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Ask the Ref: Refereeing Sevens

Tuesday Jun 16, 2009 in Off the Field Ask the Ref

image for this article
(Ian Muir photo)

Hey Ref: "What should I be doing differently to prepare for Sevens now that I've finished my 15s season?"

Chris Draper is a USA Rugby referee who has officiated at the highest levels, including the NA4 and USA Sevens. (Dobson Images)

Rugby is rugby: the vast majority of what you must do to be a successful referee in 15s is the same for Sevens.  However, the rapid nature of Sevens requires us to increase the efficiency with which we effectively apply the Law. 

For example, while offenses committed by the tackler or at the tackle must be addressed in both 15s and Sevens, the effect of these infractions (e.g. not releasing the tackled player, not rolling away, or falling on or over a player on the ground) can more immediately stifle any hope of facilitating the fastest, hardest game the players are willing and able to play. In short, you must ensure that you are solid in both your focus and emphasis of the fundamentals every time you step out to referee any match.

That said, there are three main areas that a referee should focus on to avoid the most common pitfalls of refereeing Sevens:

Know the Law variations.  While it should go without saying: read the Laws.  If you do not have a Law book, the Laws are available online at:


However, there are a few specifics worthy of note:

1. The team that scores kicks off.  As we rarely have ball runners at our tournaments, it would be wise to remind the team which scored that (i) they only have 40 seconds from the time the ball is grounded to complete their conversion kick attempt - a kick which cannot be made with the heel and must be made from inside the field of play if it is to count in an event that leads towards a National Championship - and (ii) they are responsible for getting the ball back to half-way without delay.  There is no time requirement from score to kickoff, but it would be wise to monitor the time taken to ensure all available match time is used to compete.

2. Most restart infractions result in a Free Kick, no option. For example, while a kick-off that goes straight into touch can be restarted with a lineout at half-way in a 15s match - and this lineout could be taken quickly at or behind this mark - this is not an option in Sevens.

3. Both props must bind onto the hooker.  While the hooker can bind over or under, he or she must be in line with the props (i.e. the props cannot bind on each other and have the hooker slip in the back).

4. It is a penalty to kick the ball towards your opponent's in goal while in the scrum; the hooker can only hook it back.  If the ball shoots out one (typically the offensive) side of the scrum, it may be a good time to ask why...

5. A temporary suspension (i.e. yellow card) lasts for two minutes.

Maintain an efficient urgency.  Sevens is often played at a fast - and potentially frantic - pace.  In this environment, small mistakes are costly, whether in points or the potential for injury.  It is not acceptable to treat these games as less important than a first-side 15s match: your impact on a game of Sevens rugby can be far more significant and immediately apparent.  You must ensure you are ready to be fully focused and physically capable from start to finish.

This does not mean continuously running to catch up with every play.  It is vital that you are in a position to identify and adjudicate the primary infringement: if the tackler is not forced to allow quick recycling of the ball, the contest will rarely be fair or expansive.  However, this is not done by working harder to chase play.  We must instead work harder to anticipate how the game will develop, and attack efficient running lines with the urgency required to allow the fastest, hardest game the players are willing to play.

Examine Advantage.  The most significant difference between Sevens and 15s that you must consider when preparing to referee is the interpretation of Advantage.  We must be conscious of the fact that (i) possession in itself is a very significant advantage, (ii) the delayed issuance of a sanction could significantly shift the quality of an Advantage, and (iii) a slight overload could be far more likely to score. 

For example, it is not unheard of for a team to run out of their own in goal to score. Therefore, if a team secures possession deep inside their 22m and passes back to four players on their feet with attacking potential, should we stop play even though they are nearly 100m away from scoring? Alternatively, if a penalty infraction occurs at a tackle following a supported breakaway, wouldn't immediately issuing a penalty that puts the majority of the defense offside be of greater advantage in most cases than allowing players to recover from a fractured attack while the defense resets? What if a defending player intentionally knocks an outlet pass down while off his feet: would this have to occur within the player's 22m before a penalty try is considered?

While all of these scenarios regarding Advantage must be assessed in the context of the participants, we must recognize that what we would consider an Advantage in 15s may not be what is best for a game of Sevens.

Sevens is a variation of the game that is - nearly everywhere around the world - played more within a laid-back, party-focused environment than traditional 15-a-side matches.  As referees, we should be willing to have a good time and ensure that the match you are refereeing is played to the spirit of the event.  At the same time, there's no such thing as a truly "friendly" rugby game, and everyone has a lot more fun when they have a fair shot at winning. 

We must be prepared to offer them that opportunity.

- Chris Draper


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