What Are The Rules For Substitutions In Rugby?

Rugby Substitution

What are the rules of rugby substitutions? How many players can be substituted? Are the substitutions temporary or permanent? How are the rules different for rugby union and rugby league? Below, we will learn all about substitutions in rugby.

Rugby Substitutions

Part of a team’s strategy in rugby is how they use substitutions to give players rest, change playing style, or replace poorly-performing players. Therefore, substitutions can be crucial to a team’s success.

A unique feature of rugby substitutions is that players must be substituted according to their position. Each team’s manager must designate which players will play in the front row, for example. This is because front-row players must have a certain level of strength and experience, or else they are much more likely to be severely injured.

All substitution regulations are at the discretion of the match official and must be made during a stoppage in play. The referee decides when a player may leave or enter the field.

Types of Substitutions

There are two main types of substitutions in rugby:

  • Temporary Substitutions
  • Permanent Substitutions

In addition to these, there are subtypes of both temporary and permanent substitutions: blood substitutions and tactical substitutions.

Temporary Substitutions

Temporary substitutions allow players who are injured to be subbed back in again later in the game. If a player is bleeding or suspected to have a concussion, they will be taken out of the game in a temporary substitution. The player may return to the game within 15 minutes if they are cleared to play. If they cannot return within 15 minutes, it becomes a permanent substitution, and the player may not return to the game.

Blood Substitutions

A “blood substitution” refers to a type of temporary substitution that occurs because a player has received an injury that requires them to go to the blood bin. Blood substitutions are found in both rugby union and rugby league, although the two competitions have different rules regarding the use of blood substitutions.

Permanent Substitutions

Permanent substitutions are substitutions that may not be reversed. A player who is taken out of the game via a permanent substitution may not return to the game.

Tactical Substitutions

Coaches get eight tactical substitutions to use during each game. Tactical substitutions may be made during any stoppage in play. Tactical substitutions are always permanent unless the substituted player becomes injured. In that case, a player that has left the game may return as a replacement without penalty.

Rugby Union Substitutions

Substitutions in rugby union can be either temporary or permanent. In rugby union, there are 15 players on the field at once. They may be replaced by none, some, or by all of the eight replacement players.

Blood substitutions in rugby union are temporary and will be undone when the injured player is able to get back on the field. If this takes longer than 15 minutes, however, the substitution automatically becomes permanent.

Substitutions in rugby union can also be intentional. These substitutions are permanent, and the player who is substituted out may not return to the game.

Rugby League Interchanges

In rugby league, the substitutions are known as interchanges. Rugby league allows only 13 players to be on the field at one time. Before the match, each team must designate four replacement players.

A maximum of eight interchanges are allowed among these 17 total players. This means that managers can use either temporary or permanent substitutions at their own leisure, as long as they make no more than a total of eight changes. Blood substitutions in rugby league count toward the eight-interchange total.

Rugby Substitution Rules Summary

  • In rugby union, substitutions are either temporary or permanent.
  • An injury, or blood, substitution is temporary and allows the player to return within 15 minutes.
  • A blood substitution becomes permanent if the player cannot be cleared to return within 15 minutes.
  • Permanently substituted players cannot return to play.
  • Rugby union teams get eight tactical substitutions, which are permanent and can be used during any stoppage.
  • Players that are permanently substituted out in a tactical substitution may legally return to replace a substitute that becomes injured.
  • Substitutions are called interchanges in rugby league.
  • In rugby league, each team is allowed four substitute players and eight total substitutions during the game.
  • Blood substitutions count toward the eight-interchange limit in rugby league.


How many subs can you make in rugby?

The number of substitutions you can make in rugby depends on whether you are playing rugby union or rugby league. In rugby union, a maximum of eight permanent substitutions are allowed across the 15 players on the field, with unlimited temporary substitutions for injuries. In rugby league, which allows 13 players on the field, a maximum of eight interchanges are permitted, regardless of whether they are for injuries.