What Are The Rules For Substitutions In Rugby?

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? Get ready to learn about substitutions in rugby.


Part of a team’s strategy 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(s). The referee decides when a player may leave or enter the field.

Types of Substitutions

Temporary Substitutions

Temporary substitutions allow players who are subbed out to be subbed back in again later in the game. Temporary substitutions are similar to those typically found in American sports, including American football and basketball.

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.

Blood Substitutions

A “blood substitution” refers to a 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.

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 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

NOTE: 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 12 interchanges are allowed between 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 12 changes.

Blood substitutions in rugby league count toward the 12-interchange total.