Can You Punch In Rugby?

Fights are not uncommon in rugby with players coming to blows for a variety of reasons. You can hop on Youtube and watch some legendary punch ups that make you think rugby is part boxing. Even though fights do occur in rugby and are somewhat celebrated by fans are they legal?

Can You Punch In Rugby?

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – MARCH 08: Mohammed Haouas of France punches Jamie Ritchie of Scotland and is later sent off after being shown a red card during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between Scotland and France at Murrayfield on March 08, 2020 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

No, you can not punch in rugby. Punching is a serious foul that will result in a yellow or red card and the offending playing being suspended from matches. Punching has always been banned in rugby however, it was tolerated for many years. This is no longer the case with referees clamping down on punching.

Punching is a big no no in rugby. If you want to stay on the rugby field then you are going to have to keep your hands to yourself. If you still find yourself with an itch to let your hands fly, consider taking a trip to your local boxing gym or even taking up ice hockey which has maintained its fighting tradition unlike rugby. 

Can You Fight In Rugby?

No, you can not fight in rugby. Fighting has been illegal in rugby and continues to be so. In the glory days of the past referees would turn a blind idea to fights particularly in scrums and mauls. Nowadays there is little tolerance for fighting in rugby and you will be sent from the field and suspended.

What Happens If You Fight In Rugby?

If you fight in rugby at minimum you will receive a yellow card but most likely you will receive a red card. You will also likely receive a suspension for a number of matches. If the fight is particularly banned you may be banned for the season or for life.

In recent years rugby officials and referees have made a conscious effort to rid the sport of rugby of fighting. In the past it was a tolerated aspect of the game particularly in the forwards where it was expected you would throw and receive a few punches in the rucks and at scrum time. Those days are gone and all forms of fighting are severely penalised with even minor fights usually resulting in red cards and suspensions being issued.

How Do Rugby Players Fight?

Rugby players will typically grab the jersey with one hand to keep their opposition while throwing looping punches with their free hand. In many ways it is reminiscent of a hockey fight. As rugby players aren’t boxers most of their punches miss and fights are usually broken up by their teammates very quickly, within 10-20 seconds.

These days fights in rugby are usually over before they start. Players may be able to throw a handful of punchers each with most of them hopelessly missing their target before both players are swarmed and separated by their fellow teammates. Injuries or knockouts from rugby fights are very rare.

Who Is The Best Fighter In Rugby?

The best fighter in rugby would Sonny Bill Williams. Sonny Bill Williams has been training boxing for over a decade currently has an undefeated professional record of 7-0. Williams is one of the few rugby players who you would bet on knocking out his opposition in a fight on the rugby pitch.

A number of rugby players have trained in boxing to boost their cardio. Some players have taken this training further by sparring and actually competing in boxing. The most notable rugby boxing crossover star is Sonny Bill Williams. Williams has stepped into the ring 7 times and has an unblemished record. Williams even holds a notable win over former heavyweight contender Francois Botha. Standing at 6 ft 3 and weighing 110kg combined with a decade boxing experience Williams is the best fighter in rugby.

Why Aren’t Rugby Players Charged With Assault For Fighting?

Rugby players aren’t charged with assault for fighting as the fight is viewed as being mutual combat where both players are consenting to fighting each other. Rugby players have been charged for fighting with referees who are viewed as victims.

An assault can only occur when there is a victim. If both parties agree to fight each other there is no victim and therefore no assault has occurred. When two rugby players square up against each other and throw punches both are viewed as willfully engaging in a fight and therefore this contest can not be viewed as an assault but rather mutual combat.

Technically a rugby player could be charged with assault if it was clear that there was no consent to a fight and the victim brought charges against the offender. However, this is unlikely due to rugby’s macho image and the fact that there would have to be an injury serious enough to warrant criminal charges being pursued.

In 2019 a 27 year old New Zealand rugby player from Dunedin was charged for striking a referee in the head. The referee penalised the offender for a late hit. After discussing the offence with the offending player the referee reached for his pocket and produced a red card. This sent the player into a rage and resulted in him striking the referee in the shoulder and head. 

 The incident where the referee was attacked was a clear case of assault as the referee did consent to being in a fight and was therefore a victim. The player couldn’t rely on the fact that it happened during a rugby match to avoid consequences for his actions.

Can You Fend To The Face In Rugby?

You can fend to the face in rugby as long it is done with an open palm and is a pushing motion rather than a striking motion. It is up to the referee to decide if your fend to the face is illegal. As long as you push with an open hand your fend should be legal.

Fending to the face is an incredibly effective technique in rugby. An aggressive fend to the face can force even the most determined tackler to give up. However, fending to the face is one of the legal grey areas in rugby. Technically it is allowed but the referee has a lot of discretion to decide if your fend looked too much like a strike.

 To ensure you don’t get penalised for a big fend make sure it is obvious you are pushing your opponent rather than hitting them and maintain a completely open palm throughout the movement.


Back in the day in rugby fighting might get you a mild telling off by the referee and a pat on the back by your coach and teammates. However, in recent years rugby officials and referees have clamped down on the gladiatorial aspects of rugby and have instituted harsh penalties (automatic red cards and suspensions) for all fight infractions. If you want to fight rugby is no longer the sport for you. You will have to take up boxing or MMA.

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