Keeping up-to-date with law changes and trials can be challenging at times. We understand that changes made to the rules of rugby are implemented to make the game safer and more exciting for the supporters, but sometimes it's hard to keep up-to-date!

This guide will give you a rundown of all the recent changes in 15s, 7s and rugby league to ensure that when you next go out onto the pitch, you are up to date with the laws and don't end up watching from the sin bin! 

The new rugby union laws that came into place on the 1st August 2017 in the Northern Hemisphere impact all players, coaches and referees from the grassroots level up to international level. 

The new laws were first introduced during the 2017 Autumn internationals. This was the first time that the Southern Hemisphere teams had played an international under these new laws and in the first game, and although Australia came away with the win against Wales, they gave away 15 penalties and had their captain sin-binned. Makes you wonder whether or not they were completely up to date with the new law changes.

Over the last few years, the scrum has really changed, due to numerous alterations in the laws in a bid to make it safer for players, and to try and reduce the time spent at scrum time which was slowing the game down, causing frustration for players and fans alike. 

The most recent law changes seem to have further improved the process, giving more of an advantage to the attacking team whilst reducing the number of reset scrums. 

1. LAW 20.5 & 20.6 (d)

  • The referee no longer has to signal to the scrum half to let them know when to put the ball into the scrum.
  • The ball must be put in straight. However, the scrum half can align their shoulder with the middle of scrum, allowing them to put the ball in nearer their own side.

This is to promote a stable scrum that is safer for the players involved, whilst also giving the advantage to the non-offending (attacking) team.

2. LAW 20.9 (b)

  • The number 8 is now allowed to pick the ball up from the second row's feet to either break away from the scrum and launch an attack, or to pop up to the scrum-half.

This is to promote continuity in the game and reduce the length of the scrums by allowing the number 8 to break off earlier. This will make it easier for the attacking team, who may be under pressure from the offending (defending) team.  

3. LAW 20.8

  • Once the ball has touched the ground in the tunnel, any of the front rowers can use either of their feet to gain possession. One player must strike for the ball.

Sanction: Free Kick

To promote a fair contest for the ball whilst also giving the attacking team an advantage if they are under pressure from the defending team. Also promotes a faster and more attacking game.

4. LAW 3.6 (Uncontested Scrums)

  • Uncontested scrums as a result of a sending off, temporary suspension or injury must be played with eight players per side.

To discourage teams from going to uncontested scrums as a tactic if they have been under pressure in the scrum, or they are wanting to move a player out of the scrum as an extra defender in the backs.  

The tackle area is one which has had a lot of changes over the last few years. These law changes will have a major impact on the classic openside flanker, which teams such as Australia (with George Smith, David Pocock & Michael Hooper) and New Zealand (with Richie McCaw) have previously used with great success. Opensides will have to be completely up to date with the new laws so that they don't find themselves sat in the sin bin.

1. LAW 15.4 (c)

  • The tackler must now get up to his feet before playing the ball and then they can only play the ball from their own side of the tackle “gate”. They can no longer play the ball from any direction.

      Sanction: Penalty

This is to make the tackle area simpler for everyone and to encourage quicker ball for the attacking team.

2. LAW 16

  • A ruck is a formed when at least one player is on their feet over the ball which is on the ground. At this point the offside line is created. Players on their feet may use their hands to win the ball as long as it’s immediate. As soon as an opposition player arrives, no hands can be used.

      Sanction: Penalty

To make the ruck simpler for players, referees and fans.

3. LAW 16.4

  • A player must not kick the ball out of the ruck to disrupt opposition ball. The player can only hook it in a backwards motion.

        Sanction: Penalty

To protect player welfare, whilst also tidying up the tackle area and giving a slight advantage to the attacking team.  

1. LAW 15.4 (c)

There have been a few changes in the laws to try and improve team discipline and to discourage players from committing cynical penalties. These vary from changes to the scoring system, to changing the circumstances under which the referee can blow the final whistle.  


1. LAW 5.7 (e)

  • If a penalty is kicked into touch after time has elapsed without touching another player, the referee allows the line out to be taken. Play will then continue until the next time the ball becomes dead. If the defending team continues to give away penalties the attacking team can continue to kick to touch and play another line out.  

This is to discourage teams that are in the lead from infringing in the dying moments of the game in order to try and cause the game to end. 

2. LAW 8.1 (a)

  • When there are multiple penalty infringements by the same team, the referee will allow the captain of the non-offending team to choose the most advantageous of the penalty marks.

To discourage repeat offending when advantage is already being played and to reward teams against whom repeat offending has taken place.

3. LAW 9.A.1

  • Penalty Try. When a penalty try has been awarded, no conversion needs to be attempted. It is an automatic 7 points for the attacking team. 

This is to discourage teams from illegally preventing a probable try from being scored, whilst also speeding up the game.

Full backs and wingers will have to be switched on when it comes to knowing whether they are inside or outside of the field of play, with the laws changing again regarding when the ball is deemed ‘in touch’. The players that are able to understand these new laws and put it into practice on match day will be able to get one over on the opposition.


1. LAW 19

  • There has not only been changes to the laws, but also to some of the definitions within the game. Especially around the area of what is and is not “in touch”.


(a) If a player jumps and knocks the ball back into the playing area (or if they catch the ball and throw it back into the playing area) before landing in touch or touch-in-goal, play will continue regardless of whether the ball reached the touchline.

(b) If the ball-carrier reaches the plane of touch but returns the ball to the playing area without landing in touch first, play will continue.

(c)  If the ball has passed the plane of touch when it is caught, then the catcher is not deemed to have taken the ball into touch. If the ball has not passed the plane of touch when it is caught or picked up, then the catcher is deemed to have taken the ball into touch, regardless of whether the ball was in motion or stationary.

All of these definitions have been introduced and implemented in order to make it easier for touch judges and referees and to increase ball-in-play time.

With the exception of the change to Law 3 (uncontested scrums), all of the above laws also apply to rugby 7s. The following are not necessarily new laws within the shortened game of 7s, they are what is being expected from teams on the World Sevens Series. The bulk of these have been put in place to speed up the game to make it as exciting as possible for the fans. 

Rugby 7s is now an Olympic sport and with countries such as the United States, China and Russia beginning to focus on it, the game is set to continue to grow and is becoming more exciting for fans all over the world. 



  • The World Sevens Series will no longer plays 10 minute finals. They will be 7 minutes per half.

This change was made to look after the players' welfare, as a lot of injuries were happening in the finals after two long days of rugby. It is also to promote a more exciting final for the fans. 


  • The restart kick must be taken within 30 seconds of a penalty kick or dropped goal being attempted where the kick is successful or goes dead.

This is to promote a faster more exciting game and to prevent teams from time wasting when they are in the lead.


  • Teams must form a lineout and scrum within 15 seconds from the time the referee indicates the place where the the set piece will take place.

This is also to promote a faster more exciting game and to stop teams time wasting when they are in the lead.


  •  A penalty kick must be taken within 30 seconds of being awarded.

This is to promote a faster more exciting game, and to stop teams time wasting when they are in the lead.

The Fijian team.
IRB Wellington Sevens, Day One at Westpac Stadium, Wellington. 6 February 2009. 
***Mandatory credit: Fotosport/Dave Lintott***

Referee Video Referral (RVR) is to be taken out of on-field referees’ hands with the ultimate decision being taken by the TMO – it is often difficult to see the screen and make a call. The RVR protocol remains unchanged. The TMO will be selected from the pool of tournament referees.

There have also been some changes to the rugby league laws. The Laws Committee have made five changes that aim to allow for a more exciting and continuous game, which should help to enhance the experience for players and fans.

All defensive players outside of the scrum, except the dummy half, must be 10 metres behind the scrum. Previously, this was 5 metres.

To give the attacking team an advantage and promote an exciting game.

When the ball is stationary in the in-goal area and comes into contact with a player who is in touch, or is over the dead ball line, the ball is deemed to have been made dead by that player. This will result in a goal line drop out and not a 20-metre restart. The ball must have touched the ground on or over the dead ball line for a 20-metre restart to be awarded.

To simplify the law and to increase ball-in-play time whilst also promoting an exciting and faster game by favouring the attacking team.


The team taking the 20 metre restart will begin their attacking set with a zero tackle, therefore giving them a seven tackle set. 

This gives the team with the 20m restart an extra tackle in the set. This discourages teams from kicking the ball dead which can be exploited as a clock-management tactic.

40/20 KICK

Previously, the result of a 40/20 kick by the attacking team would be a scrum to the attacking team. This season the attacking team are able to take a tap 20 metres in from touch. The tap will be controlled by the referee who will blow their whistle when the tap can be taken. 

Takes away the unnecessary need of a scrum. The referee controls this so that the defending team have a chance to get back into position. 

Up until this season, markers were able to become involved in the defensive line as soon as they either became square or once they had retreated 10 metres. This season, the players must be square when the ball is played. If they are not, then they must retreat back 10 metres before becoming involved in the play. 

This provides clarification on where the markers should be and how they can have an impact after the tackle is complete.  It also gives the attacking team the advantage and allows for a quicker more exciting game. 

Throughout rugby union, league and rugby 7s these rules of rugby changes have all been made to make the game more exciting for all the fans and supporters whilst also making the games safer for everyone taking part. Previously, law changes have had mixed results with some not being continued, due to them not having the positive impact that they envisaged. However, so far the most recent changes have had a strong positive impact on the speed of the game and the improvements in player welfare. This page will continue to be updated when any changes are made, with the way that it has been going the last couple of year this can be every season! So if you spot any law on the page that you think is out of date or not quite correct then let us know so we can keep it as up to date as possible.


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