Rugby penalty

A rugby penalty may be awarded if the rules are broken. This explains how and why penalties are awarded and how you take them.

How a penalty is awarded

When you break the rules (Laws) in rugby it is called an 'infringement'.

The referee will blow the whistle to stop play unless the non-offending team gain an advantage from what you did.

If play is stopped the referee will signal the reason for the stoppage and will make a mark on the ground where play is to be restarted.

The penalty signal is an arm raised at an angle above the shoulder like this '/'. For a free kick, the signal is an arm raised like this '_|'

The mark will usually be at the spot where the infringement took place but may be moved in some circumstances. For example away from the goal line or touch line.

If 'foul play' has occurred the referee will admonish or caution the guilty player and may even temporarily or permanently remove that player from the game. This will usually be indicated by showing the player a Yellow Card (temporary exclusion) or a Red Card (permanent exclusion).

The referee must next decide how to restart play. This will depend on the seriousness of the infringement.

For the least serious infringements (like unintentional forward passes) a scrum will be used with the non-offending team putting in the ball.

For more serious offences (like deliberately wasting time) a free kick will be awarded. Taking the free kick will restart play.

For the most serious infringements a penalty kick will be awarded. Play is restarted when the penalty kick is taken.

Penalties and free kicks are a means of punishing players for breaking the rules and are known as 'sanctions'.

When play stops

The main difference between a penalty and a free kick is that a goal cannot be scored directly from a free kick.

Generally speaking the ball must touch or cross the dead ball line or the offending side must become involved in playing the ball before a goal can be scored following a free kick (or following a scrum chosen instead).

If a team has been awarded a penalty or free kick that team may choose instead to set a scrum and they put in the ball.

A scrum might be chosen for tactical reasons.

A scrum near the opposition goal line with the prospect of scoring a converted try may outweigh the prospect of scoring a penalty goal.

If you are in the offending team you must immediately run away from the mark towards your goal line until you are at least 10 metres away.

If the kick is taken quickly and you don't have time to get 10 metres away just avoid becoming involved in play.

The team taking the kick is not allowed to contrive an infringement by deliberately running into a retreating opponent.

Players in the kicking team must all be behind the kicker when the kick is taken except when a penalty is taken quickly. As long as players are attempting to get behind the kicker and don't take part in play they will not be penalized.

Penalty and free kick options

If your team is awarded a penalty or free kick any player may take it. It must be taken without delay.

Whoever takes the kick may use any type of kick. That means a punt, drop kick or place kick.

The kick may be made in any direction and the kicker is free to play the ball again after kicking it. This means you can kick it to yourself.

You must take any kick at or in line behind the mark made by the referee.

Quick tap kick

When kicking to yourself you would tend to use a mini punt (the ball must clearly leave your hands) or a mini place kick (you must place the ball on the ground and clearly move it with a kick before you pick it up).

Taking a tap kick Mini-punt tap kick

You may kick the ball with any part of your leg below your knee except your heel. This type of mini kick is known as a tap kick or a 'quick tap'.

You would only use this type of kick if the opposition appear vulnerable to immediate attack or as a means of continuing momentum towards scoring a try.

Kick for touch

The Laws rule out using a place kick to kick for touch.

If it's a penalty kick and it 'finds touch' the lineout is taken where the ball crosses the touch line and the kicking team throw in the ball.

If touch is found with a free kick the normal lineout rules apply regarding the 22 metre line (see rugby field for details).

Penalty kick at goal

You may attempt to score a goal with a rugby penalty kick but not with a free kick.

The Laws used to contain a fair amount about penalty kicks at goal now the subject is covered by a single simple image showing the opposing team must have their arms by their sides.

Law 20.8 states "The kicker may punt, drop-kick or place-kick (other than for touch) the ball."

This seems to imply that a punt may be used for a penalty kick at goal, but you may be the first to try it!

Place kicks are usually used and drop kicks sometimes used for penalty shots at goal.

I have never seen it attempted at any level of the game, but the Laws appear to allow you to punt a penalty if you want to.

When you place kick for goal you may place the ball on the ground, on an approved kicking tee or on some sand or sawdust.

When you are successful with your penalty goal attempt you will be awarded 3 points. Play restarts with a drop kick from the centre of the field.

If the kick misses the posts but touches or crosses the dead ball line (or touch in goal lines) play will be restarted with a 22 drop out. Otherwise play just continues.

Some players in the kicking team will chase the kick in case it remains in play (it may hit the posts!). Others hang back to deal with any clearing kicks from defenders.

Other types of penalty kick

You may also simply kick the ball, without attempting to find touch or kick at goal

For example you may choose to kick an up and under in order to gain ground.