THE laws of rugby – one of sport’s great mysteries.

It was way back in 1845 that the first set of written rules were published by pupils at Rugby School.

Variations of the game meant it wasn’t until the Rugby Football Union formed 25 years later that the laws were standardised.

Even then, as rugby union spread globally, it didn’t take long for disagreements over interpretation of the laws.

And that still rings true today, with supporters, pundits, journalists, coaches and players regularly questioning how a referee arrived at a certain decision.

The National Wales: Offside! Forward pass! Red card! How well do you know rugby's laws and quirks?Offside! Forward pass! Red card! How well do you know rugby's laws and quirks?

To try and help fans understand the intricacies of the laws of rugby, Welsh journalist Paul Williams has written a book, his first, entitled Rugby Has F***ing Laws, Not Rules.

Williams, a columnist for Rugby World magazine and, looks at the nuances of the rugby rulebook and provides some clarity in his own irreverent, yet still insightful, manner.

“It’s my first ever book,” he said. “I did it during lockdown. I had a bit of time on my hands in the first couple of months and decided to write a book.

“I was already halfway through writing a rugby sitcom when I had the idea for the book.

“I pitched it to Polaris, who do rugby and football books, and they signed off on it that night.

“I wasn’t expecting it because I’d only written a three-page synopsis, but they said yes.”

He continued: “The laws are such a big part of rugby, so I was thinking about how I could make the subject enjoyable, rather than what I think about them.

“A lot of rugby people almost take it as an insult if you call them rules, and that’s where the title of the book comes from.”

As a rugby fan and someone who’s written about and played the game, Cardiff-based Williams, from Gowerton near Swansea, knows all too well just how divisive the sport’s laws can be.

“I was watching a game in the autumn and there were three former Lions commentating on it,” he said.

“Something happened and it went to the TMO, and the three ex-players all had different views on it.

“When you’ve got three guys who’ve played for the Lions and they can’t agree on something, what chance does that give someone who knocked around with the Gowerton third XV?

“And, of course, the other thing we have now is social media where people can instantly give their thoughts on an incident.

“If I put out a tweet then you’ll get some people agreeing with me and others doing the exact opposite.”

So, what are the rules, sorry, laws which the author finds particularly intriguing?

“Players can’t wear fitted gloves but they can wear fingerless gloves, as was the style of Matt Dawson and Andy Goode,” he said.

“It’s slightly surprising, particularly with some of the weather we have, that more players don’t wear them to grip the ball better.

“You see a lot of American footballers wearing them in the NFL, although rugby players know that if they do then they are likely to come in for some abuse.

“I remember wearing a pair in my last game for Gowerton and I was laughed at from the moment I put them on until I left the field!”

He added: “There are also several terms used in the rulebook which caught my eye.

“One of them is the word hindmost, which is used to determine a team’s offside line.

“It’s a bizarre word from medieval times that no-one uses any more, but it’s one that has stayed in the laws since they were drawn up in the 19th century.”


There have been a number of changes and adaptations to rugby’s laws down the years, and that’s one of the beauties of the sport, according to Williams.

“That’s what I love about rugby, because it can be such a complicated game,” he said.

“The introduction of the 50-22 rule has totally changed things this season, there is so much more space in the wide channels now.

“They brought in the goalline restart rather than the dropout from the 22. I’m not sure if they’ll keep that, but it is having an impact on games.

“They also brought in new laws around the contact area, although it’s still the toughest part of the game to referee because there’s so much going on.”


The National Wales: The renowned Welsh rugby journalist and author Paul Williams who has written a new book to help people understand rugby's 'laws'The renowned Welsh rugby journalist and author Paul Williams who has written a new book to help people understand rugby's 'laws'

With so much for referees to lookout for, Williams has the utmost respect for the officials.

“I rarely criticise referees because I only refereed one game, a Gowerton U11s match in 1996, and it was one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do,” he added. “It was awful.

“The original referee for the game had dropped out and I offered my services, but I felt really pressured and didn’t know what I was doing.”

Summing up the task of today’s referee at the breakdown, Williams writes: “Quite how the referee is supposed to see and process all of this is insane and really shows how difficult a referee’s job is. Just the tackle area alone requires a minimum of four sets of eyes to see everything that’s happening simultaneously. And despite many reports of people with four sets of eyes being spotted in various locations of South-West Wales, none have successfully passed the referee exams.”

On the scrum, he adds: “Players may push provided they do so straight and parallel to the ground. Not happening. Props will try to push in any direction while making it look like it’s straight. See any of Salvador Dali’s ‘staircases’ for an illustration.”

And on the matter of restarts, he says: “After a team has scored, their opponents restart play on or behind the centre of the halfway line. This always seems a bit unfair. If you’ve just conceded, surely you should get to receive possession next. Other than Brian O’Driscoll never winning World Player of the Year and Peter Kay refusing to make a third series of Phoenix Nights, this is one of the world’s true injustices.”

Rugby Has F***ing Laws, Not Rules, written by Paul Williams and published by Polaris, is available at Amazon and high street book shops.

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