Kick-Offs And Restarts In Rugby (Explained)

Kick-offs in Rugby Union have become a little predictable. A defender catches the ball, takes a tackle, and sets up a ruck.

But sometimes, the play from kick-off gets a lot more exciting. This article looks at scoring from kick-offs, and some unusual scenarios around catching the ball.

Kick Offs And Restarts Must Be Drop Kicks

Kickers must ensure that the ball hits the ground before their foot hits it. If a referee thinks that the ball was simply punted, the whistle will blow for an offense.

If you want to learn more about the technique, check out our article on drop kicks in rugby.

Can You Score From Your Own Kick-Off In Rugby?

I’ve attended a lot of rugby matches and I’ve never been to a game where a team scored a try straight from their own kick-off. Is it possible? And if it’s possible, is it allowed?

Teams can score from kick-off in rugby if an attacking player chases the kick, catches the ball, and grounds it across the try line.

The player can also pass to a teammate to score the try. Scoring straight from the kick-off is rare in fifteens rugby but less unusual in sevens rugby.

Sevens example

Here’s an example of outstanding skill from a forward in sevens rugby. USA 7s international Ben Pickelman leaps to catch the ball from the kick-off.

His momentum takes him past two Scottish defenders and he gets his pass away to the team captain Madison Hughes who touches down for the try.

Fifteens example

If you watched the Sevens video, you’ll have noticed that only two defenders were competing for the kick-off. There will usually be more in Fifteens rugby, so a clean catch and break like this would be rare.

However, sometimes the defending team forgets one of the cardinal rules of rugby: don’t let the ball bounce!

The problem is that the bounce of a rugby ball is unpredictable. If you’re unlucky, it bounces straight into the welcoming hands of the opposition.

This is what happened when Leeds Carnegie met the Newcastle Falcons in the England Premiership back in 2013.

Apologies for the lower quality footage, but the culprits who let the ball bounce are clearly visible! Leeds player Lee Blackett gratefully gathers the ball and races through for a try.

Kick-off, ruck, and score

When attacking players catch the ball from a kick-off, it’s more likely that they are tackled to the ground by the defensive team.

If their teammates form a ruck, then the attacking team can produce an attacking play as at any time during a match. There is nothing special about a ruck after kick-off.

Tries versus drop goals

We’ve discussed scoring tries from the kick-off. But what about drop goals? Let’s look at that question next.

Can You Score A Drop Goal From A Kick-Off?

There are a few players who can kick monster drop goals in rugby.

South African Francois Steyn was well behind the halfway line when he kicked a drop goal for Clermont against French club rival Racing 92.

Ireland’s Jonny Sexton was on the halfway line in open play when he scored a drop goal in the final of a European club championship match for Leinster against Leicester Tigers.

In both situations, there wasn’t a defender near them who thought they’d go for goal. They had plenty of time to steady themselves and smash the ball, without getting smashed themselves.  

As defenders have to be back ten meters from the kick-off, doesn’t it make sense to try for goal? Actually, no. The laws of rugby don’t allow it.

Players are not allowed to score a drop goal from a kick-off in rugby. The kick-off is not considered to be in open play until the ball is caught or hits the ground.

Drop goals can only be scored during open play, which rules out scoring them straight from kick-off.

We showed two examples of scoring tries straight from kick-off. Theoretically, the player who gathered his teammate’s kick could have immediately scored a drop goal as the game is now in open play.

I haven’t even bothered hunting for a clip, as this scenario is so unlikely.

Can You Score A Drop Goal After Catching A Kick-Off?

The player kicking the ball to restart the game is not allowed to score a drop goal. But what about the team receiving the kick?

I doubt even Francios Steyn could score a drop goal when catching a kick taken from the halfway line. Although if he was at altitude in South Africa, maybe he could in his prime!

Kick-offs from the 22-meter line are a different matter. The catching player may be within the opposition’s half at a good angle for a drop goal.

Players who receive a kick-off in rugby are allowed to score a drop goal straight from the catch.

This is rarely attempted, as the opposition is also chasing the kick. The kicker’s teammates will usually be close enough to charge a drop kick.

However, I’ve certainly seen a few attempted in club matches.

Can You Call A Mark From A Kick-Off?

Rugby Union can be a little predictable. One team kicks off, and a defender catches the ball and runs into a tackle to set up a ruck.

Sometimes the defender will kick the ball straight after the catch, particularly if they’re in their own 22.

This may make you wonder why the catching player doesn’t call a mark, as they’d have more time for the kick. The reason is due to the laws in rugby:

Players can’t claim a mark when they catch the ball straight from a kick-off.

The laws of rugby aren’t always clearly laid out. It’s currently ambiguous as to what happens if the kick-off goes so far that it hits the goalposts and bounces into the field of play.

The laws say that you’re allowed to call a mark when the ball bounces off the posts or crossbar!

However, this scenario is so unlikely that it probably hasn’t been tested in real life.

What Is A Kick-Off Called In Rugby?

You may hear several names being used for when a team starts or restarts play by kicking the ball.

There are three names for kick-offs in rugby.

The term “kick-off” is used for starting a half or extra time.

A kick after a score is known as a “restart” and is taken from the halfway line.

When the ball goes dead in or past the in-goal area, the kick is called the “22-meter drop-out”.

These are how the laws refer to different types of kicks to restart play. However, you’ll hear commentators and rugby supporters use kick-off and restarts interchangeably.

The 22-meter drop-out is very specific to where the kick is taken. The kick is from the 22-meter line nearest the try line of the team in possession.

Other Questions

Check out our article on why players bounce the ball before restarts and kick-offs.