Female rugby players have always been allowed to wear leggings or tights in matches. However, male players were banned from wearing them in 2010.
This ban was removed in 2021. Currently, all rugby players can wear tights or leggings as long as they meet specific requirements.
This article looks at why the ban was lifted. We’ll also explain what kind of leggings or tights are allowed in a rugby match.
Can You Wear Leggings Or Tights For Rugby?
The section on clothing in the rugby laws used to ban players from wearing long tights or leggings in matches. This didn’t extend to training sessions.
Although players could wear compression shorts underneath their usual team shorts, the material couldn’t extend below the knee.
The laws previously allowed an exemption for women to wear leggings.
World Rugby changed the laws in 2021 to allow all players, male and female, to wear full tights or leggings down to the ankle.
Socks are still mandatory and there must not be any padding sewn into the leggings. The material must be a blend of cotton with a single seam on the inside leg.
From the law book
There is an entire section in the rugby law book that governs “Players’ Clothing”. There are only five pieces of mandatory gear:
- Shorts and underwear
Leggings and tights come under the section of optional gear. Unlike some rugby laws, the wording here is quite simple:
Cotton blend long tights or leggings, with single inside leg seam under their shorts and socks.World Rugby Laws On Clothing
Let’s take a quick look at these restrictions.
Must Be Cotton Blend
The reason why leggings were previously banned was that lycra-style material gave ball carriers an unfair advantage over the tackler. It was easier to slip out of tackles!
This is why the current law specifies a “blend of cotton”.
Be careful about this when you buy leggings or tights that you intend to wear in a match. Many that I see for online purchase are one hundred percent polyester.
Padding Not Allowed Inside Leggings
Rugby is very restrictive when it comes to padding. This isn’t American Football!
When it comes to the leg area, only a very thin type of shin pad is allowed. You can read more in our article on shin guards in rugby.
Players are not allowed to sew extra padding into their rights or leggings. Referees check player gear before a match, and padding would be noticeable!
The laws specify that there can only be a single seam and that it must be on the inside leg. Why do the lawmakers get so specific?
This is to avoid any kind of extra abrasion for tacklers!
As the tackler wraps their arms around the ball carriers’ legs, their check is side-on to the outside of the leg.
If there was a thicker piece of material running down the outside leg, it could tear at the tackler’s face. There’s no such danger down the inside of the leg.
Why Did The Rugby Laws Change To Allow Tights And Leggings?
The reason given in the press release by World Rugby was the rise of artificial pitches at both amateur and professional levels.
4G grass burns
Players have been complaining for some time about 4G pitches in particular.
One of the problems is that artificial grass is far more abrasive than real grass.
This means that when players slide on the surface after a tackle, their skin can rip and tear with gruesome consequences.
I cover this more in our article on artificial pitches in rugby. There’s a link to a picture uploaded by a player that shows how bad skin burn can be.
I’ve seen some pushback by older (retired) players saying that allowing tights means that the game is “going soft”. I doubt that they played on 4G pitches.
Some players need skin graft operations after a match. But even more minor burns can lead to infection and loss of playing time.
Potential reason – equality
World Rugby doesn’t mention this but we speculate that someone pointed out to them that it was unfair to afford skin protection to women that wasn’t afforded to men.
Nobody is going to argue against only women being allowed chest padding.
But there’s no reasonable argument to separate the genders in terms of leg abrasions.
Do Tights Or Leggings Make Tackling More Difficult?
There were some arguments against the law changes that seemed to be based on fears that tackling would be more difficult.
We assume that the fear is that legs would be more difficult to grasp in the tackle.
This may be true with lycra-style tights that are artificially smooth. However, the new rugby laws stipulate that a cotton blend is only allowed.
This may make tights-wearing players even easier to tackle than those rugby players who prefer to shave their legs.
I also haven’t seen any griping from players about the law change.
I’d expect high-profile flankers (the highest tacklers in rugby) to start complaining in interviews if tights made it harder for them to do their job.
History Of Laws Surrounding Leggings And Tights In Rugby
There was a previous time when we started seeing backs wearing tights on the pitch.
This was between about 2000 and 2010. You’ll catch sight of a few clothed legs in old YouTube footage from back in the day.
My own memory is that Welsh international Shane Williams sported a pair from time to time.
This wasn’t to do with artificial pitches which were rare back then. It was an effort by players to keep warm in cold weather.
Wingers can find themselves almost stationary near the sideline for an entire match on a cold rainy winter day.
The idea behind the tights was that the improved circulation would stop their legs from going stiff. They could accelerate quickly for that one time in the game that an attacking opportunity presented itself out wide.
Ban in 2010
World Rugby changed the laws in 2010 to prevent male players from wearing tights or leggings.
The reason then was that most of the leggings were made of artificially smooth material, such as lycra.
The new laws specifically ban those types of material.