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In rugby football, the penalty is the main disciplinary sanction available to the referee to penalise players who commit deliberate infringements. The team who did not commit the infringement are given possession of the ball and may either kick it towards touch (in which case the ball back rule is waived), attempt a place kick at goal, or tap the ball with their foot and run it. It is also sometimes used as shorthand for penalty goal.

Penalties in rugby union

A penalty goal attempt

The referee signals that he has awarded a penalty to a side by raising his arm at 45 degrees between vertical and horizontal and blowing a blast on his whistle. The arm is raised on the side that won the penalty. Penalties may be awarded for a number of offences, including:

Referees may not penalise some of these infringements if in their judgement the offending player had no intent to break the rules (e.g. a marginally late tackle on a player who has just kicked or passed the ball) or if the offending player was not participating in or affecting the game (e.g. a player who is in an offside position but not interfering with play). Equally, a referee may warn teams about technical infringements (especially at the scrum and ruck) before penalising them. Many consider a referee's willingness and ability to do so as a mark of good officiating in that it reduces stoppages in the game and allows it to "flow".

The side that is awarded the penalty restarts the game with a kick or scrum at their discretion. If a kick is taken, the side that the penalty was awarded against must retreat 10 metres (or to their goal line if closer). There are four ways of restarting the game;

One of the laws associated with penalties was experimented with in association football, that being that penalties may be moved 10 metres forward of their original position either due to talk-back from the players or offside from a quick tap penalty. This was dropped after variable application by referees, but remains a rugby rule.

Penalties in rugby league

Penalties operate in roughly the same manner as in union, but with some slight differences. Firstly, the implication is that a side either takes a tap kick or a shot at goal. They can kick for touch, but, if the ball makes it into touch, the side then takes a tap kick 10m infield (20m infield in the NRL as of 2007) from the point where the ball went into touch (except where it goes into touch inside the opposition's 10m line, in which case the tap is taken from the 10m line), as opposed to a scrum. They can also tap the ball from where the penalty was awarded. In both instances, the defending side must remain 10m from the ball until the tap kick is taken.

The penalty may also be place-kicked towards goal. If successful, the kicking side scores two points. If the kick is unsuccessful and the ball is caught by the opposition before it leaves the field of play, play continues. If the ball goes into touch-in-goal or over the dead ball line, then play is restarted with a drop-out from the offenders' 20m line.

Penalties may be awarded for:

There is also a differential penalty, awarded for technical breaches when a scrum is packed (as opposed to foul play within a scrum). A penalty goal cannot be scored from a differential penalty.

See also