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Half Game Rule - FAQs

Why is the half game rule coming in?

Players tell us they want to play. Being part of the team is the most important thing to them about

rugby. They don’t want to sit on the bench and only get a few minutes of rugby at the end.

Putting what they have learned in training into a game situation helps the player put their learning into practice and most importantly increases their enjoyment of the game.

Universally accepted child development models show that playing is linked to a child’s enjoyment, self-esteem and confidence which in turn is linked to their intent to play.

By introducing this rule, we aim to increase player enjoyment, aid player development at ultimately retain players in rugby.

When is this being introduced?

Many clubs and schools do this already, but most don’t. The plan is to make this regulation from September 2019 for the 2019/2020 season, with 2018/2019 being allowed for clubs/schools to prepare for this by adopting it voluntarily.

What do we have to do?

Ensure that all players within your match day squad get to play at least half the game time available. You can do this using rolling substitutions and/or at set periods (i.e. quarters) within the game. Many of those that do it already, simply work on quarters and plan their substitutions in advance for those points in the game. Coaches should talk with other coaches and referees prior to the game to agree how they will implement the half game rule and other game conditions to ensure it is player centred.

Please see our top 10 tips along with the Age Grade Codes of Practice to help you implement this.

How do we know this works?

The half game rule is already a policy in New Zealand where positive impacts have been noted and has also been adopted in Wales. It will also come into the game in Scotland in 2018-19.

The University of Essex reviewed a pilot across a few counties in 2017-18 for clubs and schools. This found that, for those who implemented the rule, both player enjoyment scores and playing time increased. There was no evidence that suggested this impacted on the results of games or increased injury.

What if there is an injury or risk of injury?

This supersedes the rule. If a player is injured, they must be removed – their safety and well-being

comes first

What if it’s unsafe for a player to play?

Cleary no player should be placed in a position where they are not competent or fully trained to safely play. We wouldn’t expect a player who has never practiced the tackle asked to do full contact in a match for example.

Half game doesn’t change what the good coach would do anyway. Coaches should consider what is in the best development needs of the player and how they might condition the game or put in individual challenges for players.

What about our less able players? Won’t this cost us the game?

Players of all abilities are just as important as each other. Being part of the team is what is important to them, so ensuring they get half a game will directly support what they want from rugby. Research shows that being on the pitch is far more important to age grade players than the result of the match.

Playing in matches, making mistakes and learning from them is how ALL players learn and develop. Players, regardless of ability, tell us they want to play and that playing increases their competence, enjoyment and therefore likelihood to continue.

In addition, the University of Essex research study showed that the half game rule did not impact the result of games.

Won’t the ‘better’ player leave if they are being replaced or playing in what they perceive is a weaker team when others are brought on?

Players tell us that being part of a team and playing with their friends is the most important thing to them. Coaches, parents and teammates should set the tone for half game being about how it is aimed at ensuring more players want to stay in the group.

All players want to play and maximise their game time, however the pilot showed that enjoyment for all players who took part in half game were higher than those that didn’t.

Evidence shows also that the “best players” are those at risk of being overplayed and therefore fatigued, so good player management using half game can mitigate this.

Finally, good coaches will provide these players with a challenge and rewards to support their team mates.

What if game is cut short?

This is rare but does sometimes happen due to reasons out of our control. Every effort should be made to avoid this (eg. ensuring points differential doesn’t lead to a game being stopped). Coaches should think ahead to ensure that players had opportunity to play ahead of it – eg. making replacements at half time or earlier.

What if the other team doesn’t do it?

We recommend that club and schools arrange fixtures and enter competition with those who share their philosophy of being player centred, so it might be accepting a fixture against a team with a different philosophy isn’t in the best interests of the players.

The RFU’s advice would be to stick to your guns as you are putting what is most important to your players above anything else. When half game becomes regulation, teams that have done it voluntarily in 2018-19 will be at a significant advantage.

If the half game rule is one of the competition rules, please speak to the relevant competition organiser if the other team hasn’t done so. If the club/school haven’t yet adopted this, you have a chance to influence through your positive actions.

What if the other team reduces squad numbers?

This directly conflicts with what the players tell us is most important to them – being part of the


Playing reduced numbers to try and negate the rule, will lead to player dissatisfaction and does not aid their development – it may also lead to overplaying of the rest of their team. We encourage parents/guardians of these players to challenge coaches/teachers who do this. Some competition rules will set minimum numbers, and this should be followed up with the competition organiser.

I am a referee, what can I do to support the half game rule?

Referees, like coaches, teachers and everyone involved in age grade rugby have a key role in

supporting the development of players.

Referees should agree with the coaches from both teams prior to the game how they wish to implement the half game rule – i.e. rolling subs, or during set breaks. Referees can help by reminding coaches of this as the game progresses. They can also be in a good position to identify where players are not getting half a game.

We are not asking referees to enforce this locally by stopping the game or awarding sanctions, but they command a respect that can play an important part in helping players to benefit from the half game rule

I am a competition organiser – what do I need to do?

We’d ask that you support by making half game a rule within your competition and sharing with us

the impact it has had so we can best evaluate.

If you are finding teams which haven’t followed this rule, then we’d recommend this be dealt with as

per any other breach of your competition rules/regulation.

Outside of the competition, you are also in a good position to remind clubs/schools that half game

will be a regulation from the 2019-20 season and help them to prepare for it.

Does this apply to England and Academy?

Yes, as for the rest of the game, this is regulation from September 2019.

The England Rugby Premiership Academies and RFU and Premiership Rugby Heads of Academies have agreed to implement this in the Under 18 Academy League from September 2018. They understand the importance of it in aiding a players’ development and are right behind the half game rule.

Does this apply at all levels of the game and in all competition?

In age grade rugby, yes. All levels of the game and competitions at U19 and below from September

2019 will play the half game rule.

What about 7s or festivals?

Yes, half game is across all formats of rugby. Every player participates in at least half the playing

time of the festival or 7s competition.

What about a player who hasn’t been training – doesn’t this reward them?

Half game doesn’t stop a club/school having a policy around training and playing. But it does give a coach a great tool with which to highlight this further and specifically point out the fairness of a situation.

It provides an opportunity to get a less committed trainer further involved. It is important to remember that there are potentially many reasons for this, and we’d recommend a conversation with the parent / player to agree what’s in their best interests and development.

What is the role of parents?

Parents play a vital role in driving the benefits of the half game rule for our players. In New Zealand this was a key factor for the success of the implementation with parents working closely with coaches / teachers. We’d strongly encourage dialogue between coaches and parents on this and on the wider development of the player.

Where the half game rule is already implemented in clubs and schools, many coaches/teachers set out the expectations a parent/player should have and actively ask the parents to challenge them if they believe they are not sticking to those expectations.