Do Women Play Rugby with the Same Rules as Men?
Do Women Play Rugby with the Same Rules as Men?

Do Women Play Rugby with the Same Rules as Men?


In the world of rugby, the physicality, intensity, and strategic depth of the game are undeniable. It’s a sport that has captivated fans across the globe, with men’s rugby traditionally taking center stage. But what about women’s rugby? Are the rules the same, or do they differ significantly from the men’s version? In this comprehensive exploration, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of women’s rugby and uncover the similarities, differences, and the evolution of the game.

The Foundation of Rugby: A Historical Perspective

Before we jump into the specifics of women’s rugby, it’s essential to understand the origins of the sport. Rugby football, commonly referred to as rugby, can trace its roots back to the 19th century in England. It was in the town of Rugby in 1823 that a young man named William Webb Ellis allegedly picked up the ball during a football (soccer) match and ran with it, thereby giving birth to rugby as we know it today. The Rugby School’s variant of football gradually evolved into the sport we now call rugby.

The foundational rules of rugby were established during the 19th century, primarily in England. These rules laid the groundwork for the game’s development and its eventual global spread. However, for a significant part of its history, rugby was exclusively a male-dominated sport.

The Emergence of Women’s Rugby

The late 20th century marked the beginning of a profound change in the landscape of sports, including rugby. As societal norms and gender equality gained traction, women’s participation in traditionally male sports became increasingly common. Rugby was no exception.

The Birth of Women’s Rugby: Evolution of the Game

The emergence of women’s rugby can be traced back to the mid-20th century, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that the sport gained significant momentum. Women began forming teams and competing in rugby matches, often adapting the existing rules to accommodate their unique needs and abilities.

However, these early days of women’s rugby were marked by limited recognition and support. Female players faced numerous challenges, including a lack of access to proper facilities, equipment, and coaching. Despite these obstacles, their passion and determination to play the sport they loved propelled women’s rugby forward.

The Recognition and Standardization

In the 1980s, significant strides were made in recognizing women’s rugby as a legitimate sport. National governing bodies for rugby began to acknowledge the women’s game, and efforts were made to standardize the rules. This was a crucial step in ensuring that women’s rugby would have a clear and distinct identity within the sport.

The Rules of Women’s Rugby

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter: do women play rugby with the same rules as men? While there are fundamental similarities, women’s rugby does have some key differences. Let’s explore these distinctions.

Field and Equipment

The field dimensions for women’s rugby are the same as men’s rugby. Both versions of the game are played on a rectangular field that measures 100 meters in length and 70 meters in width. The goalposts are identical in both men’s and women’s rugby, consisting of two H-shaped posts.

When it comes to equipment, such as the rugby ball and protective gear, there are no gender-specific differences. Players in both men’s and women’s rugby use the same standard rugby ball, which is oval in shape. Protective gear, including mouthguards, headgear, and shoulder pads, is also used in the same manner by players of both genders.

Scoring and Basic Rules

The fundamental scoring system and basic rules of rugby apply equally to men’s and women’s rugby. In both versions of the game, players score points by carrying or kicking the ball over the opponent’s goal line. A try, which is worth five points, is awarded when a player successfully grounds the ball in the opponent’s in-goal area. A conversion kick following a try is worth two points, while a penalty kick and a drop goal are each worth three points.

In terms of tackling and the breakdown (rucks and mauls), the rules are consistent between men’s and women’s rugby. Players can tackle opponents below the line of the shoulders, and a ruck or maul is formed when players from both teams are in contact over the ball on the ground.

Scrums and Lineouts

Scrums and lineouts, which are essential aspects of rugby, are where some of the key differences between men’s and women’s rugby become apparent. In men’s rugby, scrums are typically more physically intense due to the larger size and strength of male players. However, in women’s rugby, scrums are often less forceful, with an emphasis on safety and technique.

In lineouts, which occur when the ball goes out of bounds, there are minor differences in lifting techniques. In women’s rugby, lifters are not allowed to lift their teammates above horizontal, ensuring safety during lineouts.

Contact and Physicality

One of the most common misconceptions about women’s rugby is that it lacks the physicality of the men’s game. However, this is far from the truth. Women’s rugby can be just as physical and intense as men’s rugby, but the physical differences between genders are taken into account to ensure player safety.

For instance, the laws of rugby stipulate that tackles must be made below the line of the shoulders, irrespective of gender. This rule is in place to protect the head and neck area of all players, as well as to prevent dangerous high tackles.

Player Welfare and Safety

Player welfare is a paramount concern in both men’s and women’s rugby. The sport’s governing bodies have implemented strict protocols and guidelines to ensure the safety of all participants. This includes concussion assessments and protocols for managing head injuries, which are equally applicable to both men and women.

Gender Inclusivity

One of the most significant developments in recent years is the growing recognition of gender diversity and inclusivity in rugby. While traditionally categorized as a binary sport, efforts are being made to ensure that individuals of all gender identities have the opportunity to play rugby in an inclusive and respectful environment.

The Evolution of Women’s Rugby

Women’s rugby has come a long way since its early days. The sport has grown exponentially, both in terms of participation and recognition. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of women’s rugby.

International Competitions

The Women’s Rugby World Cup, first held in 1991, was a watershed moment for women’s rugby. This tournament provided a platform for women from different countries to showcase their skills on a global stage. Since then, the Women’s Rugby World Cup has become a prestigious event, with teams competing at the highest level of the sport.

Additionally, women’s rugby made its debut at the Olympics in 2016, further solidifying its status as a major international sport. This inclusion has not only increased the visibility of women’s rugby but also inspired more girls and women to take up the sport.


The professionalization of women’s rugby has been a game-changer. As more resources and funding have been allocated to the women’s game, players have been able to dedicate themselves to rugby full-time. This has led to a significant improvement in the overall skill level and competitiveness of women’s rugby.

Professional leagues, such as the English Premier 15s and the intensity of the Women’s Six Nations, have provided female players with opportunities to compete at a high level and earn a living from the sport. This has also helped in narrowing the gap between men’s and women’s rugby in terms of resources and exposure.

Grassroots Development

At the grassroots level, the growth of women’s rugby has been remarkable. Schools, clubs, and communities have embraced the sport, providing young girls with the chance to participate and excel in rugby. Many countries now have robust youth development programs specifically tailored to girls, helping to nurture the next generation of female rugby stars.

Changing Perceptions

As women’s rugby has gained prominence, it has challenged and changed the perception that rugby is a sport exclusively for men. Female rugby players are celebrated for their skill, athleticism, and dedication, erasing the stereotypes that once limited women’s involvement in the game.

The Road Ahead

Women’s rugby has undoubtedly made significant strides in recent decades, but there is still work to be done. Gender parity in terms of resources, media coverage, and opportunities for advancement remains an ongoing challenge. However, the future looks bright for women’s rugby, with continued growth and increased recognition on the horizon.

As we’ve explored throughout this article, women do play rugby with many of the same rules as men. The fundamental aspects of the sport remain consistent across genders, with minor modifications to accommodate safety and physiological differences. Women’s rugby has proven that it can be just as exciting, intense, and captivating as the men’s game.

In conclusion, women’s rugby has come a long way from its humble beginnings. It has evolved into a thriving sport with its own identity and a passionate following. While there are distinctions between men’s and women’s rugby, the core essence of the game remains intact. Women have carved out their place on the rugby field, proving that they are more than capable of excelling in this physically demanding and exhilarating sport.

In the coming years, we can expect women’s rugby to continue to grow and inspire future generations of athletes, regardless of their gender. As the sport moves towards greater inclusivity and recognition, the world of rugby will be richer for it, celebrating the talent and dedication of all its players, regardless of gender.

For anyone who loves the game of rugby, whether as a player or a fan, the rise of women’s rugby is a cause for celebration. It’s a testament to the power of determination, equality, and the enduring appeal of this remarkable sport. Rugby is no longer just a man’s world; it’s a world where everyone has a place and a role to play.

So, whether you’re a seasoned rugby enthusiast or someone curious about the sport, remember that when it comes to women’s rugby, the passion, the commitment, and the thrill of the game are every bit as exhilarating as they are in the men’s version. Women do play rugby with the same rules as men, and in doing so, they’re leaving an indelible mark on the world of sports.