Rugby 7s rules | Rugby rules for dummies

Rugby 101

30 Second Rugby 7s PrimerGet ready for the Olympic games in RIO & tag a friend who needs to watch RUGBY!

Posted by USA Sevens Rugby on Monday, July 18, 2016

Rugby 101 | A quick guide to understanding the rules of rugby sevens


The game is played by 7 players on each side. Each team is only allowed 5 reserves per game, and they’re permitted to make five substitutions. Unlike in 15s, a player can re-enter the match after he or she has been subbed out.

These rule changes are brought in to keep the game fast moving and free flowing, which is considered the aim of sevens rugby.


Games take place between two teams for a total of two 7-minute halves, with a 1- or 2-minute half time break. The championship final is played with 10-minute halves.


The scoring system: 5 points for a try (similar to an American football touchdown) 2 for a conversion (similar to a point-after-attempt) and 3 for both penalties and drop goals (like field goals, but these are rare in rugby 7s).

The difference between football and rugby is that all conversions must be taken within 30 seconds of the try being scored and must be taken as a drop goal rather than a place kick.

Once the conversion attempt is made, the scoring team kicks off to the opposition.


A player receiving a yellow card is sent to the sin bin for a 2-minute interval (counted as time in play, not real time) rather than the usual 10 minutes in 15s.

Forward passes are not permitted, so whenever the ball comes forward off an offensive player, other than a kick, a scrum will be formed. Scrummaging takes place between 3 forwards from each side. These forwards bind together and interlock their heads. The scrumhalf feeds the ball into the channel between them and retrieves the ball from the back of the scrum.

A knock-on also causes play to stop. Knock-ons occurs when the ball unintentionally moves forward after coming into contact with a player above the waist then hits either the ground or another player. Knock-ons result in a scrum. If the ball is intentionally knocked forward it is deemed a deliberate knock-on; in that scenario, the opposition is rewarded with a penalty and the player is sent to the sin bin.

If the ball goes out of bounds a lineout occurs. Lineouts take place between two (sometimes 3) players, with a player throwing the ball back in to play.

There is a myriad of penalty infractions that can occur throughout a game. Laws are put in place to foster clean competition for the ball and an open, free-flowing pace of play. Often, penalties are awarded when a player cynically tries to slow play down or compete for the ball illegally.

When a penalty is called, the referee will raise his or her arm toward the team that gets the ball. The offending team then has to retreat 10 meters before they can rejoin play, and the attacking team has the option to tap the ball with their foot and run, kick it out of bounds for field-position advantage, attempt a drop goal, or have a scrum.

How to Crown a Champion

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 12-team field is split into three pools of four. At the end of round-robin play over the first day-and-a-half, the top eight teams will advance to the quarterfinals, while the bottom four will be relegated to a playoff to determine 9th-12th place.

The top eight will include the first- and second-place teams from each pool, as well as the top two third-place finishers. Each pool adheres to a simple points system: win = 3, tie = 2 and a loss = 1. These points determine where everyone finishes in the pool standings. If teams are tied in points, the tiebreakers are applied in this order: head-to-head, point differential, try differential, points scored. The same methodology is applied to determine the top two third-place teams who move to the quarterfinals.

A key objective for every team in Rio is to reach the semifinals, because once you do, you’ll need to only win one of your next two games to earn a medal.

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