Laws & Guidelines

The following information has been put together by Peter Watson, laws chair of the Referee and Laws (Standing) Committee. The information clarifies the meanings of the most misinterpreted laws of rugby, and will serve to aid all referees in their development.

UPDATE - as of February 24, 2015

Please click here to view World Rugby's official release in reference to Law 5: Time.

Glasses and Goggles

Update – January 2014

The Law as explained below is still in place. However, World Rugby is currently (early 2014) trialing a set of goggles that are allowable. USA Rugby is participating in this trial.

Full information on this trial is available at

The key points are:

  • This Trial Variation allows only one particular set of goggles, which is made by Raleri.
  • The purpose of the Rugby Goggles is to allow a player to wear corrective lenses. It is not designed to provide protection.
  • To purchase Rugby Goggles a player needs to apply for permission from the IRB. This includes a letter from an ophthalmologist indicating the need for goggles and the player must agree to provide feedback on the goggles as part of the trial.
  • When approved the player will be given an access code which will allow the purchase of one set of Rugby Goggles. The player will then need to have their personal ophthalmologist fit the goggles with lenses.

Rugby Goggles are the only form of goggles allowed and will carry the IRB logo. All the referee needs to do at the equipment check is confirm the logo is on the goggles.

Basic Law on Eye-Wear

Goggles, eye-glasses or any other form of eyewear other than contact lenses are not permitted under current Law.

Both the adult game and all forms of youth rugby are underpinned by the Laws of the Game as framed by the International Rugby Board. Law 4 covers Players’ Clothing and other equipment.

Section 4.1 contains a list of all approved items (beyond the standard shirt, shorts, socks and boots). This lists every additional item that may be lawfully worn.

Section 4.4 contains a list of banned items. It is not complete or exclusive. In other words, the fact that a particular item is not on the list does not imply that the item is therefore lawful. 4.4 (g) specifically says that a player cannot wear “any other item which does not conform with the IRB Specifications for such clothing (Regulation 12). Remember that in the definition for Law 4, “clothing” is “anything players wear”.

The IRB is currently (fall of 2013) studying materials that possibly might be suitable for goggles that could legally be worn when playing.

Knee Braces

Options regarding knee braces are quite limited.

Law 4.1 (a)

A player may wear supports made of elasticated or compressible materials which must be washable.

What you cannot wear is anything with metal or rigid supports or hinges.

Law 4.4 (c)

A player must not wear any items containing buckles, clips, rings, hinges, zippers, screws, bolts or rigid material or projection not otherwise permitted under this Law.

In essence, if your knee needs more than a simple support sleeve, you are probably not ready to play yet.

Single-Toe Studs

Clarification on Allowable Cleat Patterns

USA Rugby Laws Committee, April 2006 – UPDATED MARCH 2015

In May of 2014 World Rugby removed the prohibition on single stud at the toe of the boot. This sub-section is no longer in the Law:

A player must not wear a single stud at the toe of the boot.

Reports of referees requiring that players cut a toe stud off molded rubber soles should not be happening. This is not a requirement in Law. In fact, I have seen the results of this and they can be actually dangerous after a sloppy trim job, with sharp edges created when cutting off the stud.

The prohibition on single studs is meant for boots with replaceable studs. Soccer style cleats with molded bottoms are covered in Law 4.3 (b), as are many boots intended for other sports such as football:

Molded rubber multi-studded soles are acceptable provide they have no sharp edges or ridges.

In a similar vein, the boot style known as “blades” were accepted provisionally in 2001. That has not changed.

That said, the referee on the day always has the right and the obligation to decide that a particular shoe is unacceptable. Many shoes that are just fine when new can, after use and wear, become dangerous. That is why there is an equipment inspection before every game.


Wearing Tights

World Rugby has addressed this issue in a couple of Clarifications (2006) and one Law change (2012).

Briefly, tights are not appropriate wear for rugby because they negatively affect the ability of a tackler to grasp the legs of a ball carrier. People have tried to get around this by claiming tights are “underwear” or “support”. The Clarifications have made it very straightforward – no tights.

Tights are not “underwear”

In the Law on Players’ Clothing (4), it is clearly stated that players wear “…a jersey, shorts and underwear, and socks and boots.”

In 2006 the French asked for definitions. The relevant section in the IRB’s response is…

3. Underwear: an undergarment, that covers the body from the waist, having short or no legs but does end above the knees, and worn next to the skin or under clothing, and not attached to the jersey or shorts.

This makes tights not an allowed piece of “underwear”.

Tights are not “support”

In the Law on Players’ Clothing players are allowed to wear “…supports made of elasticized or compressible material which must be washable.”

Also in 2006 South Africa asked about a long-sleeved undergarment which extended past the jersey’s sleeves. This was response from the IRB was that…

the wearing of elastic ‘long sleeves’ is not a support as described in Law 4.1(a).

This also applies to tights.

Women Wearing Tights

In 2012 a change was made to Law 4.2 Special Additional Items for Women (trial variation)

4.2(b) Female players may wear cotton blend long tights with single inside leg seam under their shorts and socks.

Why is this for female players only?
World Rugby allows tights for women (and not men).


Question: Referees occasionally have to manage the behavior of people on the sidelines such as coaches and reserve players. Should the referee display yellow (warning) or red (expulsion) cards when acting to control unacceptable behavior?

Ruling: The use of red and yellow cards is carefully and clearly laid out in Law 10. Cards are to be used when cautioning or sending off a player. That’s it. They are not to be used as a “crowd control” tool. When a card is shown, that is a statement that a player has contravened Law 10 and that certain sanctions will be applied. Specifically, that there will be a penalty (unless a penalty try has been awarded or advantage has been played and gained) and that the sanctioned team will be a player short for either ten minutes or the remainder of the match.

Question: What is the harm in using cards outside the specifications of the Laws?

When a card is shown, there is an expectation by all, both participants and observers, that the specified sanctions will be applied. That would not be the case if cards were used for the purpose of managing non-participant behavior. The result would be a loss of confidence in the referee on that particular day, and a general degradation for all referees.

Misconduct by non-participants is addressed in the USA Guidelines and in the Disciplinary Procedures, as well as in Geographic Union and/or Conference By-Laws. Use of Red and Yellow cards are not part of that process.

Persistent Offenses and Penalty Try

Penalty tries and repeated infringements are two distinct issues. Repeated infringements do not automatically trigger penalty tries, regardless of where and when they occur.  It is incorrect application for a referee to threaten “the next one’s a penalty try” or to award a penalty try because of repeated infringements.

A penalty try is awarded if:

  • Law 9.A.1 Penalty Try

    If a player would probably have scored a try but for foul play by an opponent, a penalty try is awarded between the goal posts.

  • Law 10.2 (a), 10.2 (b), 10.3 (b)

    A penalty try must be awarded if the offense prevents a try that would probably otherwise have been scored.

    The key words are would probably been scored and the offense. What this means is that the specific offense must have prevented the probable try.

    A series of similar offenses by a team or by an individual becomes persistent or repeated based on several possible factors:

    • Time span in which the offenses occurred
    • Place on the field in which the offenses occurred
    • Offenses by one player

    What this means is that an offense can be a repeated infringement without reaching the standard of a penalty try even if the offenses occurred very close to the goal line. Repeated infringement is foul play, and is covered in Law
    10. However it does not per se mean that the standard for a penalty try has been met.

    To award a penalty try, the individual offense must (by itself) have prevented a probable try. This is true whether it is a singular occurrence or part of a pattern leading to a referee determination of persistent offenses.

    The referee, therefore, must make two separate judgments. First, has this pattern reached the point of persistent offending? And second, did this particular offense prevent a try? These judgments are independent of each other. An offense may be repeated without leading to a penalty try. And an offense may result in a penalty try without being part of a larger pattern.

Disciplinary Procedures

World Rugby Laws