Match Time, Sudden Death, And Sin Bins In Sevens Rugby

Sevens Rugby is known for faster play in shorter matches than the fifteen-a-side version of the sport.

This article looks at the most important aspects of time in rugby sevens matches.

How Long Is A Rugby Sevens Match?

Most rugby sevens matches at international level are seven minutes per half with a half-time break of one to two minutes. Tournament finals may increase to ten minutes per half. When tournament knock-out matches are drawn, the game goes into sudden death and play continues until one team scores.

These numbers mean that international sevens matches will last at least fifteen minutes. This is a big part of the popularity of sevens tournaments where supporters get to see plenty of different teams and matches.

The total match time can increase due to injury stoppages and other reasons including player replacements.

Does Rugby Sevens have injury time?

Referees try to keep play flowing in a rugby sevens match, and games aren’t stopped for minor injuries.

However, referees will stop the game for more serious injuries. The clock is also stopped and restarted when play recommences.

This means that a half of rugby may go over the regulation time in elapsed minutes.

Club tournaments and social sevens matches

Sevens matches below international level use the seven and ten minute times as the maximum that organizers can set.

However, shorter times can be agreed upon between the teams, the organizers, and the referees.

How Does Sudden Death Work In Sevens Rugby?

Many sports try to ensure games aren’t drawn by having a fixed period of extra time. Whichever team scores the most in that period wins the game. But rugby sevens is different.

Sudden death in a sevens rugby tournament occurs when a knock-out match ends in a draw. The teams start an overtime half of five minutes and the first team that scores will win the match immediately. Until there is a score, the teams will play successive five-minute halves with no interval.

Theoretically, a game could continue with no score for a very long time. Realistically, sevens players will get fatigued and make mistakes.

They don’t even have the luxury of a break between periods of sudden death. Teams must change halves and keep playing immediately.

Personally, I’ve never seen more than two periods of sudden death in a knock-out match of rugby sevens.

Pool versus knock-out matches

There is no sudden death in pool games in rugby sevens tournaments. Pool matches can end in a draw, so there is a complex method of scoring to determine who goes forward to the knock-out stages.

Quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals cannot end in a draw. This is when sudden death comes into play.

Sevens versus fifteens

The earliest history of rugby sevens had sudden death where the first score wins.

The fifteens version of the game hasn’t followed suit.  

I’ve seen some fifteens tournaments that used the concept of a golden score in knock-out matches (i.e. the same as rugby sevens).

However, most tournaments have a fixed time period for knock-out matches. The team with the highest score at the end of two ten-minute periods of extra time will win the match.

But what if a fifteens final is still a draw after extra time? The current method to decide these matches is penalty shoot-outs.

Are there penalty shoot-outs in rugby sevens?

Unlike the fifteen-a-side version of Rugby Union, penalty shoot-outs have never been used in Sevens Rugby to resolve tied scores. Sudden death is used instead, and the first score wins a knock-out match.

I haven’t seen any appetite from tournament organizers to borrow the penalty shoot-out format from fifteens rugby. That may in part be because penalties in sevens must be taken as a dropkick.

Can A Rugby Sevens Half Go Over The Regulation Time?

A half in soccer ends when the regulation time is up and the referee’s whistle blows. The ball may still be in play, but it doesn’t matter.

A half in sevens rugby doesn’t stop immediately when the regulation time is up. The game continues until the ball goes out of play or the referee whistles for a natural stoppage due to a knock-on or an infringement.

An unintentional knock-on usually results in a scrum for the opposing team. But if regulation time is up, the referee will end the half.

A penalty infringement is different. The opposing team is allowed to kick for goal. They can also tap the ball and continue to play.

I’ve discussed the potential problems of never-ending matches in our article on extra time in rugby fifteens. The hypothetical scenario is that the defending team keeps infringing, and the attacking team keeps tapping to continue play.

In practice, the solution for fifteens rugby is even more effective in sevens. The referee simply gives a yellow card for persistent infringement. In sevens rugby, the defending team will quickly run out of players.

Once the attacking team scores a try and takes the conversion, the half is over!

How Long Is The Sin Bin In Rugby Sevens?

When a referee awards a yellow card in a sevens match, the infringing player must leave the field for a two minute period. This is known as the sin-bin. The player’s team cannot bring on a direct replacement and is down in numbers for the period.

This is another major difference between sevens and fifteens rugby. In the fifteen-a-side game, the sin bin period is ten minutes.

However, given that the halves are much shorter in sevens rugby, the consequences are even more severe. Do the maths: 2 out of 7 versus 10 out of 40 minutes. Although sevens tournament finals may increase to ten minutes, the sin bin duration of two minutes stays the same.