Ref column: How you kick ‘em, and where you take ‘em

In rugby, penalty kicks and free kicks are awarded to one side after the other‘s infringement of the laws of the game.

Generally speaking, free kicks are awarded for lesser offences, particularly at scrum and lineouts, while penalty kicks are awarded for more serious infringements.

The mark for a penalty or free kick must be in the field of play and be no closer than five metres from the goal line.

This means that for an infringement which occurs in the In-Goal and within five metres of the goal line, the non-offending team may get a few free metres.


The conditions that apply to both teams at each type of kick are mostly similar.

Kicks must be taken from where they are awarded, or anywhere behind it on a straight line through the mark and parallel to the touchlines.

If it is taken from the wrong place it must be re-taken correctly.

There are a couple of options for the non-offending team.

They can choose to take a scrum instead of the kick, which is smart when the mark is close to the goal line, and they can choose either a scrum or another lineout if the kick is awarded at a lineout.

Then there are a few conditions imposed on the non-offending team when taking the kick.

The kick must be taken without delay and with the ball which was in play at the time must be used, unless the referee decides it is defective.

I once saw one of the Cribb boys from Taihape boot the ball out of the ground at a penalty kick at goal because he thought it was too flat, in the hope he could use one of the other balls.

Referee Colin Pedley wasn‘t impressed and awarded the kick to the other team instead.

Any player from the non-offending team can take the penalty or free kick, with one exception.

For a free kick awarded for a “mark”, the player who caught the ball and marked it must take the kick.

Incidentally, if that player was injured in taking the mark and is unable to kick, then a scrum is awarded to that team.

The kicker may use a punt, drop kick or place kick to kick the ball, except that he may not place kick for touch, something that Scotland‘s Andy Irvine used to do, particularly on a windy Wellington day.

The ball may be kicked in any direction, though usually forwards.

Other than having a placer at a place kick if required – someone holding the ball still while the kicker approaches – the rest of the team must be behind the ball.

Now for the prickly bits that the kickers don‘t often get right.

The ball must be kicked a visible distance. If the kicker is holding the ball, then it must clearly leave the hands.

Often, the kicker will touch the ball with his foot, league style, but this is not permissible in rugby, where kicking is a bit of an art form as well as a tactical weapon.

If the ball is on the ground then it must clearly leave the mark – again, just touching it with the foot is not enough.

If a team fails to kick the ball a visible distance, then a scrum is awarded at the mark, with the opponents putting the ball into the scrum.

When a kick is awarded, the opposing team must immediately retire 10m towards their own goal line, or until they reach their goal line if that is closer.

Even if the penalty or free kick is taken quickly while they are retiring they must continue to do so until they reach that ten-metre line.

They can only be put onside when they reach that mark, or if a team mate who was ten metres away runs in front of them while they are retiring – they can‘t just stand and wait for an onside team mate to put them onside.

Also, the opposing team may not do anything to delay the kick or obstruct the kicker.

These include intentionally taking, throwing or kicking the ball away from the team awarded the free or penalty kick.

If any of these conditions on the opposing team are not met, then the mark for the kick is advanced 10m, but the second kick must not be taken before the referee makes the new mark.

At a penalty kick, especially one taken as a kick for goal, the opposing team must remain stationary with their arms at their side.

However, at a free kick, as soon as the kicker initiates movement, the opposing team may charge from their 10m back to prevent the kick being taken by tackle or blocking.

If they are successful in preventing the kick being taken, they are awarded a scrum at the mark.

This sort of thing is rare these days but is most likely to happen at a free kick awarded for a mark.

Free kicks and penalty kicks are an important part of the game, far more important than most other ball games.

Indeed, a team may win a game solely from kicking penalties.

This was probably most famously illustrated by the All Blacks 18-17 win over the 1959 British Lions at Dunedin, when Don “The Boot” Clarke saved our bacon from an enterprising Lions team full of magical ball carriers such as Tony O‘Reilly and Mike Gibson.

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