Rugby Throw Forward

Rugby Throw Forward

Considered by many as one of the main distinguishers between rugby and American football, the throw forward is absolutely forbidden in rugby. This play, which results in a violation of the rules, could provide the team that is holding the ball with an unfair advantage in the build-up to a try.


According to the World Rugby Law Book, a throw forward is defined as the action of a player throwing or passing the ball forward. This can be easily determined by checking the position of the player’s arms when the ball is thrown. If the arms move away from the player receiving the pass, the play is defined as a throw forward, which represents an infringement.

Based on the intentionality of the play, the throw forward could result in two different sanctions: a scrum or a penalty. If the throw forward appears to be unintentional, the referee will sanction the team with a scrum. In this type of set piece the team that committed the unintentional throw forward is forced to fight for possession with the opposing one. Thus, an unintentional throw forward means that the team can only regain possession of the ball if the eight players in the scrum can push off the opponents and protect the ball for their teammates.

An intentional throw forward represents one of the most serious violations of the World Rugby Law Book, as this action could make it easier for the team to run straight to the try zone. Due to the fact that an intentional throw forward is considered a serious infringement, the referee sanctions it with a penalty. An intentional throw forward, thus, leads the referee to assign a penalty try to the opposing team due to the importance of the advantage acquired through the infringement. 


Most cases of a throw forward do not present intentionality from the player, which means that this kind of infringement results in a scrum most times. While the sanctions do not vary based on the level of play, the kind of scrum changes based on the position on the field where the infringement took place. If the throw forward takes place at the try line, the scrum will be at the touchline.

Referee Signal

Rugby Throw Forward Referee Signal

Similar to American football, rugby referees have an extensive code of hand signals to communicate different penalties to the players. The throw forward signal belongs to the category of secondary referee signals that establish the restart of the game through a scrum. By moving the hands to simulate the motion of a forward pass, the referee, thus, decides that two teams will have to fight to obtain possession of the ball through a scrum.


  • The player runs toward the try zone and decides to pass the ball to the closest teammate but, due to poor balance and coordination, passes the ball away from the receiver, causing a throw forward infringement.
  • The player decides to gain an unfair advantage on the build-up to a try by intentionally throwing the ball forward so the closest teammate can reach the ball faster and anticipate the opponents’ tackles.
  • Due to a lack of communication and tactical understanding, the receiver goes offside while the ball has already been thrown forward, which results in a scrum or a penalty try.

Similar Infringements to Throw Forward

  • Offside
  • Knock-on
  • Throw not straight (line-out)


Are you allowed to throw forward in rugby?

Throwing the ball forward is one of the easiest violations to commit in a rugby game. Players need to communicate well and always keep good positioning to avoid putting the players with the ball in a tough situation that could lead to a throw forward. Whether it is intentional or not, whenever the arms of the player passing the ball move forward, the referee will intervene and call an illegal throw forward.

What is the penalty for throwing the ball forward in rugby?

The penalty for throwing the ball forward in rugby depends on the intentionality of the play. An unintentional throw forward results in a scrum, which means that the team that committed the penalty can regain possession of the ball if the scrum is successful. In the case of an intentional throw forward, the referee will assign a penalty since the infringement represents a clear obstruction to a try. Therefore, an intentional throw forward could lead to the opposition scoring through a penalty try.

Are you allowed to kick the ball forward in rugby?

While a throw forward is considered one of the main penalties in rugby, kicking the ball forward is allowed. If a team is struggling to move the ball down the pitch, then a player can elect to kick the ball forward. However, any teammate that is in front of the ball is not allowed to pick up the ball until they are behind the kicker.