How Long Is A Game Of Rugby Union?

If you are thinking of playing a game of rugby or attending and watching a match then you need to know how much time you are about to invest in this endeavour. So lets see just how long you can expect to be running around the rugby field or sitting in the stands.

How long is a game of rugby union?

A rugby game lasts for 80mins. It is made up of two 40 minute halves with a halftime break of up to 15mins. If the ball is still in play after 80mins the match will continue until a break in play such as a penalty, knockon or the ball going out of bounds.

How Long Is Overtime In Rugby Union?

In many rugby union matches there is no overtime and the match can end in a draw. However, in games that do have overtime the teams will play two 10min halves and if they are still tied they will play an additional 10minute sudden death period where the first team to score wins.

Overtime is typically only used in rugby union knockout tournaments such as the World Cup where one side has to be declared a winner to advance in the tournament. 

In most matches there is no necessity to declare a winner so if two rugby sides are equal on points at the end of the 80minute regulation time the referee will call the contest and a draw will be declared.

For the 2019 Rugby World Cup overtime will of two 10min halves. The side with the highest score after those 20mins will be declared the winner. If the two sides are still tied they will play a 10min sudden death period with the first team to score winning the game. 

If they are still tied after the 10mins sudden death period expires a kicking contest will be undertaken. Each side will select 5 kickers and they will each take one attempt. There are 3 kicking locations, in front of posts, right sideline, left sideline. The first player will kick from in front, the second player from left sideline, third player from right sideline, fourth player from in front and fifth player from left sideline. The team with the most successful attempts wins.

If the teams are still tied after 5 kicking attempts, the kicking contest will restart but it will be sudden death until one side successfully kicks a goal while the other side fails. 

The chances of seeing overtime let alone a kicking competition in a Rugby World Cup is very unlikely. In the 32-year history of the World Cup only 3 times has the match been tied at the conclusion of the 80minutes, during an elimination contest. Draws also aren’t common in pool games with only 3 ties in the history of the tournament. 

How Long Is The Halftime Break In Rugby Union?

The halftime break in rugby union lasts for a minimum of 10 minutes and a maximum of 15 minutes. The referee has discretion on when exactly to restart the game.

Rugby union players use the halftime break to recover from the brutal 40mins they just spent out on the field. During this time they rehydrate, lower their heart rate and get any niggles or small injuries attended to. You will often see rugby athletes returning to the pitch following the break sporting some extra tape or strapping.

Coaches use the halftime break to inspire their players and make tactical adjustments. The players will gather around the coach who will give some inspirational words while also addressing what is going well and what isn’t working. He will lay out the path to victory and explain what adjustments need to be made.

As rugby is a teamsport morale is a big factor in a side’s success. The halftime break is often used to boost morale and keep spirits high. Players will usually have some psyche up rituals or war cries.

Here Is Phil Vickery Showing You His Psyche Up Ritual Before The British Lions Took On The Springboks

Do They Stop The Clock In Rugby Union?

The referee only stops the clock in rugby union after an injury or for a TMO decision. During regular breaks in play such as scrums, lineouts and kicks at goals the clock continues to run. A rugby match would last for well over 2 hours if the clock was stopped for standard breaks in play.

John O’Sullivan at the IrishTimes did a bit of research into whether or not it was feasible to stop the clock during scrums.

O’Sullivan analysed a match between Munster and Saracens. There were a total of 17 scrums. On Munster’s put in the average scrum time was 74 seconds while on Saracens’ put in the average scrum time was 55 seconds. This took the total of match time dedicated to scrums to a whopping 20mins.

The Munster and Saracens game wasn’t some crazy outlier. Munster averages 15 scrums a game. And during Ireland’s campaign in the 2019 Six Nations the national side averaged almost 13 scrums a match.

Even though it is possible for referees to stop the clock for normal breaks in play such as scrums and lineouts the match would become so long that players would be exhausted and spectators’ attention spans would surely give out as the match would last for almost 3 hours.

Stopping the clock sounds good in theory but it doesn’t actually make the game more action packed it just prolongs the contest to ridiculous levels. The only two reasonable options are either keep the clock stopping rules the same or stop the clock at lineouts and scrums but reduce the match length to 60mins or even 50mins.

Where Is The Time Shown In Rugby Union?

The time in a rugby union match is shown on the scoreboard. The scorekeepers will ensure the time is correctly displayed. The referee will also keep time of the match on his personal watch.

If you are playing rugby and the scoreboard doesn’t display the time you can always ask the referee. The referee will keep time on his watch and once time has elapsed they will call the match.

How Does A Rugby Union Match Start?

A coin toss will be held and the winner gets to choose if they receive or kick the ball. The kicking team will then stand at halfway and perform a drop kick (ball must hit ground before being kicked). The ball must travel 10m and the kicking side has the right to contest possession.


A rugby match lasts for 80 minutes and is made up of two 40 minutes halves. Between the halves players will rest for at least 10 minutes and a maximum of 15 minutes. Only elimination rugby matches have overtime with standard games being declared draws if the two sides are tied after the 80 minutes elapses. 

In elimination matches such as at the Rugby World Cup teams will play two 10 minutes halves and if the sides are still level they will play a single 10 minute sudden death period.

The referee’s clock is usually kept running during a rugby union match and only stops because of injuries or when waiting for the video referee’s decision. This may annoy some fans as lots of time is lost at lineouts and scrums but they fail to realise that if the referee stopped the clock for every scrum and lineout the game could easily last for 3 hours, exhausting both player and spectator.

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