If you watch footage of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, you’ll notice that a lot of players were wearing gloves. You’re far less likely to see gloves on a rugby pitch now.
As the days get a little colder, you may be thinking that a cozy pair of gloves would be a perfect choice for a rugby match. Let’s take a look at the dos and don’ts.
Are Gloves Legal In Rugby?
By the rules of the game, you are allowed to wear a very specific type of glove in rugby. The rules only allow for fingerless mitts.
I’ll quote the official section, and then explain what they say in plain English.
Rugby laws about gloves
“Coverage of the fingers and thumbs be permitted to the outer joint but no further. The mitt zone of coverage should not continue beyond the wrist. The body of the mitt should be of a stretch type material with the grip material being made of a soft rubber/synthetic compound not exceeding a depth of 1mm. No part of a mitt should contain buttons or potentially dangerous items.“World Rugby Regulations, Regulation 12(1)(b)
Here’s a shorter explanation:
Your gloves need to be of the fingerless style, made of soft, mostly synthetic components, and can’t have buttons, snaps, or anything hard on them.
What happens if a player wears full-length gloves?
If you try to wear full-finger gloves or gloves with buttons or snaps, an official can tell you to take them off at any time before or during the game.
If you are told to remove them during the game, you can be sent off the field to remove them since play can’t continue with illegal equipment.
If an official tells a player before the match to remove illegal gloves or mitts and the player still wears them, that player can be sent off for misconduct.
What’s the problem with full fingers on gloves?
The World Rugby authorities haven’t given a clear answer as to why they don’t allow full fingers.
I’ve asked a few referees about this and the general consensus is that it’s easy for cloth to get snagged and yanked. This could lead to dislocated fingers.
Has a professional rugby player ever broken the rules?
Australian international James O’Connor played for Sale Sharks in England for two years. Eagle-eyed fans spotted him wearing full-fingered gloves in a match against Bath in the 2017/2018 season.
The Australian may have been more used to the sunshine of Bondi Beach than the brisk cold air of an English winter!
Apologies for the quality of this picture, which might not hold up in court! But trust me, he was certainly wearing full gloves in this match when he dotted down the ball to score a try.
What happened? Nothing that day. The officials didn’t spot it, and the opposition didn’t call the infringement to their attention.
However, he didn’t wear them again. I’ve no doubt that once it was talked about on social media, the coaches told him to lose those gloves!
When Fingerless Gloves Were Popular In Rugby
Rugby mitts were at their most popular in the early 2000s. I’ve already mentioned the 2003 World Cup. An article in a national newspaper referred to gloves as “the latest craze” in rugby.
The final was between England and Australia, and both sides had many gloved players.
Here is is England hooker Steve Thompson throwing into the line out.
You can’t see it with the hooker, but the fingerless gloves worn by the England players were part of the official kit.
Don’t believe me? The Union Jack is more clear in this pic of scrum-half Matt Dawson’s hand.
Gloves were also popular with the Wallabies. Here’s George Smith, the great Australian flanker, about to pack down in the scrum.
And don’t think that it was just these two top teams at that time.
Here’s Ireland captain and center, Brian O’Driscoll, wearing a pair of gloves with the appropriate color of his country.
This era was the heyday of fingerless gloves. There were far fewer to be seen four years later at the 2007 World Cup.
Why Don’t Rugby Players Wear Fingerless Gloves or Mitts?
One very basic reason why rugby players don’t wear fingerless gloves is that they just aren’t in fashion anymore.
If you do a quick survey of rugby players, you will find that a lot of players would be a little embarrassed to be seen in them now.
There are some substantial reasons that they aren’t popular as well.
If your match is in the cold and rain and the field is turning to mud, gloves can be a real liability. The soft material will soak up the water and mud and hold it next to your skin. You won’t be able to just shake or wipe off the mud and moisture and the glove now is actually chilling your hand, making it clumsier and making it harder to grip.
In the same way, the gripping surface of the palm can get wet during a rainy, muddy match. A wet, muddy, slimy, glove is far harder to grip with than a wet hand. A wet, slippery hand can just be wiped off. You can’t do that with a glove.
And rugby mitts just aren’t very durable. They have a reputation for falling apart after just a few matches in rainy or muddy conditions. If you have to constantly be replacing your gloves, it can get very expensive.
Gloves make your hands easier for an official to see. If you have hands in a ruck, mitts make it much easier for the official to see and call.
One of the main reasons for wearing gloves is that players thought they improved their grip. In a lot of situations they actually are counterproductive, but even where they worked, there are now things that work better.
Alternatives to gloves
Unlike some other sports, rugby allows grip sprays. There are several that are commercially available and inexpensive. These are designed to both resist water and to actively repel it.
Check out our article on what rugby players spray on their hands.
Why Do Rugby Players Wear Fingerless Gloves or Mitts?
Some players, mostly junior or amateur players, do choose to wear mitts and there are a few reasons why.
One reason is the reason almost everyone wears gloves: to keep your hands warm.
If your hands are warm they are more agile, more flexible, and stronger. This allows you to better grip, catch, and handle the ball. On a cold, dry day fingerless mitts might help with this, and some players think they do.
If someone is protecting a bruise or contusion, the light level of padding allowed by the rules will give the hand some protection. They could also provide an extra layer of protection to allow gashes and scrapes to heal without getting reopened during the match.
The wrist section of the glove might stabilize the wrist somewhat, but for wrist injuries, taping is probably a better option than gloves.
Some hookers also use gloves to help with grip for throwing in the ball at lineouts. The hooker throw is a difficult skill to master and grip is extremely important, especially for the back hand where much of the power is generated.
On a dry day, a glove might help with this, although a spray is probably better. If you’re starting out in your playing career, it’s well worth trying both options.
Advice For Parents About Gloves and Mitts in Rugby
If you choose to get mitts for the young rugby player in your household, there are a few things to think about.
First and foremost, make sure whatever glove you get is legal. Make sure it is constructed of soft material and that it has no hard buttons or snaps. If a player has an illegal glove, they won’t be allowed to use it or may even be sent off to remove it.
For cold weather matches, players can bring full, thermal gloves. These can keep their hands warm right up to the start of play and can be put back on after the game. Just be sure to remind the youngster to take them off before the start of the match!
Some people have mentioned putting Vaseline on their wrists to insulate against the cold. But I can’t imagine why anyone would put anything on that might make their hands more slippery.
During the game, the best option for keeping hands warm is also the oldest. Just put your hands in your armpits! This works whether it’s wet, dry, or muddy. It also generates a lot more heat than a thin, synthetic glove. And it doesn’t interfere with the player’s grip if it’s a wet day.
Our Recommended Gloves For Juniors
We’ve seen some brands at the club where the fingers are far too long. It’s as if just the tips were cut off them.
We recommend the Kooga brand for juniors (Amazon UK link). Be sure you pick the right size.
More Articles About Rugby Gear
Interested in protecting your ankles and lower legs? Check out our article on shin pads in rugby.
We’ve also got detailed advice on how to clean and dry your rugby boots.