05 ARU 3 Front row replacements
12 Jun 03 2003-04 NZRU 3 Front row replacements
07 Jun 03 2003-03 SRU 15/17 Tackling the player in the maul
07 Jun 03 2003-02 SRU 3 Front row replacement management
15 Jan 03 2003-01 SARU 19 Receiver in the line out 2009
15 Nov 02 2002-09 Dutch Rugby Union 19 Receiver in the line out 2009
29 Oct 02 2002-08 Rugby Canada 20 Position of locks head in a scrum
01 Oct 02 2002-07 FPR 13 Ball kicked into touch from a kick off, but has not travelled 10m
05 Sep 02 2002-06 IRFU 6/21 Quick tap from a scrum FK or PK
05 Sep 02 2002-05 IRFU 19 Receiver in the line out
23 Jul 02 2002-04 WRU 6/8/10 Quick tap from a scrum FK or PK
23 Jul 02 2002-03 RFU 19 Receiver in the line out
17 May 02 2002-02 RFU 19 Peeling off from the line out
20 Mar 02 2002-01 SRU 3 Clarification of 15 min blood bin

Full Regulations:

2015 Handbook

Evolution of modern laws

"The History of the Laws of Rugby Football" pub 1949 contains 241 pages of changes to the laws that have occurred over the years. "The History of the Laws of Rugby Football 1949 - 1972 contains a further 83 pages.

As you can see although the basic principles remain the same today, extensive attempts have been made over decades to refine the laws, remove ambiguity and improve the enjoyment and safety of the game.

An interesting chapter in the development of the laws was the creation of "The Laws in Plain English" read the full story here.

2012 Law Amendment Trials

The following Law amendments have been approved for global trial by the IRB Council. The implementation dates are the start of the Northern Hemisphere season at or around September 1st 2012 and the start of the Southern Hemisphere season at or around January 1st 2013. It is not intended that the a Union should implement the trial Law amendments mid season or mid competition. Unions will be given the opportunity to provide both quantitative and qualitative feedback on the trials.

2012 Law Amendment Trials - Detail

2004 - 2009 Experimental Law Variations (ELVs)

August, 2009

The ELV Conference in March 2009 expressed a concern that the maul can be observed to be, and actually can be, a form of ‘legalised obstruction’. This is evidenced by players at the back of an elongated maul holding the ball whilst the maul moves forward (‘truck and trailer’).

An IRB working group concluded:

1. The maul must be formed so that the opposition can contest the maul at the formation; this includes the formation of the maul at a lineout and from a maul formed after kick-offs or restart kicks. (Match Officials were instructed to apply this from May 2009 - a DVD was circulated to all match elite match officials and Referee Managers.) Mauls from open play should be refereed in the same way as mauls formed at lineouts or from restart kicks.

2. A player may have both hands on the ball and be bound into the maul by other players involved in the maul.

3. If a player takes the ball in a formed maul and detaches whilst the players in the maul continue going forward, they are obstructing the opposition if that player continues moving forward using the players in front as a shield.

4. If the ball carrying team in the maul is moved backwards at or immediately after the formation, Law 17.6 (d) and (e) should apply :

"(d) When a maul has stopped moving forward for more than five seconds, but the ball is being moved and the referee can see it, a reasonable time is allowed for the ball to emerge. If it does not emerge within a reasonable time, a scrum is ordered.
(e) When a maul has stopped moving forward it may start moving forward again providing it does so within 5 seconds. If the maul stops moving forward a second time and if the ball is being moved and the referee can see it, a reasonable time is allowed for the ball to emerge. If it does not emerge within a reasonable time, a scrum is ordered."

If the maul is moved backwards, match officials currently do not apply Law 17.6 (d) at the maul formation. If they did so it would only allow one more movement forward and it may encourage the non-ball-carrying side to commit to the maul at its formation.
Match officials also permit mauls to move sideways and do not apply 17.6 (d) and (e). Strict application may assist.
If the referee says "use it" the ball must be used and restarting the maul is not an option.

5. The concern about ‘truck and trailer’ is not about the ball being one or two players back from the ball carrier when the maul is moving forward, as that replicates a scrum. The concern is about the player ‘hanging’ on the back of the maul. Strict application of the definition of a bind may assist in resolving this issue:

“Binding. Grasping firmly another player’s body between shoulders and the hips with the whole arm in contact from hand to shoulder”.

If the ball carrier player does not bind in this way, the maul is considered to be over and match officials insist the ball is used. If the player rejoins and binds on the players in front, the team should be penalised for obstruction. This may encourage players to bind appropriately.

The official document can be obtained here.

February, 2010 - Charging into a ruck

Players entering a ruck must do so in accordance with the Laws of the Game. Referees are reminded that appropriate binding is a requirement, and charging into a ruck is dangerous play and must be penalised as such. Video examples can be seen here.

(b) A player joining a ruck must bind on a team-mate or an opponent, using the whole arm. The bind must either precede, or be simultaneous with, contact with any other part of the body of the player joining the ruck.
Sanction: Penalty kick
(g) Dangerous charging. A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without trying to grasp that player.
Sanction: Penalty kick
(h) A player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without use of the arms, or without grasping a player.

February, 2011 - Dangerous Tackles (high tackles)

The specific provisions of Law 10.4(e) in relation to High Tackles are as follows:

A player must not tackle (or try to tackle) an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. A tackle around the opponent’s neck or head is dangerous play.

A stiff-arm tackle is dangerous play. A player makes a stiff-arm tackle when using a stiff-arm to strike an opponent.
At an IRB Medical Conference held in November 2010 at Lensbury the results of studies related to injuries sustained as a result of tackles were outlined. A study in England concluded that “stricter implementation of the Laws of Rugby relating to collisions and tackles above the line of the shoulder may reduce the number of head/neck injuries”. A separate study in New Zealand concluded that “ball carriers were at highest risk from tackles to the head and neck region”.

The participants at the Medical Conference generally recognised that tackles above the line of the shoulders have the potential to cause serious injury and noted that a trend had emerged whereby players responsible for such tackles were not being suitably sanctioned.

The purpose of this Memorandum is to emphasise that as with tip tackles, they must be dealt with severely by Referees and all those involved in the off-field disciplinary process.

It is recognised of course, as with other types of illegal and/or foul play, depending on the circumstances of the high tackle, the range of sanctions extends from a penalty kick to the player receiving a red card. An illegal high tackle involving a stiff arm or swinging arm to the head of the opponent, with no regard to the player’s safety, bears all the hallmarks of an action which should result in a red card or a yellow card being seriously considered.

Referees and Citing Commissioners should not make their decisions based on what they consider was the intention of the offending player. Their decision should be based on an objective assessment (as per Law 10.4(e)) of the overall circumstances of the tackle.

May 15th, 2012 - IRB and Unions Sanction Global Law Trials (from IRB press release)

The International Rugby Board and its Member Unions have sanctioned a global trial of five aspects of Law amendments following an extensive process of consultation and evaluation.
The trial, approved by the IRB Council at its Annual Meeting in Dublin on Tuesday, will commence at the start of the next season in each hemisphere (August 2012 in the north and January 2013 in the south) and will be applicable to both international and domestic competition.

Aspects of Law approved for trial include limiting the time that the ball is available at the back of a ruck and the positioning of taking a quick throw-in. In addition to the suite of five Laws approved for global trial, three additional trials will operate during 2012.

A trial extension of the jurisdiction of the Television Match Official will be introduced later this year, while the number of nominated replacements in Test Rugby will be increased to eight for a trial in the November window.

The global trial has been sanctioned after an unprecedented evaluation process that kicked off with submissions and recommendations for 20 potential amendments from Member Unions and has culminated with recent trials of amendments to seven aspects of Law as a package at dedicated playing environments in Cambridge and Stellenbosch.

This evaluation process is in line with the remit of the Laws Amendment Process approved by the IRB Council in December 2009.

Unlike previous amendment processes, the process of selection, monitoring and evaluation has been steered by an independent Laws Representative Group, comprising technical representatives from each of the 10 Tier 1 Unions covering elite and community Rugby and representatives of the IRB Rugby Committee.

Extensive evaluation of the Cambridge and Stellenbosch University trials undertaken earlier this year determined that each of the seven amendments could have a positive effect on the Game or clarify existing areas of Law and therefore a recommendation was made to the IRB Council via the IRB Rugby Committee to approve a global trial of all seven amendments.

The five Law amendments to be trialled globally are:
1. Law 16.7 (Ruck): The ball has to be used within five seconds of it being made available at the back of a ruck following a warning from the referee to “use it”. Sanction – Scrum.
2. 19.2 (b) (Quick Throw-In) For a quick throw in, the player may be anywhere outside the field of play between the line of touch and the player’s goal line.
3. 19.4 (who throws in) When the ball goes into touch from a knock-on, the non-offending team will be offered the choice of a lineout at the point the ball crossed the touch line; or a scrum at the place of the knock-on. The non-offending team may exercise this option by taking a quick throw-in.
4. 21.4 Penalty and free kick options and requirements: Lineout alternative. A team awarded a penalty or a free kick at a lineout may choose a further lineout, they throw in. This is in addition to the scrum option.
5. A conversion kick must be completed within one minute 30 seconds from the time that a try has been awarded.

In addition to the global trials, the IRB Council approved three specific additional trials:
1. A trial to extend the jurisdiction of the TMO to incidents within the field of play that have led to the scoring of a try and foul play in the field of play to take place at an appropriate elite competition in order that a protocol can be developed for the November 2012 Tests.
2. A trial has been sanctioned for the November 2012 Test window permitting international teams to nominate up to eight replacements in the match day squad for Test matches. In line with current practice at domestic elite Rugby level, the additional player must be a qualified front row player.
3. An amendment to Law 3.4 (Sevens Variation) to enable Sevens teams to nominate up to five replacements/substitutes. Under the revision, which will operate from June 1 2012, a team may substitute or replace up to five players during a match. Approval has been granted on player welfare grounds to recognise the additional demands on players and squads owing to the expansion of the HSBC Sevens World Series where there are three blocks of three events on consecutive weekends.

Council also approved the referral by the Laws Representative Group of one potential Law amendment that was successfully trialled at Cambridge and Stellenbosch for further consideration by the specialist Scrum Steering Group (overseeing scrum force project) to be considered alongside the ongoing review of the scrum.

The amendment that will be considered by the Group relates to the engagement sequence and will see the referee call “crouch” then “touch”. The front rows crouch then touch and using outside arm each prop touches the point of the opposing prop’s outside shoulder. The props then withdraw their arms. The referee will then call “set” when the front rows are ready. The front rows may then set the scrum.

“We have a collective responsibility to ensure that the Game is as enjoyable to play, officiate and watch as possible at every level while player welfare is of paramount importance,” said IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset.

“Rugby is currently in good health with participation growing around the world, but there is collective responsibility to ensure that a structured process can be implemented to allow for global analysis and to monitor trends relating to the shape and character of the Game as it evolves.”

“The approval of five aspects of Law for global trial is the culmination of the Laws Amendment Process which was agreed by the IRB Council in 2009. The journey to this point has been exhaustive and collaborative and has involved full stakeholder consultation and I would like to thank Member Unions for their buy-in and commitment to the process from the outset.”

“The Laws Representative Group were encouraged by the outcomes of the initial trials in Cambridge and Stellenbosch. The next step is a global trial with full buy-in and which has been approved by Council on the basis that the amendments can have a positive effect on the playing of the Game.”

“The global trials are not fait accompli. It is essential at the end of the global trial process that decisions made are in the best interest of Rugby worldwide,” added Lapasset.

Editors notes:
Laws Representative Group (LRG): David Nucifora (ARU), Rob Andrew (RFU), Franco Ascione (FIR), Joel Dumé (FFR), Owen Doyle (IRFU), Rod Hill (NZRU), Stephen Gemmell (SRU), André Watson (SARU), Francisco Rubio (UAR), Joe Lydon (WRU), Paddy O'Brien and Graham Mourie (IRB Rugby Committee).
IRB Laws Amendment Process (approved December 2009):
Laws Laboratories commenced in early 2012 (Stellenbosch and Cambridge)
LRG considered outcomes – statistical, player/coach feedback and match to criteria
Council reviewed the recommendations and approve global trials if applicable
Global trials – August 2012 NH – January 2013 SH if applicable
LRG review and recommendations to the Rugby Committee
Recommendations to Council Annual Meeting 2014
Implementation immediate if accepted

Definition of Terms

May 5th, 2015

The quadrennial laws review process kicked off with technical experts beginning the process of critiquing the game’s law book following commentary and feedback submitted by unions. 

Every four years, the governing body runs a health-check on the laws of the game with a view to ensuring the enhancement of player welfare, the maximisation of enjoyment for players and fans, while making sure the sport can continue to develop at all levels around the world.

During two days of productive analysis and discussion in London, the expert Law Representation Group critiqued feedback in order to make recommendations for the Rugby Committee to consider at its next meeting in September. Truly representative, the LRG is made up of coaches, players, referees, medics and union delegates.

Considerations included reinforcing of the application of existing law, edits or re-writes of law and the introduction of new laws deemed appropriate for local trial. The process could culminate in law amendments within the next Rugby World Cup cycle but no changes can be made prior to RWC 2015 in England.

The scrum and breakdown was a particular area of focus with the group agreeing: 

LRG and Rugby Committee Chairman John Jeffrey said: “World Rugby is committed to continual review and assessment of the laws of the game to ensure that the game is enjoyable to watch and play and is as safe to play as possible at all levels, from the elite, professional tier right down to community and youth rugby.

“This important process occurs after every Rugby World Cup and is an opportunity to take stock, review the laws, drawing on expert input and make changes where needed with those who play and support the game and ongoing prosperity of the sport in mind.

“It was great to see our unions and associations making such a strong contribution, while the level of expertise and discussion from our expert group when considering the submissions was very impressive. We have lots to consider and some interesting proposals to develop.”

New Zealand representative and All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen added: “We all have a responsibility to ensure that rugby is as simple, enjoyable and safe to play as possible. It was a fascinating review and I look forward to ongoing involvement in this important process.”

The previous cycle saw the revision of the scrum engagement sequence on player welfare grounds following extensive evaluation and trials. The crouch-bind-set sequence has reduced forces on engagement by up to 40 per cent at the elite level. 

World Rugby confirms closed law trial programme

September 10th 2015

Exciting law trials will take place in national competitions during 2015-16 season with the successful ones taken forward to global trial from 2017.

With the promotion of player welfare, law simplification and spectator experience at the core, World Rugby has confirmed details of a package of law trials that will be trialled domestically within the current quadrennial law review process. 

Every four years, rugby’s governing body undertakes a complete health-check of the game’s playing trends across the Rugby World Cup cycle to ensure that the sport continues to develop at all levels around the world. This extensive process is undertaken with full union consultation. 

The approval of the package of law trials by the World Rugby Executive Committee, follows detailed analysis and evaluation of union submissions by the specialist Law Review Group (LRG), Scrum Steering Group (SSG) and the Multi-Disciplinary Injury Prevention Group (MDIPG) over the past five months and is the third of a seven-phase process of law change. 

The full package of law trials can be viewed here.

In previous cycles, closed trials were operated by World Rugby at Cambridge and Stellenbosch but a desire to deliver extensive, meaningful, elite-level analysis and feedback, meant that unions were asked to nominate competitions for the trials. All trials will be filmed and independently analysed in preparation for World Rugby Council to consider which trials go forward for global trial in 2017. 

World Rugby’s Pacific Challenge, U20 Trophy, Tbilisi Cup and Nations Cup in 2016 will trial the full package of law amendments, while the first trials are underway with the Principality Cup in Wales and the National Rugby Championship in Australia. A full inventory of competitions will be released in due course. 

Player, coach, fan, match official and media feedback will be sought as part of a comprehensive evaluation of the closed trials by the LRG in mid-2016 with recommendations made to the World Rugby Council in November 2016 as to whether to adopt or not as global trial. Any global trials will commence in January 2017 (south) and August 2017 (north). 

LRG and Rugby Committee Chairman John Jeffrey said: “World Rugby is committed to continual review and assessment of the laws of the game to ensure that rugby is enjoyable to watch and play and is as safe to play as possible at all levels, from the elite, professional tier right down to community and youth rugby. 

“This important process occurs after every Rugby World Cup and is an opportunity to take stock, review the laws, drawing on expert input and make changes where needed with those who play and support the game and ongoing prosperity of the sport in mind. 

“It is great to see our unions and associations making such a strong contribution to this process, while the level of expertise and discussion from our expert group when considering the submissions was very impressive. While this is not a fait accompli, we are excited by the package of trials and look forward to detailed coach, player and fan feedback.” 

Meanwhile, the World Rugby EXCO has approved a package of minor law edits, which will operate globally from 1 January, 2016 (south) and 1 August (north). These edits follow submissions by unions as part of the law review process and were recommended to EXCO following detailed evaluation by the Law Review Group and Rugby Committee. These changes will be put in front of Council in October 2015. The LRG is also currently undertaking a wider review of the tackle and ruck area. 

Law trials and minor law amendments set for 2016

December 23rd, 2015

A number of minor law amendments, approved and announced in September, will come into effect in the southern hemisphere on 1 January and 1 July in the northern hemisphere, while 2016 will also see a programme of closed law trials begin in earnest as World Rugby's quadrennial law review process continues in 2016.  
Every four years, rugby's governing body undertakes a complete health-check of the game's playing trends across the Rugby World Cup cycle to ensure that the sport continues to develop at all levels around the world. This extensive process is undertaken with full union consultation and has player welfare, game simplification and fan experience at its core. 
The implementation of the package of law trials and law amendments by World Rugby Council follows detailed analysis and evaluation of union submissions by the specialist Law Review Group (LRG) which reports to the Rugby Committee. This evaluation process also featured specialist input from the Scrum Steering Group (SSG) and the Multi-Disciplinary Injury Prevention Group (MDIPG) over the past year and is the next phase of the law change process. 

2016 minor law amendments recap
Play acting or "simulation” will be specifically outlawed in the game in a move that formalises resistance to a practice that has been creeping into the game in recent years. Any player who dives or feigns injury in an effort to influence the match officials will be liable for sanction. Previously, such offences were covered under the laws covering general acts contrary to good sportsmanship.

2016 closed trials recap 
With the closed law trials kicking-off in Wales and Australia in August with the Principality Cup and National Rugby Championship respectively, 2016 will see other tournaments follow, including a number of World Rugby competitions, namely the Pacific Challenge Cup (March), U20 Trophy (April), Nations Cup (June) and Tbilisi Cup (June), providing valuable data from players, coaches and match officials for the LRG to consider.

2016 law clarifications recap
In addition, as announced in September, a package of clarifications in law have been brought within the law book. All clarifications are already effective from the date of the designated members' decision. However, the LRG felt that these clarifications should be recognised by full inclusion in the law book: 


Editors Notes
Law review proposals were considered against the following agreed principles:
1. Player welfare, especially concussion, is the number-one priority
2. The laws must allow for a fair contest for possession, especially in the contact area, in general play and when play is restarted at scrums, lineouts and kick-offs
3. The game remains a sport for all shapes and sizes, for men and women, and for boys and girls
4. The unique identities of the game must be maintained, including the scrum, lineout, ruck, maul, tackle, kick-off and restarts
5. Any changes must promote enjoyment for participants and entertainment for spectators and must be in line with World Rugby's core values of passion, respect, integrity, discipline and solidarity
6. The laws must be applicable by match officials
7. The game should be as easy to understand as possible for players, coaches, match officials and spectators 

Law review cycle 2015-18:
1. Early 2015: Call for suggested amendments
2. Mid-2015: LRG reviews suggestions made by unions/regional associations
3. September 2015: Rugby Committee meets to discuss proposals
4. Early 2016: Initial trials are conducted in relevant competitions
5. Mid-2016: Initial trials are reviewed by LRG
6. October 2016: Initial trials are reviewed by Rugby Committee
7. November 2016: Global trials (if appropriate) are approved by World Rugby Council
8. January 2017: Any such global trials start in southern hemisphere and August 2017 in northern hemisphere
9. June 2018: Any global trials are reviewed by LRG
10. October 2018: Recommendations are made to Rugby Committee
11. November 2018: Council confirms law amendments (if appropriate) at a special meeting and the law is changed accordingly

LRG members were nominated by the top 10 unions (Six Nations and SANZAR). Composition includes directors of rugby, coaches, players and referee representatives. Every World Rugby member union and all the regional associations had an opportunity to propose law changes and trials. As part of the review process, all relevant footage is analysed independently against agreed success criteria, for desired and undesired results as well as looking for possible unintended outcomes (positive and negative).

At the original LRG meeting the members agreed that Laws 15-17 (Tackle, Ruck and Maul) needed further consideration. All unions were asked to further consider any potential trials with their Unions. As a result the LRG met again and agreed to trial the following elements of the game, the full list of which can be found HERE
Law 15 – Tackle 

1. The tackler must get up before playing the ball and then may only play the ball from behind his side of the breakdown mid-point. (amend current 15.4 (c). The breakdown mid-point is not the ball but the point where players are in contact.  
2. A tackled player must immediately pass the ball or release it. That player must also get up or move away from it at once (existing 15.5 (b)).
3. If tackler and ball carrier only then there is no breakdown or offside line – this is open play and subsequent attacking players maybe be tackled by retreating players.  
4. Recognise assist tackler in law 

Players in opposition to the ball carrier who remain on their feet who bring the ball carrier to ground so that the player is tackled must clearly release the ball and the ball carrier immediately after the tackled player is put on the ground. Those players may then play the ball providing they are on their feet and do so from behind the breakdown mid-point (Existing 15.6 (c))
Law 16 – Breakdown

1. A breakdown commences when at least one player from the attacking team is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (tackled player, tackler plus one more). At this point the offside line is created (new definition).
2. Only players acting as a half-back can play the ball with their hands (lift the ball out of the breakdown).  They must be on their feet and on-side. They must subsequently run, pass or kick (new 16.2 – Joining a breakdown). A half-back is any one player who is not part of the breakdown and behind the hindmost foot who is in a position to play the ball emerging from the breakdown. The hindmost foot will be the offside line for half-back players.
3. Offside line at a ruck is the back foot plus one metre. If the back foot of the hindmost player is on or behind the goal line, the offside line for the defending team is the goal line. To be policed by assistant referees (new 16.5 (a) – offside at the breakdown).
4. All arriving players must come from an onside position (see 3 above) and can enter their side of the breakdown mid-point (no gate). Players must remain on their feet (new 16.5 (c)).
5. No players at breakdown can have hands on the ground beyond the ball, hold onto or lean on or have knees on players on the ground. Players off their feet sealing the ball will be penalised. Arriving players encouraged to drive over or past the ball (existing 16.4).
6. Players must not handle the ball in a breakdown once the breakdown is formed. Once the breakdown contest is formed the player must release the ball (new 16.4 – other breakdown offences).
7. The breakdown ends when the ball emerges or the ball is picked up (new 16.6 – successful end to a breakdown).

Law 17 – Maul

The group debated trialling a collapsed maul. The consensus was that this would be perceived as dangerous and should not be trialled.
The group agreed to issue a law application (from 1 January) guideline to enforce the following:
The ball can be moved backwards hand-to-hand once the maul has formed. A player is not allowed to move or slide to the back of the maul when he is in possession of the ball. Sanction: Penalty kick.



1. The Daily News, Tuesday April 29, 1890.
2. Extract: The Bold Collegians: The Development of Sport in Trinity College, Dublin by Trevor West, the Lilliput Press, 1991.

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