End Zone or In Goal? Know the Finer Details of Rugby Union

Tri-Nations - New Zealand v South Africa

Last Word On Rugby, by Josh Bradham and Scott McLean.

The terms for the ‘ends of the pitch’ in rugby union are unfamiliar to many North American sports fans. So in understanding the growth of the game, the ability to know the finer details of rugby union may save on much debate–and improper use is highly scrutinized.

Around the sports world, there are different terms for the two areas of the field where a team can score points. While a 100 yard or 100 meter field look similar, in rugby union it is where tries can be scored. So yelling out “goal” or claiming that he passed the ‘end zone’ are an inaccurate representation.

USA fans during the Intenational Rugby Match between the USA Eagles and the New Zealand Maori All Blacks at Toyota Patk on November 4, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Many people use terminology at will, without considering if it is correct or not. For Last Word On Rugby, we hold the game dearly. So Josh Bradham has made it his business to research the source information, and with consultation from Scott McLean (resident Wellington Rugby referee) they hope to explain and rectify the confusion.

In-goal Area

Per Oxford Dictionary: When looking toward the opposition, the In-goal is the area beyond, including the goal-line but not the dead-ball or touch-in-goal side lines.

(in rugby) The area between the goal line and the line at the end of the field, inside which a player must place the ball in order to score a try.

End Zone

Per Wikipedia.com: The end zone refers to the scoring area on the field, according to gridiron-based codes of football.

It is the area between the end line and goal line bounded by the sidelines.

It would seem based on the definition of the words that the term end zone was a creation of American football. Yet still thanks to Americans there is a third possible term. The goal line is dividing the end zone from the field of play, and the side line marks the outer boundaries of a sports field.

Try Zone

Per Chicorugby.org:

The objective of rugby is the same as in American Football: to advance the ball into the oppositions end zone, called the try zone. The term try zone though is fairly exclusive to the United States, to help differentiate from American Football instead of other options.

This term is frequently criticized or misunderstood by non American fans of the game.

With the terms defined its very obvious what the text book correct answer is. The In-goal area is the only rugby term listed in both the dictionary and rugby rule books.

For more of a look into what a referee interprets this area, Scott McLean gives his expert opinion.
Referee Brendon Pickerill and assistant referee Kane McBride watch the big screen while waiting for a TMO decision during the round five Super Rugby match (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Looking at Rugby Laws and Interpretations

Perhaps the most basic thing in rugby is the ground, which is why it occupies the space of Law 1 in the Laws of the Game. While it’s easy to talk about a rugby ground, park, or field, the ground itself comprises several elements:

  • the Field of Play is between, but not including, the touchlines and goal-lines
  • the In-goal is the area beyond, including the goal-line but not the dead-ball or touch-in-goal lines. Together these make up the Playing Area
  • the whole area, including the space around the outside which is called the perimeter area, is called the Playing Enclosure.

In-Goal play

Because of this distinction, the in-goal has its own particular set of rules which are found at the other end of the law book under Law 22. This creates important distinctions, but can be confusing for the average fan who isn’t aware of the differences that apply

That law specifically includes a reference that a scrum, ruck, or maul can take place only in the field of play (Law 22.6). These also only end when the ball crosses the goal-line. For instance, in a pushover try attempt a defending player cannot unbind or otherwise disrupt until then. If they do, they will likely incur a penalty try and a yellow card.

Another is that when a ball becomes unplayable following a maul in the Field of Play, the put-in to the resulting scrum goes to the team that didn’t take the ball in. There isn’t such a distinction in the in-goal, if a team mauling is able to get it into in-goal but unable to ground it, they will receive the put-in to the resulting five meter scrum.

The Finer Details of Rugby

Perhaps the best recent example of the tackle application came in the recent Crusaders vs Western Force match. The Force player was tackled and driven back to his own goal-line. He placed the ball behind him, keeping his hand below the ball. Unfortunately he was critically beyond the goal-line into his own in-goal. Correctly understanding the laws that this meant ‘there wasn’t a tackle situation’ in the normal sense.

‘Quick as a hiccup’ Crusaders lock Luke Romano pounced into a position that would be illegal within the Field of Play [from the side of the ruck] and forced the ball on the ground. Team mates celebrated, and fortunately for him, it was correctly; though also perhaps debatedly, awarded a try.

The golden rule might be that ‘awareness is knowledge’. There is no Idiots guide, it is all about gaining knowledge and asking others. Use of the resources listed above maybe your first step, but every fan is always picking up more of the finer details of rugby union.

Common Actions and Outcomes

  • Ball kicked into in-goal by the attackers and grounded by defenders = 22m restart
  • Attacking player up held and unable to ground the ball in-goal = 5m scrum attackers in line with where the player was held up
  • Ball knocked-on in-goal by attackers = 5m scrum defenders; it’s not a 22m restart
  • The Ball knocked-on in-goal by defenders = 5m scrum attackers
  • Kick through the in-goal by the attackers = 22m restart or scrum at the place where the ball was kicked
  • Ball kicked through the in-goal by the defenders from the field of play = 5m scrum attackers
  • The Ball kicked dead or touch-in-goal by the defenders from within in-goal = 22m restart. Note however a player cannot ‘slap’ the ball dead with the hand (like rugby league), this is a penalty offence
  • If there is doubt over which team grounded the ball first, the restart is a 5m attackers


With this simple lesson in the basics, it is important we look at the common use, and the variables taken for many of these names through their background. However, the most honest answer would be that even though one name is proper above all others, as a fan it shouldn’t matter.

When you are watching your team play and they score five points, all that matters is they did it. Jump up and down, cheer all you like–whether its in-goal, or end zone, or even the bemoaned try zone all fans are rugbyunited by a shared love of the game.

That’s all that matters. Enjoy.


“Main Photo Credit”