Definitions

Playing_rugby_union

Playing rugby union

A typical passage of rugby union takes the following form. One team will initially gain possession of the ball, either from the kick-off, a restart kick or a set piece (scrum and line-out, see below). Although the team in possession may choose to advance by kicking the ball forward, from the hand, they will usually seek to progress toward the opposition by running forward while carrying the ball. The ball may be thrown from one player to another (passing) but must not be thrown forward, that is towards the opposition dead-ball line. Any team mate ahead of the ball-carrier is offside and must not interfere with play, which means that American football style blocking is forbidden. The team not in possession attempts to stop the ball-carrier by grabbing and bringing them to ground (a tackle). A tackled player, once having been brought to ground, must immediately pass or release the ball, allowing the two teams to contest possession of the loose ball. Play does not stop unless there is an infringement of the Laws, the ball/ball-carrier leaves the field of play, or the attacking team scores points by either touching the ball over the goal-line (a try) or kicking the ball over the crossbar. If the ball goes into touch (out of the field of play), the game restarts with a line-out. If the game stops due to an infringement, play restarts with either a scrum, free kick or penalty kick (depending on the severity of the infringement) to the non-infringing team.

Game laws and methods

Rugby union differs from association football (soccer) in that the hands can be employed to move the ball. However, a player can only pass the ball backwards or laterally (i.e. not forward) to another player, or kick it. This means that the majority of progress made by an attacking team occurs through a leap frog cycle of passing the ball, running to make ground, being tackled and repeating this process. Each of these cycles (greatly simplified) is called a phase of play.

An aspect of rugby union which sets it apart from most other sports is the concept of "advantage". If one team commits an infraction of the Laws, the referee will not stop play if the opposing team is in a position to gain a territorial or tactical advantage from the mistake. Instead, he calls "advantage" and allows play to continue until he judges that adequate advantage has accrued, when he calls "advantage over", and play continues as if the original infraction had not occurred. If he deems that no advantage can accrue, the referee will stop play and award a scrum, free kick or penalty, as appropriate, at the site of the original infraction.

The question of what is "advantage" and how long play should be allowed to continue to see if any advantage is gained, is a moot point: the referee is the sole judge of what constitutes "advantage" and different referees can and do take different approaches to this question. But in general, if in subsequent "advantage" play a team has the chance to do what they could have done if the referee had stopped play for the infraction, then advantage has been gained and the referee will call "advantage over". So, for instance, suppose a team commits an infraction that would result in their opponents being awarded a scrum. If their opponents are able to take clean possession of the ball and advance it following the infraction, then they have done what they would have been able to do from a scrum - advantage is thus over. If on the other hand their possession is "messy" or closely contested then there is no advantage, and the referee will (or should) award the original scrum. Advantage play automatically ends if the team seeking advantage commits an infringement itself: normally, they would then be awarded the consequences of the original infringement, but if they commit an act of foul play, then they will (or should) be penalised directly themselves.

Playing field

Rugby union is played on a field, known as a pitch, that should have a grassy surface, though the Laws permit the use of artificial grass, clay, sand or snow, but not permanently hard surfaces such as asphalt or concrete. The Laws do not say that the pitch needs to be flat or level, merely that the surface must be safe to play on. If either team feels that the pitch is unsafe, the referee must try to resolve the issues and must not start the match if any part of the ground is considered to be dangerous.

The playing area consists of a field-of-play, not exceeding 70 metres in width and 100 metres in length, and in-goal areas at each end of the field-of-play that must extend at least 10 metres, but no more than 22 metres, beyond the field-of-play. Solid lines are painted on to the field to mark the sides of the pitch (touch-lines), the rear of the in-goal areas (dead-ball lines), the sides of the in-goal areas (touch-in-goal lines), the goal-lines (usually called the try line), lines 22-metres from each goal-line , and the half-way line. Broken lines are painted parallel to the half-way line and 10 metres from it, in each half of the field, and parallel to the touch-lines and 5 metres and 15 metres infield from touch on each side of the field-of-play. Dash lines are also marked 5 metres from (and parallel to) the goal-lines. In rugby union the touch-lines are regarded as out of play. Thus, a player standing on, but not over, the touch-line is regarded as being "in touch" and a ball that touches the dead-ball line is "dead".

There is a goal at each end of the field-of-play, positioned centrally on the goal-line, and consisting of a pair of vertical posts, each a minimum of high, placed apart and connected by a horizontal bar above the ground—giving each goal the shape of the letter 'H'. For the safety of the players, the lower portion of each goal post is usually encased in protective padding.

Flag posts, at least high, are positioned at the four corners of the field-of-play and at the corners of each in-goal area. The four posts on the goal-line are considered part of touch-in-goal, and the four posts on the dead-ball lines are considered part of the dead-ball line. There are a further six flag posts positioned outside the field-of-play and in line with the 22-metre and half-way lines on each side of the pitch. These flag posts play no part in the game and are there solely for indicative purposes.

Officiating

The game is controlled by a referee, who is assisted by two touch judges. The match organisers may authorise additional match officials. These can include a reserve referee, reserve touch judge, a Television Match Official (TMO), a time keeper and a match doctor.

Despite the presence of other officials, the referee is "the sole judge of fact and of Law" during the match, and is not bound to take their advice. If a referee is unable to finish the game, a replacement takes over; this is usually the more senior of the two touch judges, in which case another official will take over the duties of touch judge. Their main responsibility is to apply fairly the Laws of the Game in the match. Although some of these responsibilities may be delegated, the referee must also; keep the time, keep the score, give permission for players to leave the playing area, authorise any substitutes, and authorise any medical personnel to enter the playing area. Player's must respect the referee's decisions, and are penalised if they dispute it. If the other team had already been awarded a penalty then it will be taken a further 10 metres closer to the opposition goal-line.

The referee may punish a player's misconduct by using penalty cards. A yellow card indicates caution, a red card indicates a player has been sent off. Players may be cautioned for foul or dangerous conduct, for persistent breaches of the same rule, or for deliberate infringement to prevent their opponents from gaining a decisive advantage. A player receiving a caution is temporarily suspended from play for ten minutes. This has become known as the sin-bin. If the same player subsequently commits a further cautionable offence, he is sent off for the rest of the game. A player can also be sent off permanently, without first being cautioned, for serious foul play. The touch judges adjudicate when the ball or ball carrier is in touch and whether a kick at goal is successful. If given the authority by the match organiser or referee they may also signal for foul play. There is a touch judge on either side of the ground, and they remain in touch except when judging a kick at goal, and when reporting foul play to the referee during a stoppage. Touch judges carry a flag to signal decisions.

When a match is televised, a Television Match Official (TMO) may be appointed. The primary role of a TMO is to use television replays to advise the referee whether a try has been scored. The circumstances in which the referee may consult with the TMO is determined by the match organiser. The TMO may only be consulted in certain circumstances; a decision in-goal regarding the scoring of a try, whether a player was in touch when attempting to score a try, and the success of a kick at goal.

Match structure

Before a game commences, traditionally, a coin will be tossed to determine which side will kick off and what direction the teams will be running. This is usually performed by a referee although the laws suggest that it should be done by one of the captains. In most cases, the home side will elect what side of the coin they will choose, either heads or tails. The winner may choose to kick off or which direction they will run. A number of elements may become part of the decision-making process of a coin winner. A personal preference may be that a team wishes to start the match defending, thus will elect to receive the ball, or vice versa.

Weather can be a decisive factor, such as the possibility of having a potentially large advantage over an opponent if there is a high amount of wind, as it would aid their kicking game. Depending on the time of the game, the sun might be a factor in the decision, being a potential problem to the vision of players, depending on which way they run. The 2006 Super 14 Final was affected by poor weather, with low fog preventing players from seeing little more than 40 metres.

Depending on when the toss was performed, both sides will make their way out onto the field. Kick-off will be performed from the center of the field. Each half lasts 40 minutes, but play comes to an end only when the ball goes dead. Variations in time and extra-time apply in any number of interpretations of the game, or tournaments. 'Half-time' lasts around 10 minutes, allowing for players to recover from fatigue and for coach interaction as well as other factors, such as time for crowds to access amenities and facilities. In the second half, the teams swap the direction of running, and the team kicking off, so any possible advantage such as wind may now be in favour of the other side, although the conditions may no longer be present.

Scoring

Change in points
Period Try Conversion Penalty Drop goal Goal from mark
—1891 1 2 2 3 3
1891—1893 2 3 3 4 4
1893—1905 3 2 3 4 4
1905—1948 3 2 3 4 3
1948—1971 3 2 3 3 3
1971—1977 4 2 3 3 3
1977—1992 4 2 3 3
1992— 5 2 3 3

The aim of rugby union is to score more points than the opposition. Teams score in several ways:Try

A try is scored by grounding the ball in the opposition's in-goal area. The ball can be grounded in two ways: if a player has control of the ball, they can place it on the ground on or over the opponents' goal line using their hand(s) or arm(s); alternatively, if the ball is already on the ground on or over the opponents' goal line, the player can press down on it with any part of their body from the waist to the neck— including the hands and arms. The opponents' goal line includes the base of the posts and the padding around them, so an attacking player grounding the ball on the goal-line, or against the base of the goal posts, scores a try. A try is worth five points, and gives the attacking team the opportunity to score a conversion.Penalty try
A penalty try can be awarded if the defending team commits foul play, and in doing so prevents what, in the referee's judgement, would have been a probable try. A penalty try is awarded between the goal posts. It is also common for the infringing player to be cautioned or sent off.Conversion
After scoring a try, or being awarded a penalty try, the scoring team attempts a conversion. A player takes a kick at goal in line with where the ball was grounded, or from in front of the posts for a penalty try. Scoring the goal earns two points.Penalty goal
A penalty goal can be attempted when the referee awards a penalty for an opposition indiscretion. To score, the ball is place kicked from the ground and must go above the crossbar and between the goal posts. A penalty is worth three points. If the penalty is awarded too far away from the goal posts to attempt a goal, then the attacking team can: kick for touch and get to throw in at the resulting line-out, take a tap penalty and run the ball, and opt for a scrum with the attacking team getting to feed the ball.Drop goal
A drop goal (also known as a dropped goal) occurs when a player kicks the ball between the opposition goal posts and above their cross bar. The ball must strike the ground before being kicked, and scores three points..

The running game

Running rugby occurs when a team attempts to move forward by running with, and passing, the ball. The ball can be passed laterally or backwards, but cannot be thrown forward. The opposing team is awarded a scrum if the ball is unintentionally thrown forward or if a knock-on occurs: the ball is said to have been "knocked-on" if a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward, or if the ball travels forward after hitting the player's hand or arm, and the ball touches the ground or another player before the original player regains control of it. An exception to this is that if a player knocks the ball forwards in attempting to block a kick by an opponent, it is not a knock-on and play continues. A deliberate forward pass or a deliberate pass directly into touch is punishable by a penalty kick to the opposing team.

There are three basic methods of running rugby:

A drive around a ruck or a scrum is usually performed by the forwards and is intended to break the defensive line using weight and force. The ball-carrier runs directly at the opponents and will endeavour to protect the ball so as to retain possession when contact occurs. This play, often referred to as a "pick-up-and-drive", usually offers a slow but sure advance. Sometimes the tactical aim is to suck defenders into a ruck or maul, opening gaps in the defensive line for the backs to exploit. It is also often employed in the closing minutes of the game by the team that has the lead, because it is an effective way of retaining possession and running down the clock.

A more open style of running rugby occurs when a player (usually, but not always, the scrum half) takes possession of the ball at a ruck, maul, scrum or line-out and throws a long pass along the back-line. As each back receives the ball they will either pass the ball immediately, often in an attempt to create an "overlap", where the number of available attackers exceeds the number of potential defenders, or they may attempt to run through a perceived gap in the defensive line. If the ball-carrier cannot avoid being tackled, they will try to wait as long as possible, to oblige defenders to commit to the tackle, before passing the ball to a teammate (an "offload"); if there is no-one to receive the offload, the tackle will usually set up a ruck, from which the team in possession will hope to recycle the ball through another "phase" of play. A skillful back has the ability to vary the angle and point of attack of their runs, so as to be able to receive the ball in a position that will enable them to run through gaps in the opposing defense.

Finally, there is the counterattack: if the team in possession kicks the ball down-field, it may be caught by an opponent who, rather than returning a kick, may elect to counter-attack by running forward. Advantages of this tactic are that it can often catch the opposition unawares, if they were expecting a return kick, and that the ball-carrier may initially have more open space than usual in which to operate, especially as any opponents who were ahead of the kicker are initially off-side. A disadvantage is that many of the ball-carrier's team-mates may be some distance up-field and unable to provide support if they are tackled by an opponent.

Off-side in open play

In open play, any player is offside if they are in front of a team-mate who is carrying the ball or who last played the ball. A player who is offside is not allowed to take part in the game but is not liable to be penalized unless they interfere with play or move forward toward the ball from an offside position. If a player knocks on and a team-mate plays the ball from an off-side position, they are liable to be penalized if, in so doing, they prevent the opposing team from gaining an advantage.

Any player who is ahead of a team-mate who kicks the ball is required to retreat 10 metres from the place where the ball lands and is considered to be taking part in the game (and is thus liable to be penalised) until they have done so, though they can be put on-side by a team-mate before they have moved the full 10 metres.

A player who is off-side can put themself on-side by running behind the team-mate who last played the ball and can be played on-side by any on-side team-mate who runs in front of them. Except where the 10 Metre Law applies, an off-side player becomes on-side as soon as an opponent has carried the ball 5 metres, or passed, kicked or intentionally touched the ball.

If an off-side player cannot avoid being touched by the ball or a team-mate carrying it, and if their team gains an advantage as a result, they are said to be "accidentally off-side" and the opposing team is awarded a scrum.

A tactic commonly employed during open play is the use of "decoys" — players who attempt to confuse the opposition by creating the impression that they are about to receive a pass. A decoy runner who is ahead of the ball-carrier is, strictly, off-side, but will not usually penalised unless they impede an opponent or prevent them from having a fair opportunity to tackle the ball-carrier (a practice often referred to as "crossing").

The breakdown

The aim of the defending side is to stop the player with the ball, either by bringing them to ground (a tackle, which is frequently followed by a ruck), or by contesting for possession with the ball-carrier on their feet (a maul). Such circumstances are known by the collective name of "the breakdown", and each is governed by a specific law.

Tackle
A player may tackle an opposing player who has the ball by holding them while bringing them to ground. The tackle is complete when the ball-carrier is held on the ground: if the ball-carrier is forced, or falls, to ground without being held the tackle is not complete and the ball-carrier may get to their feet and continue. Once tackled, a player must immediately release the ball, either by passing to a team mate or placing it on the ground, and the tackler must release them and move away. After the ball has been released by a tackled player — commonly referred to as the tackle-ball — players from either side may play the ball, provided they are on their feet and have approached the breakdown area from the side of their goal-line. However, the tackler and the tackled player play the ball as soon as on their feet—regardless of what side they are standing. Note that a tackler is defined as a player who goes to ground in the act of making the tackle, not simply any player involved in making the tackle (you can therefore have a tackle with no tackler if the person who makes the tackle does not go to ground).

Tacklers cannot tackle above the shoulder (the neck and head are out of bounds), and the tackler has to attempt to wrap their arms around the player being tackled to complete the tackle. It is illegal to push, shoulder-charge, or to trip a player using feet or legs, but hands may be used (this being referred to as a tap-tackle or ankle-tap).

Ruck
A ruck is formed when at least one player from each side bind onto each other with the ball on the ground between them. A ruck often ensues following the tackle-ball phase. As soon as at least two players, one from each side, are in physical contact together with the ball on the ground, a ruck has formed. This physical contact, or binding, is generally by locking shoulders while facing each other. Additional players may join the ruck, but must do so from behind the rearmost foot of the hindmost team mate in the ruck; this is often referred to as "coming through the gate". Players must also be on their feet to join the ruck, and must bind onto the ruck with their whole arm around the body of a team mate.

In a ruck, no player may use their hands to win the ball; instead each side attempts to push the other side back, and players use their feet to hook the ball back towards their own side — an action known as rucking the ball. The team with possession attempts to ruck the ball back towards their own goal-line, where is it picked up by one of their own players. Once the ball is out of the ruck, the ruck is over.

Players in a ruck may not deliberately go to ground themselves, and must try to stay on their feet. Players must also not attempt to ruck the ball near players on the ground as this is dangerous. If a player is on the ground, they must try to move away from the ball and not interfere with the ball in any way. If the ball becomes trapped in a ruck, the referee awards a scrum to the side moving forward.

The ruck and the maul are the two phases of the game where the offside law is particularly important. Any player not taking part in the ruck and maul must retreat behind the offside line, a notional line that runs through rearmost foot of their hindmost team mate in the ruck or maul— the line runs parallel to the goal-lines.

Many infringements occur in rucks. Players may seek to slow down the speed that opposition can recycle possession. This is done by using their hands illegally, or lying over the ball, or going to ground deliberately. Such infringements result in penalties. As a result of the quickened pace in the modern game, there is increasing confusion among players regarding when a tackle-ball has become a ruck. Players are often penalised for using their hands in a ruck when they think the breakdown is still at the tackle-ball phase.

Maul

A maul occurs when a player carrying the ball is held by one or more opponents, and one or more of the ball carrier's team mates bind on the ball carrier. Once a maul has formed other players may join in but, as in a ruck, they must do so from their own side. If the maul stops moving forward, and the ball is not available to be played, then the referee awards a scrum to the side not in possession when the maul began (unless the maul was formed immediately after a player received a kick other than a kick-off). The tactic of the rolling maul occurs when mauls are set up, and the ball is passed backwards through the players' hands to one at the rear, who rolls off the side to change the direction of the drive. This tactic can be extremely effective in gaining ground and both doing it properly and preventing it takes great skill and technique. It is a tactic most commonly used when the attacking side is inside the defending side's 22 m line.

It was once illegal on safety grounds to pull down a maul, causing that players fall to the ground. However with the introduction of the Experimental Law Variations it is now permitted to pull down a maul.

On the other hand, a maul is not properly formed if the ball carrier binds on to a team-mate from the rear, and both of them then drive into one or more opponents - or if the ball-carrier breaks off from the back of the maul, which continues to drive forward. The players in front are either accidentally or deliberately offside and the referee awards either a scrum or a penalty to the opposing side, depending on whether the infringement was viewed as accidental or deliberate.

The tactic is sometimes referred to by players, commentators, and referees by the colloquial term "truck and trailer".

Off-side at the breakdown

When a maul or ruck occurs, anyone who is not behind the back foot of all team-mates who are involved is off-side, and may not take part in the game. An offside player who takes part in the breakdown is punished with penalty kick; if they show no intention to play from their position, however, no penalty is awarded.

The kicking game

In specific situations it is common to kick the ball rather than attempt to make progress with ball in hand. This will usually be done to obtain a territorial advantage, relieve pressure in defence, or turn the opposition and create disarray in their defensive ranks.

When the team has the ball behind its own 22-metre line it is important to relieve pressure and gain a better field position. The most common course of action is to kick the ball directly in touch as long as possible. This kick is usually performed by the fly-half if the ball was secured at a set piece or breakdown, or by the fullback or a wing if the ball was received from an opponent's kick. Due to the fact that a line-out occurs when the ball is in touch, making a surprise counterattack from the opposing team unlikely, it is generally better to get a "short and sure" line-out than a long but more dangerous kick.

When there seems little prospect of progressing with running rugby in the midfield a player, frequently the scrum-half, the fly-half, or a centre, kicks the ball to move it into an undefended spot of the field, forcing the opponents to leave their positions to recover and play it. This kick usually travels fast and low, and fly-halves who perform it usually try to hit the ground just before the side line and then bounce the ball in touch, thus producing a line-out far away.

An "up and under" (aka a Garryowen) kick is performed as an attacking option. The kicker, usually the fullback, kicks the ball high and short, and then charges to contest possession.

Another attacking variant that is becoming increasingly common is the "cross-field kick", in which the ball is kicked diagonally forward, usually toward the far touch-line, for a team-mate to chase. This tactic led to Australia's opening score in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final, when a kick by fly-half Stephen Larkham was caught by wing Lote Tuqiri, who scored a try in the corner. Though the kicker is usually the fly-half, New Zealand lock Ali Williams created a try with a successful cross-field kick in the last match of the 2005 Tri Nations, against Australia.

A "grubber" kick is a short, low kick in which the ball rolls on the ground. It's a common play for a wing close to the touch-line and can be very effective if the opponent's goal line is close and the defenders are still in front of the kicker (thus being easier to overrun). In addition, the shape of the rugby ball means that an unfortunate bounce can leave the defenders looking foolish.

The kicking game is generally considered the sole preserve of the backs. Exceptions do occur, however, and many forwards like to demonstrate their kicking prowess during practice sessions. Flanker John Taylor kicked a famous penalty for Wales in the 1971 Five Nations, lock John Eales occasionally kicked goals for Australia and All Blacks Number 8 Zinzan Brooke even scored a drop goal from the midfield.

Set-pieces

Set-pieces are used to restart play after a stoppage. They are, principally:

Restart kicks

Play is started at the beginning of each half by a kick-off. One side—determined following the toss of a coin—takes a drop kick from the middle of the halfway line to start the half. The ball must travel at least 10 m into the opposition half. None of the kicking team's players are allowed in front of the player taking the kick until after that player's foot has touched the ball. The kicking side frequently kicks the ball high and for it to go just over 10 m, which is marked by a dashed line across the pitch. This tactic gives their players time to chase the lobbed ball and hope to catch it before the opposition does. Alternatively the kick may be a long kick deep into opposition territory, sacrificing the chance to regain possession for territorial gain. A restart kick that does not cross the 10 m line can be played by the receiving team, but not by the kicking team or a midfield scrum is awarded to the receiving team. A restart kick that crosses the side lines without being touched awards the receiving team either a midfield scrum or a line out on the half way line, receiving team option.

Similarly, there is also a 22 m drop-out. This is awarded if the attacking side is responsible for sending the ball into the in-goal area, but instead of their player grounding the ball and scoring a try it is first grounded by a defender. If the ball is kicked into the in-goal area by the attackers and instead of being grounded there by either side it continues, under its own momentum, through the in-goal area and crosses the dead-ball line, then the defenders have the option of choosing either a 22 m drop out or a scrum at the place where the attackers kicked the ball. The 22 m drop out is taken at any point along (or behind) the 22 m line.

Penalty kicks and free kicks

Penalty kicks are awarded for dangerous play, deliberate infringement of the Laws and offsides. A penalty kick may either be used to attempt a penalty goal, kick into touch (either directly or indirectly, in both cases the kicking team throws-in the ball at the ensuing line-out) or tapped with the foot (giving the kicking player possession of the ball). In each case, the opponents must retire to a distance 10 m from the point at which the penalty is awarded.

A free kick is awarded for technical infringements that do not warrant a penalty. A free kick differs from a penalty in that it cannot be used for an attempt at goal. If the ball goes into touch, the kicking team does not receive the throw at the ensuing lineout. When kicked directly into touch (i.e. without bouncing) there is no gain in ground from the free kick unless it was taken from behind the kicking team's 22 metre line.

A free kick is also awarded when a player catches an opponent's kick on or behind his own 22 m line and shouts the word "mark".

Scrum

A scrum is a way of restarting the game safely and fairly after a minor infringement. It is awarded when the ball has been knocked or passed forward, when a player is accidentally offside, or when the ball is trapped in a ruck or maul with no realistic chance of being retrieved. A team may also opt for a scrum if awarded a penalty. It is also awarded to the passing or kicking team if the ball hits the referee.

A scrum is formed by the eight forwards from each team binding together in three rows. The front row consists of the two props (loosehead and tighthead) either side of the hooker. The second row consists of two locks and the two flankers. Behind the second row is the number 8. This formation is known as the 3-4-1 formation. The two packs of forwards engage with each other so that the heads of the front-rowers are interlocked with those of their opponents. Front-rowers always aims for the gap to the left (as they see it) of their opponent. The two locks in the second row bind directly behind the front row with their heads between a prop and the hooker. The flankers bind either side of the locks, and the number 8 binds behind and between the two locks.

Once a scrum is formed the scrum-half from the team awarded the feed throws the ball into the gap between the two front-rows known as the tunnel. The two hookers then compete for possession by hooking the ball backwards with their feet, while each pack tries to push the opposing pack backwards to help gain possession. The side that wins possession transfers the ball to the back of the scrum, where it is picked up either by the number 8 or by the scrum-half. Either the scrum half or the number 8 can then pass, run, or kick the ball and normal play then resumes. A scrum has to be awarded between the lines along the goal-lines and touch-lines. A team may also score a pushover try from a scrum; once the ball has crossed the goal-line during a scrum an attacking player may legally ground it.

Line-out

When the ball goes into touch (i.e. outside of the area of play) the referee calls a line-out at the point where the ball crossed the touchline. There are two exceptions for this rule. (1) No line-out is awarded closer than 5 m to opponent team goal line, if the ball crosses the touch closer the throw-in occurs on 5 m line. (2) If a kick goes directly into touch and the kicker is outside his own 22 m line the throw-in occurs where the ball was kicked. The forwards of each team (though not necessarily all of them, their number is throwing-in team option) line up a metre apart, perpendicular to the touchline and between 5 m and 15 m from the touchline. The ball is thrown from the touchline down the centre of the lines of forwards by a player (usually the hooker) from the team that did not play the ball into touch. The exception to this is when the ball went out from a penalty, in which case the side who gained the penalty throws the ball in. There is an advantage to being the team throwing the ball as that team then knows where along the line the throw is aimed. If the ball passes over the 15 m line, it can be played by everyone and the line-out is over; if the ball is not thrown straight down the middle of the line-out, the non-infringing team may choose to have the put-in to either a new line-out or a scrum 15 m infield.

Both sides compete for the ball, and some players may lift their teammates. (While the laws say that jumping players may only be supported, lifting is uniformly tolerated under specified conditions). A jumping player cannot be tackled until they stand and only shoulder-to-shoulder contact is allowed; deliberate infringement of this Law is dangerous play, and results in a penalty kick, and frequently a trip to the sin bin. If a penalty kick is awarded during a line-out and the line out is not over, it is taken 15 m from the touch line.

Offside at the set-piece

All players not taking part in a scrum or line-out must remain onside, or run the risk of conceding a penalty kick. At a scrum the scrum-half must remain behind the ball at all times, and the remaining backs must remain behind the back foot last player in the scrum. At the line-out, all players not taking part must move 10 m from the line, and remain there until the line-out is over. At a restart kick, free kick or penalty, the kicker's teammates must remain behind the kicker, and the opposition must usually retreat 10 m. The exception is a drop-out, where the receiving team need only be on their own side of the 22 m line.

Possible alterations to the laws

Alterations to the laws of rugby union have been trialled by students of Stellenbosch University in South Africa, have undergone additional trials in Scotland and Australia, and are now undergoing further trials in England. However, no changes are expected to be made before 2008.

The Australian Rugby Union decided that all eight Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) would be adopted in the inaugural Australian Rugby Championship, which ran from August to October 2007.

Among the most important proposed changes are:

  • At the scrum, all backs except for the two scrum-halves must stay at least 5 metres behind the back foot of the scrum (or, if the defending team in a 5-metre scrum, behind the try line).
  • Each team may use as many players in the line-out as it wishes, as long as all fit within the 15-metre line.
  • The opposing hooker need not stay within 5 metres of the touchline, but must otherwise conform to the laws where they stand.
  • Defending teams may collapse a maul.
  • If the ball is run or passed behind a team's own 22-metre line, and is then kicked into touch on the full without an intervening tackle, ruck or maul, the ensuing line-out will be conducted at the spot of the kick. (If the same kick goes into touch on the bounce, the line-out will be conducted where the ball went into touch, as in the current laws.)
  • Long-arm penalties (i.e., free kicks, with the possibility of a kick for goal) will now only be assessed for offside and foul play. All other infractions will be short-arm penalties, which cannot be kicked for goal; they will be tap-kicks, with the option of a scrum as allowed in the current laws.
  • Players will be allowed to use their hands in the ruck, as long as they enter in an onside position and are on their feet. (During previous trials of the ELVs, some competitions have allowed use of hands in the ruck, while others have treated it as a short-arm penalty.)

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