Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Rugby World Cup Tournament Rules: A Guide

Glen Jackson - pic © Al Ross
Glen Jackson - pic © Al Ross

With the Rugby World Cup just a week away a number of you have been asking for clarification on a number of rules and regulations that will be in play during the tournament. We’ve been scouring our dog-eared copy of World Rugby regulations and pulled out the key points you’ll need to know.

With your “Scottish Rugby Blog Cut Out And Keep Guide To The Rules & Regulations Of The Rugby World Cup 2015” (snappy title – Ed.) you’ll be able to amaze* your friends with your in depth knowledge of compliance with Law 3.5 and maybe even make new friends** down the pub by being able to explain what happens in the event that two teams have the same number of points at the end of the Pool stage.

Do England and Wales get preferential treatment as “home” sides?

Nope. The teams for each match are designated as “Team A” (home side) and “Team B” (away side) by way of a random draw. Team A has the benefit of choosing which shirt to wear and which dressing room to use. The A and B teams have already been determined for the pool stages meaning England are likely to wear their change shirts and be consigned to the away dressing room in the opening match against Fiji.

Calling up injury replacements

Once teams have named their final 31 man squad players can only be replaced for medical or compassionate reasons. Teams must complete the relevant paperwork and send it to World Rugby along with a medical certificate where appropriate. Once signed off the replacement is not allowed to play for 48 hours. The replacement is permanent.

How many hookers and props does one team need?

Each team must name a 23 man match day squad. World Rugby Law 3.5 requires each team to name a minimum of six players who are “suitably trained and experienced” to play in the front row. The necessary number of reserve front row players must be included in the 31 man squad to cover last minute injuries to the front row players in the match day squad due to the 48 hour limit on injury replacements from outside the tournament squad.

There must be sufficient front row players to play at hooker, tight-head and loose-head and those players must be “suitably trained and experienced” in those positions so that on the first occasion a replacement is required the team can continue to play safely with contested scrums. Quite a mouthful that.

If, because of a sending off or injury, a team cannot provide enough suitably trained front row players, the match continues with uncontested scrums.

If a team does not have suitably trained front row players (we’re looking at you Wales and Australia) prior to the match so that contested scrums cannot take place the referee will order uncontested scrums. The referee will report the matter to the match organiser.

The Tournament Disputes Committee will consider any breaches of law 3.5. In the absence of any mitigating circumstances failure to comply with the rules will result in:

  • Forfeiture of all match points for that fixture (including bonus points).
  • Possible financial penalties.

With Wales and Australia only naming two recognised hookers in their tournament squads it seems likely that this issue will raise its ugly head at some point. Expect furious debate and doctors notes worthy of Dr Nick Riviera. Keep an eye out for reports of “skin failure”.

Points in the pools

Points mean prizes progression from the pools. The following points are awarded for each pool match:

Win 4 Points
Draw 2 Points
Loss 0 Points
4 or more tries 1 Point
Loss by 7 points or less 1 Point

It’s worth noting those “bonus points”, familiar from most rugby competition formats apart from the Six Nations. Scotland will need to target 4 tries or more against Japan and the USA to give them the best chance of progressing from the pool. Keeping any loss to South Africa to under 7 points might also come in handy.

What happens if teams are tied on points at the end of the pool?

If two or more teams are tied on points at the end of the pool the following criteria are applied until one of the teams comes out on top:

  1. The winner of the match between the two tied teams.
  2. The team with the best points difference across all pool matches.
  3. The team which has the best difference between tries scored and tries conceded.
  4. The team which has score most points in all its pool matches.
  5. The team which has scored the most tries in all its pool matches.
  6. The team which was higher placed in the World Rugby Rankings as of the 12 October 2015.

What happens if a knockout match ends in a draw?

The same criteria applies for all knockout matches including the final.

After the end of the mach both teams must remain on the pitch (so no time to pop to the loo – although substitutes are allowed if any are left). Following a break of five minutes extra time will be played for a period of 10 minutes each way with a five minute break. The referee tosses a coin to determine the team that will kick off and direction of play. Team B’s captain gets to call it. The winning captain can either:

  1. Nominate to kick off, therefore the other team must choose direction of play.
  2. Nominate their preferred direction of play, therefore the other team must kick off.

If the score is still tied after extra time then 10 minutes of sudden death are played. Teams swap ends and whichever team kicked off the first half of extra time also kicks off sudden death. During this period the first team to score any points shall be declared the winner.

If the score remains tied it’s time for a kicking competition. Each team nominates five kickers from the players remaining on the pitch at the end of sudden death. No substituted players (including blood substitutes) or players in the sin bin at the end of sudden death can be selected.

The referee will toss a coin to determine who kicks first. Team B gets to call the toss and the winning captain will choose which team kicks first. World Rugby pre-determines the end where the kicking contest will take place in the interests of “best broadcast coverage”.

The five players from each team will place kick from three different areas, all on the 22 metre line.

  1. Directly in front of the posts
  2. On the 15 metre line on the left hand side of the posts
  3. On the 15 metre line on the right hand side of the posts

The first players kick from the first area. The second players kick from the second area. The third players kick from the third area. The fourth players kick from the first area. The fifth players kick from the second area.

The kicking contest ends when all five players have taken their kicks and there is a clear winner or until one side is unable to equal the score of the other team with their remaining kicks.

If the scores are still tied the contest continues to sudden death. However unlike association football the same five penalty takers continue to take the kicks in the same order used in the first five kicks going progressively through the three kicking areas and repeating the process if necessary.

Players must take kicks within one minute of being handed the ball on the kicking area. Failure to do so will result in the kick being recorded as a miss. Once a player has completed his kick he must join his team mates behind the halfway line of the playing area not being used for the kicking competition.

The referee has final say as to whether a kick was successful or not but he can rely on advice from his assistants and the TMO.

Want more?

The Tournament Rules can be found by clicking on this link:

The only thing we haven’t covered is abandoned, delayed and cancelled matches but those seem very unlikely.

If there’s anything else you’d like to know let us know and we’ll do our best to scour the World Rugby rules to relieve your wonderings.

* We cannot guarantee you’re friends will be “amazed”.

** We cannot guarantee you won’t be punched or thrown out of the pub

20 Responses

    1. Fingers crossed we don’t get Clancy, Joubert, JP Doyle or Jackson as they definitely ref Scotland from the position of “everyone says you’re shite so if you are doing well it must be because you’re cheating, ergo penalty against you”.

      Wayne Barnes is just dreadful and wants to be centre of attention, regardless of who he’s reffing.

  1. Refs:
    Japan: John Lacey (assistants Clancey and Mitrea)
    USA: Chris Pollock (Lacey and Fraser)
    SA: Nigel Owens (Pollock and Hodges)
    Samoa: Jaco Peyper (Doyle and Mitrea)

  2. Great article but I disagree with just one point- England and Wales do tend to get preferential treatment- from the ref. I have to say that I am generally on the side of the ref and most are entirely fair, but Wales always seem to get the rub of the green an dodgy refereeing decisions in their favour when they play Scotland. Is there any particular reason for that?

    1. Neil- you obviously haven’t read the article. There’s nothing to disagree with as I never made any comment about teams getting preferential treatment. This wasn’t an opinion piece.
      Your trolling is getting tedious.

  3. Quick off topic question: will we be able to watch the Japan game on catch up in the evening on itv? I’ll be at work and will want to watch it in the evening without finding out the score


  4. Thanks for that Cameron. Certainly cleared up the front row requirements.
    However, I have to disagree that “this wasn’t an opinion piece”. You specifically state that:
    “Scotland will need to target 4 tries or more against Japan and the USA to give them the best chance of progressing from the pool. Keeping any loss to South Africa to under 7 points might also come in handy.”
    Actually beating the Saffies and Samoans would give us the best chance of progressing. Only if Scotland, South Africa and Samoa all end up with 3 wins each will bonus points come into play.
    Sorry to be pedantic!

    1. Completely agree with you Merlot. Wew should really try to win all games. The worst thing we could do would be to give up or field a weakened team against SA as we would then be assuming a good win against Samoa- not a foregone conclusion by any means.

    2. Merlot you’re quite right I did slip up in allowing my opions to spill onto the page.
      You’re right that beating the Boks and Samoans will give us the best chance of progressing. However given results in the Pacific nations its possible Samoa might slip up against either Japan or the US.

  5. Perhaps a silly question but if you score 4 tries and still manage to lose albeit by less than 7 points do you then get 2 bonus points?

    Every point counts, freak results happen at world cups in all sports. Look at our glorious football team, often put out of competitions by teams we have beaten but whereas they have put minnows to the sword we have failed to (or been beaten by them).

    I hope and think that we will go out all guns blazing against South Africa. We surely learnt last time (or was it the time before?) where we fielded the seconds against NZ and got squarely thumped, did nothing for morale and was a farce for people who forked out for tickets. Assuming we beat Japan and the US it is the Samoa game that will determine whether we qualify or not though. It is not a foregone conclusion that we will beat Japan and the US, but the same applies to Samoa vs them. If we beat SA, and remember it is not that long ago since we did, with a worse team than we have at the moment then we have a shout of qualifying top of the group. I’ll stop now I’m getting carried away.

    1. It’s not a silly question at all. I couldn’t find a definitive answer over on the World Rugby site. Looking around the internet it seems that it would be possible to score 4 tries and lose by less than 7 pts and get two bonus points. The French system distinguishes between “winning” and scoring 4 or more tries by the Rugby World Cup doesn’t say anything about having to win.

    2. You would get 2 points. 1 each for losing by less than 7 and 1 for the 4 tries. The bonus points are all about making a game worth playing right up to the end so it the above incentives are there to stop a team packing up to go home when they see they aren’t going to win

      1. Aye, that’s how I would have presumed it works. If it’s a universal system it’s certainly the way the Pro12 system works e.g. Connacht got 2 bonus points for their 4 try, 1 point deficit, loss to Glasgow.

    3. 1.8, I’m glad you said go out rather than go down all guns blazing against the Saffers. Yes, they’re SA after all but they have had a poor Championship and many of their stars are only just returning to match fitness. This is a great opportunity to take them down, which we don’t do that often but have done often enough in the recent past to give us more than just hope.
      Don’t get me started on the scandal of Frank Hadden picking the Extra 1sts v New Zealand, at Murrayfield in front of our own insulted fans, in RWC 07. Oh, you have got me started!

      1. Ah yes I remember now it must have been the work of the illustrious captain haddock. I seemingly remember Chris Patterson playing at 10, and getting a dunt on the head, missing his first kick for about 15 years then staggering off down the tunnel. It only got worse from then.

      2. I completely agree with this. It was bordering on embarrassing when we fielded such a weakened team against New Zealand in 2007. Its hard enough to compete with them so you should at least field your best team- you ow it to the fans if noboday else. Regarding SA, my money would still be on a SA win by about 12 points but you just never know as recent form has not been great for SA. Is it possible we could beat SA and then go on to lose to Samoa- you bet it is. Recent form is good for Scotland but that means absolutely nothing. Our form was good in the Autumn internationals in 2014 and look what happened in the 6 nations- an absolute disgrace and embarrassment of the highest order.

  6. Neil – enough about the 6N already!!!
    We played well enough in the first 3 games to win them. OK we didn’t but hardly a disgraceful effort.
    As for your money on SA – please go away and join a SARFU blog. You’re obviously not really Scottish otherwise you’d be full of unwarranted optimism by now after beating Italy home and away and (effectively) drawing against France in Paris.
    At least wait until the selections/matches/results before slagging our boys off.
    OK rant over, but in the words of Kiefer Sutherland in Kelly’s Heroes – “Enough with the negative vibes, man”.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion