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About American Flag Rugby
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Laws of the Game of Flag Rugby

Learn How to Play Youth Rugby


The founding tenant of this game that it is a vehicle for teaching and practicing the high ideal of good sportsmanship. Reflecting this importance, sportsmanship will always be the subject of the first and last laws of the game. Participants in Youth Flag Rugby must positively contribute to the game to the best of their ability. Players and Participants must outwardly show the utmost respect for ones self, other participants, fellow players, coaches, referees and administrators of the game. Players and participants must accept both victories and defeats graciously.

Un-sportsman like conduct will not be tolerated. The referee can award penalties, penalty trys, and declare forfeiture against an offending team for any action or combination of actions deemed inappropriate, dangerous or un-sportsman like, by a player, a coach, a parent, or partisan spectator. The referee may also stop play and order the offending individual ejected from the playing enclosure. If a player is ejected, the player may be replaced. Only if an age and skill appropriate level player is unavailable will a team be allowed to complete a game shorthanded. It is a law of the game that both teams must line up and shake hands (or high five) at the end of each match in a demonstration of good sportsmanship.  Flag Rugby begins and ends with good sportsmanship.

Field and Posts

A Flag Rugby field must be rectangular and should be no larger than on half the size of an available rugby, soccer, or American football field. Dimensions should not exceed 70 yards by 50 yards. Fields should have posts at either end, however creative use of what is available will govern much of the kicking game.


Teams may have Co-Captains, and a coin toss is called by the team that traveled the furthest. Optimal game length: two 10 min. halves (halves can range from 7 to 15 minutes). Swap sides at the half. Optimal number of players: 7 per side, however more or less may be appropriate depending on field size and participation. Number of players on each side should be equal at all times. Mouth guards are encouraged but not required. Glasses may be worn if held on with a protective, behind the head strap. Open substitutions at all breaks in play (Note: the Team guidelines are intended to create an environment for enjoyable play, and as such are not hard laws. Coaches and ref’s are responsible for seeing that everyone plays and has a good time.)


All inter program matches will be assigned a Referee. While many aspects of the Flag game have the potential to be self-refereeing, an official is still necessary and will give a sense of importance and significance to all participants. Referees should look and act the part, wearing rugby socks, shorts, a collared shirt and come prepared with whistle, watch, coin and scorecard. As in the Adult game, the referee is the final judge of all law and fact, as well as the facilitator of the game. It is the referee’s duty to see that matches are as enjoyable as they are competitive. Advantages should be long and clearly favor possession over territory. The referee may choose to insure that humiliating score lines do not occur. Finally, it is the referee that is most responsible for the game being played in accordance with the traditions of respect and sportsmanship that define the senior game.

Point Scoring

The ball must be touched down (downward pressure from the hand, arm or upper body) in order to score a 5 point try. Conversions are worth 2 points and will be taken quickly. If a player, running with the ball in the field of play tackled and due to excitement, momentum or inattentiveness, is carried over the line and places the ball down, a try is not awarded, but the defending team is awarded a free start from the “22” meter. However, if a player is running and is within 1 meter of the goal line, and has clearly initiated the downward motion with the ball toward the line (ball in motion and below waist level), a try will be awarded even if the flag was removed before crossing the line or touching down. If a ball carrier  has entered the in-goal and is running across it in order minimize the kicking angle, the downward motion provision does not apply and a tackle before actual touchdown will result in a “22” meter.

Running the Ball

Ball carriers must “Run at Spaces, not Faces”. This means that every effort must be made to run around a defender, and may not in any way attempt to run “through” (directly at) a defender. Doing this will be considered barging, a dangerous play that will be quickly penalized.

The Tackle  (“Tag!”)

A tackle is made when a flag is removed. A ball carrier may not in any way attempt to guard or defend their flags; to do so will result in a penalty. The tackler must immediately indicate that a tackle has been made by holding up the flag and calling out “Tag”. It is important that players learn to not call out until they actually have the flag in their hand. The referee may then facilitate play by ordering “pass”.

The 2 Second Rule (non-ruck play)

Upon hearing the defenders call, the ball carrier has 2 second in which to play the ball. They may stop running first or may pass while in the process of stopping. If the ball is not passed in 2 seconds, a turn over will be awarded to the defenders at the point where the flag was pulled. The 2 second rule will be strictly applied in order to facilitate a “use it or loose it” environment for the game. This will also help avoid situations where a player is available to receive the ball, but the tackled player instead waits to throw it to a more favored teammate. This way everyone gets to play.

Returning the Flag

After a tackle, both tackler and tackled player are out of the game until the flag is returned. The flag must be handed to its owner, not thrown on the ground (penalty). The owner must accept the handed flag immediately. The Tackler may re-enter play as soon as the handoff is made. The tackled player may re-enter play as soon as the flag has been re-attached.

Open Field Kicking

When a ball is kicked to touch:  If the kick is taken behind 50(half way line), the lineout is marked where it went out in the air. If the kick is taken in front of the half way line lineout is marked from where the kick was taken.


We hope penalties will be few and far between. Penalties are taken as either a free start (Owls), Toe and Throw pass to a teammate(Falcons), Toe and Throw or kick to touch (Hawks) or a toe and Throw, kick to touch, or drop goal attempt (Eagles).  The referee has the option of a 3 minute sin bin for players (yellow card). The offender must remain at the back of the in-goal while their team plays shorthanded. Players may be ejected from the game (red card) for dangerous play, repeated  offenses, or for persistent transgressions of the spirit of the sportsmanship as the referee sees fit.


As in the adult game, a tackle sets the offside mark according to which all players must conform in order to continue play. Defensive players must retreat behind the point of the tackle before entering play. Loitering will result in a penalty from the point of the tackle. Loitering and intentionally interfering with play, (poaching from an off sides position or intentional knock-on) will result in a penalty awarded 5 meters in front of the tackle.

Interfering with the Tackle

A ball carrier may not in any way interfere with a defenders attempt to grab their flag, and in particular they may not “swat” at the hand that is attempting to get their flag. Players may not spin to avoid a tackle. Waist and shoulder twisting of more than 90 degrees will be penalized.


All scrums must engage with a full bind contacting all 6 players shoulders. This will prevent the front rows from separating and the Hookers stomping for the ball. Only hookers only may contest and strike for the ball, and only with one foot. Hookers may not attempt to kick the ball thru the opposition’s front row (with out shin guards, this is dangerous play). Excessive kicking or any stomping will be penalized. Not in straights will be looked at liberally in order to give the attacking team reasonable advantage. Scrums may only break once a scrum half or other player has handled the ball.

Contestable Line Outs

Contestable Line Outs favor the throwing team in that they only become contested should the ball be thrown poorly or be knocked on. Line outs will be two man at all times, never closer than 3 meters a from the goal line. The forward jumpers must stand at least 3 meters from the touch line, and at least 1.5 meters apart. The scrum half may cut in and take the short ball, however at all times the ball must travel at least 3 meters before being caught (referees judgment). To be considered in straight, the ball must travel no further off the centerline of the line out than a line directly over the receiving players heads. Defending players may jump for the ball but only straight up and not into the tunnel. The ball becomes contestable only if the ball is thrown to a place where the defending players can catch the ball while not entering the tunnel on the jump. If, during the course of a lineout, the throwing team knocks forward, the defending team will have the right to gather the ball and play on. This will be considered an advantage of possession gained, and no further advantage (advantage of territory) will apply.

“22 Meter”

There are three situations that would call for the equivalent of a 22-meter drop. For this purpose, the referee should be able to rapidly pace of a distance approximating 25% of the field from the goal line. This distance, while not actually 22meters in length, will maintain its reference to the senior game and be referred to as “the 22”.

  1. If an attaching player is already in the in-goal area and is tackled before scoring the try, a 22 meter "free start” will be awarded the defending team. This is a use it or loose it situation, and the downward motion provision does not apply.
  2. If an attaching player knocks or throws forward and the ball travels over the goal line, a 22 meter "free start” will be awarded to the defending team.
  3. If a defending player in possession of the ball is tackled in their own in-goal area, possession will be awarded to the attaching team for a free start from the 22. This awards the attaching team possession and good field position, while creating running room that a 5 meter scrum would not. This is designed to create a more open and flowing game.

The Ruck Variation: (Eagle Level Only)

For 2004, Morris Youth Rugby will implement an experimental tackle/ruck sequence for the eagle division. The tackle/ruck transaction will be conducted as follows:  

A player is tackled when a flag is removed, and the tackler will indicate this by stopping where the flag was pulled, raising the flag and shouting “flag” of “tag”. The tackler is responsible for setting the mark of the tackle. At this time, all of the defenders teammates must retire to a line 5 yards back from the point of the tackle, or to the goal line, which ever is closest. Tackles made with in 3 meters of the goal line will be played 3 meters from the goal line. The ball carrier must immediately return to the site of the tackle and take a position within 1 meter of the mark. Without delay, the ball carrier must then place the ball down in front of themselves and step cleanly over the ball until the ball is behind both feet..

The defender holding the flag must make way for this to happen. During the step over, the ball must be stationary on the ground.  At this time, a teammate of the tackled player must arrive and act as scrum half. This player must arrive immediately, and without delay  pass the ball to a third attacker to continue play. The scrum half may not run with the ball, and must have one foot or both feet stationary on the ground while the pass is made. A pivot in order to make the most advantageous pass is permissible. Once the tackled player has stepped over the ball, they must immediately accept the return of the flag from the tackler. Once the flag is returned, the tackler must then retreat 5 meters or be put onsides by his own players advancing from and onsides position, or by a ball carrier passing the point of the tackle, before attempting to rejoin play.  The Tackled player must re-attach their flag before rejoining play. The player who acted as scrum half may rejoin play as soon as they have made the pass. 

Ruck Variation Penalties

  1. Failure of defenders to retreat will be considered off sides and will result in a penalty to the attaching team awarded 5 meters closer to the defenders goal line from the point of the tackle.
  2. The tackler, when returning the flag must stand and wait for the flag to be taken out of their hand, and not drop the flag or push it on the tackled players body. The flag return transaction is a hand to hand only affair. Either offence will be a penalty restart for the attacking team (already in possession) 5 meters closer to the defenders goal line.
  3. Incorrectly setting the mark of the tackle by the tackler in order to gain advantage will be considered poor sportsmanship and a penalty will be awarded, 5 meters closer to the defenders goal line.
  4. The ball must be made stationary on the ground during the step over. Rolling the ball backwards will be penalized with a turnover, kicking the ball and causing it to go forward while stepping over it will be considered a knock forward and result in a scrum with the defending team receiving the put in.
  5. Scrum half playing the ball other than to pass the ball out will result in a penalty turn over to the defending team.

Questions with rules and conventions of the Game

Any questions and controversies that arise over the directives presented in these Elements of Play, will be resolved by applying the corresponding or most appropriate Law of the adult game.

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