Double Movement In Rugby (Explained For Beginners)

There’s no mention of “double movement” in the law book for Rugby Union. The term comes from Rugby League, but it’s an infringement in the Fifteens sport too.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell a legitimate try from a double movement. Supporters often disagree with a referee’s ruling! This article covers a lot of different scenarios to make the ruling clear.

What Is A Double Movement In Rugby?

When rugby players are tackled short of the try line, they are allowed to reach out immediately and place the ball over the line to score a try.

A double movement occurs when players propel themselves forward on the ground to reach the line. This is a second (double) movement and is not allowed.

Double movements can be easy to spot when the tackled player wriggles and crawls to eke out a few inches. Basically, if the player uses hands, knees, or elbows to move forward, it’s an easy decision for the referee.

I usually only see crawling at beginner level. Elite players are less likely to make this mistake – although international forwards sometimes can’t help themselves! I’ll show you some examples later in the article.

TMO and common sense

However, the infringement is less easy to spot when the ball carrier is under a pile of defenders.

In professional matches, referees will ask for help from the Television Match Official. This can take endless replays while supporters are baying for a decision their way!

At amateur level, referees have to make a judgment call. They’ve seen the arm reach out from under a pile of bodies and dot the ball over the line.

Was there a lot of wriggling and shuffling? The key point in the laws is that the placement must be “immediate”. Otherwise, the player is unfairly holding on to the ball after the tackle.

Most referees will avoid having to adjudicate on a double movement by blowing the whistle as the player is trying to wriggle into a favorable position.

Natural momentum is allowed

Not all movements along the ground amount to a double movement.

When players are tackled from behind, natural momentum may take them sliding closer to the try line. If that lets them reach out and ground the ball, the try is awarded.

If you want to see a peach of a try that illustrates the point, take a look at the first video in our article on ways to score in rugby.

Here’s the summary: when the player is tackled, he rolls onto his back, lets momentum slide him forward, and grounds the ball over his head.

However, players cannot be pushed and shoved by teammates arriving to help. This is not natural!

Is a double movement a penalty?

When referees decide that a double movement was used to ground the ball over the line, they will not award the try.

Instead, they will award a penalty kick to the opposition. The kick is taken five meters away from the try line (not the spot where the ball-carrier infringed).

What do the Rugby Union laws actually say?

I mentioned that the laws in Rugby Union don’t mention the term “double movement”.

Here is the law that covers this penalty infringement:

A try is scored when an attacking playeris tackled near to the opponents’ goal line and the player immediately reaches out and grounds the ball.

Rugby Union Rule Book

You have to look at the situation in the negative i.e. what did the ball carrier not do? If they wriggled or crawled forward, this is not “reaching out”.

Is The Player Allowed To Roll And Reach Out?

This is a tricky one for referees to judge.

When players are tackled, they are allowed to adjust their position to place the ball on the ground. Usually, they are twisting to place it behind them.

The laws don’t mention the “half roll” that you’ll see so often, but clearly this is allowed all the time. We have a separate article on what kinds of rolling is allowed in rugby.

In the case of rolling forward to score a try – if momentum is involved, then that’s okay. But if the player is using their hips and knees to roll forward, this will probably be disallowed.

You Can’t Reach Out Multiple Times

Referees won’t allow players to have multiple nibbles at the try line.

It’s not unusual to see a player reach out an arm and realize that the ball is just short of the whitewash. Referees will allow them to pull the ball back and place it behind them, as long as they release the ball immediately afterward.

However, you’ll sometimes see players having another go. Maybe they think their arm has suddenly grown a little longer! Referees will penalize this as not releasing the ball.

Video Example Of Double Movement

This example is from a professional club match between Munster and the Ospreys.

The attacking player is tackled onto his back and wriggles for a few seconds before grounding it over his head.

You can hear the defenders shouting “double movement” at the referee. The ref goes to the TMO who can be heard to tell him: “I will check for double movement and grounding”.

But remember I said that the term “double movement” is not mentioned in the laws of rugby? When the TMO gives the official decision, he uses the language that is mentioned in the laws.

“I have a decision. The player did not release the ball in the tackle. No try, penalty [to the defenders]”.

TMO, Munster vs Ospreys 2013

But isn’t this similar to a try I described earlier that was awarded? Yes, but in that case the tackled player slid across the dewy Australian grass with natural momentum.