What Are You Not Allowed To Do In Rugby?

The rugby rule book is as long as the bible. It is filled with pages and pages stipulating all the ways players can fall foul of the referee. You need a PHD in rugby to decipher many of the rules. We will take a look at some of the more well known rugby encroachments and some more obscure ones as well.

What are you not allowed to do in rugby?

In rugby you are not allowed to pass the ball forward. You can not tackle above the shoulders. You have to remain behind the ruck to stay on side. You have to stay behind your teammate when they are kicking the ball.

If you want a comprehensive list of all the things which are banned in rugby we will be here all day. The aforementioned are some of the most common and basic rugby infringements. Let’s take a look at a few more illegal rugby moves.

Can You Hurdle In Rugby?

You can hurdle in rugby. However, you can not jump to avoid being tackled. A hurdle is viewed as a big step where the player barely leaves the ground for a second or less. Whereas a jump is viewed as a big leap in the air.

There is often a fine line between an aerial hurdle and a jump. It is up to the referee to determine if the player was hurdling or jumping. If the referee determines the player was in fact jumping they will be penalised.

Rugby players can not jump to avoid tackles because the defending side is not allowed to tackle a player who is in the air. Jumping to avoid being tackled is viewed as a gaming of the rules and would put the defending side at a disadvantage.

There is also a safety element. Rugby player’s wear metal studs, referees want to protect tacklers from having a 100kg man stomping on their head while wearing such studs.

Can You Trip In Rugby?

You can not trip in rugby. A rugby player can not use his legs to make a tackle, they must only use their upper body. A player caught tripping will be penalised and potentially sent off the field.

If you come from a wrestling or Judo background you might be perplexed to find out that rugby players are allowed to trip or involve their legs to help bring down a player. Trips and leg reaps are especially common in wrestling and Judo where athletes use them with great effectiveness to send their opponents flying to the floor. However, if you try to use some of those techniques on the rugby pitch you will be having an early shower.

Rugby banned the trip as it was viewed as a cheap move. It was thought that a proper rugby tackle should involve a player using his arms to drag his opponent to the ground. This rule still remains today, as players must use their arms when making a tackle and not use their legs to trip their opposition.

There also was the thought that trips could increase leg injuries and lead to many destroyed knees. This may be true as knee injuries are particularly common in Judo when athletes can get their legs intertwined with each other and attempt to use tripping techniques. You would have to think when you add the collision impact of rugby to the mix knee injuries would only be more common than in Judo.

Can You Stiff Arm In Rugby?

Yes, you can stiff arm in rugby. The stiff arm has to be done in pushing motion rather than a strike otherwise it is illegal. The elbow should be bent before making contact. You can even stiff arm to the face. 

Stiff arming is a very popular and effective technique in rugby. In rugby it is known as fending. When a player gets close to the ball runner he will push his arm into the tackler preventing the tackler from making contact with him, allowing the ball runner to continue running. A powerful stiff arm can send a would be tackler flying backwards, giving them no chance of making the tackle. 

Rugby players will usually stiff arm an opposition’s chest, neck or head. A stiff arm to the head is usually the most effective as if you can control an opposition’s head you can exert high amounts of control over your opponent. The only problem with going for a stiff arm to the head is it is a much smaller target than the chest so there is a possibility you may miss. 

The stiff arm is a combination of timing and raw strength. If you are not the strongest player on the rugby pitch you will need to ensure your timing is perfect and you catch your opposition just as they are reaching for you. However, if you are a beast blessed with hulk-like strength as long as you get a good push your opposition should be quickly eating a mouthful of grass.

You need to be careful when stiff arming on the rugby field as you could be penalised if the referee thinks you are striking your opposition which is illegal. As long as you keep your elbow bent and use a pushing rather than a punching motion when making contact you should be fine.

You also need to make sure you stiff arm with an open hand. If you make contact with a closed fist you will almost certainly be penalised.

Can You Head The Ball In Rugby?

If you have possession of the ball in rugby you can not head the ball forward as this would count as a knock on. However, if the ball is in open play and you do not have possession you can head the ball. Accidentally heading the ball is also legal.

Everything in rugby is open for interpretation. Heading the ball is another grey area in rugby where sometimes it is illegal and sometimes it is perfectly acceptable.

Heading the ball is illegal if you have possession of the ball and then head it forward. For example you can not throw the ball up and head it forward. This would count as a knock on as you lost possession and the ball has travelled forward. A rugby player can only legally kick the ball forward all other movements such as passing and heading are illegal.

If a rugby player does not have possession of the ball they can legally head the ball forward. For example a player is chasing after a kick the ball bounces up and instead of catching it they head the ball forward and then pick it up. This is legal as the player never had possession before heading the ball.

An accidental heading is also legal in rugby. For example a teammate passes the ball into an unsuspecting player’s head this is play on. Or if a player gets hit in the head from a kick, again this is legal.

Can You Intercept The Ball In Rugby?

You can only intercept the ball in rugby if you are deemed on-side which occurs if you are behind the ruck when the phase starts or the attacking side has run at least 5m into the open field. If you are off-side you will be penalised if you try to intercept the ball.  

When you can and can’t intercept the ball in rugby can be a little confusing. Most people think that if you are not behind the last man’s feet at the ruck you are automatically off-side and can’t intercept the ball. This is not the case. If the attacking side has run at least 5m forward they are now considered to be in open play.

A player who was never behind the ruck is now deemed to be on-side and can actually intercept the ball from behind. However, if the attacking side is tackled and a new phase begins the defender will have to get back behind the ruck or wait until open play is called again to be on-side.


There are a lot of rules in rugby. It can take a lifetime to truly understand all of them. Many hours have been spent debating the mintuate of rules among rugby players and fans. Don’t worry if you don’t know all of them. As long as you understand you can’t pass forward, tackle above the shoulders and need to stay behind the last man’s feet at the ruck you will know more than enough to understand the game.

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