Demystifying Rugby Fines: Common Questions for New Fans

Rugby, a sport beloved by millions across the globe, is known for its physicality, strategy, and adherence to a unique set of rules and regulations. One aspect that often confuses new fans is the concept of fines in rugby. This article aims to provide answers to common questions that new rugby enthusiasts may have about fines, from what they are and how they work to the role of the citing commissioner, and their impact on the game.

  1. What Are Fines in Rugby?

In rugby, fines, often referred to as “penalties,” are an essential part of the game. They are awarded by the match referee when a team or player violates the laws of the game. These laws, defined by World Rugby, govern various aspects of rugby, from scrums and lineouts to tackles and offside positions. When a law is breached, the opposing team is awarded a penalty, giving them an opportunity to gain territory or kick for goal.

  1. How Are Penalties Awarded?

Penalties are awarded by the match referee when they observe a breach of the laws of the game. The referee typically uses a whistle to stop play, signals the direction in which the penalty is awarded (by pointing towards the offending team), and then identifies the specific offense by using hand signals.

Common Offenses Leading to Penalties: There are several common offenses that can lead to penalties in rugby:

  • Offside: Players must be positioned behind the last foot of their own team’s ruck or maul and maintain the required distance behind a scrum or lineout. Being in front of these positions can result in a penalty.
  • High Tackles: A high tackle that makes contact with the opponent’s head or neck area is penalized. Player safety is a top priority in rugby, and high tackles are considered dangerous.
  • Not Releasing the Ball: After a tackle or breakdown, players must release the ball carrier and allow fair competition for possession. Failure to do so can result in a penalty.
  • Dangerous Play: Actions such as spear tackles, tip tackles, and late charges are considered dangerous play and are penalized.
  1. What Happens After a Penalty Is Awarded?

Once a penalty is awarded, the team that was fouled is given several options:

  • Scrum: The team can choose to have a scrum at the location where the penalty was awarded.
  • Kick for Goal: A team can decide to kick for goal, attempting to earn three points. The kicker aims to kick the ball through the uprights and between the posts.
  • Tap and Go: Instead of kicking for goal or opting for a scrum, the fouled team can choose to tap the ball with their foot and continue play.
  • Kick to Touch: Teams can opt to kick the ball out of bounds to gain territory and set up a lineout.
  1. What Is a Yellow Card?

A yellow card is a disciplinary action that a referee may take when a player commits a serious offense or when a team repeatedly infringes the laws of the game. When a player receives a yellow card, they are temporarily sent to the sin bin for a specified duration, typically ten minutes. During this time, their team plays with one fewer player.

Common Offenses Leading to Yellow Cards: Yellow cards are often issued for offenses such as high tackles, dangerous play, deliberate knock-ons, repeated infringements, and professional fouls.

  1. What Is a Red Card?

A red card is a more severe disciplinary action in rugby. It involves the permanent expulsion of a player from the match. Red cards are typically issued for actions that pose a severe risk to player safety, such as striking an opponent, eye gouging, or repeated serious offenses.

  1. What Is the Role of the Citing Commissioner?

In professional rugby, there is often an additional level of scrutiny and review after the match. The citing commissioner is responsible for reviewing video footage of the match to identify potential acts of foul play. If the commissioner believes that a player should be cited for an incident, they submit a report to the disciplinary committee.

The disciplinary committee then assesses the incident, taking into account evidence such as video footage, and may impose sanctions on the player, including suspensions. The role of the citing commissioner and the disciplinary committee ensures that foul play is thoroughly reviewed and that players who commit offenses are held accountable.

  1. How Do Penalties Impact the Flow of the Game?

Penalties have a significant impact on the flow and dynamics of a rugby match. They can slow down the tempo of the game and influence team strategies.

  • Territory Gain: Kicking for touch following a penalty allows teams to gain territory and secure a lineout in the opposition’s half.
  • Point Scoring: Kicking for goal provides an opportunity to score three points, which can be crucial in tight matches.
  • Tactical Adjustments: Teams often adapt their tactics and strategies based on the position of the penalty. For example, they might opt for a scrum in an advantageous position or tap and go for quick ball movement.
  • Player Accountability: Penalties serve as a deterrent against foul play and reinforce player accountability, as teams strive to play within the laws of the game.
  1. How Do Penalties Impact Player Discipline?

Penalties are an essential component of player discipline in rugby. They hold players accountable for their actions and encourage fair and sportsmanlike play. By penalizing offenses, the game reinforces the importance of safe and respectful conduct on the field.

Penalties, yellow cards, and red cards play a crucial role in ensuring player discipline and promoting a culture of respect and adherence to the laws of the game.

  1. Are All Penalties Created Equal?

No, not all penalties carry the same consequences. The referee uses their judgment to assess the severity of each offense and may apply sanctions accordingly. Some penalties may lead to scrums, while others result in kicks for goal. The significance of each penalty depends on the context of the game and the specific laws that were breached.

  1. Can Penalties Be Reviewed or Challenged?

In rugby, the match referee’s decisions, including those related to penalties, are final and not subject to review or challenge. The use of video technology, such as the Television Match Official (TMO), is limited to specific incidents, such as grounding of the ball for a try, and not the referee’s judgment regarding penalties.


Penalties are a fundamental part of rugby, serving to maintain the integrity of the sport, ensure player safety, and promote fair play. They play a vital role in the dynamics of a game, affecting team strategies and tactics. Understanding the different types of penalties, their consequences, and the role of the citing commissioner is crucial for both new and seasoned rugby fans. Rugby’s disciplinary system, which includes penalties, yellow cards, and red cards, reinforces player accountability and upholds the sport’s core values of respect and sportsmanship.

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