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Law Discussion: Knock-on application

SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com law guru Paul Dobson, in the fourth of this law discussion series, takes a look at aspects he feels should be changed and which should remain unchanged.


Here he looks at the KNOCK-ON laws!

The knock-on would probably be regarded as the easiest of law applications, bread-and-butter stuff for a referee.

This may well not be the case and it may just be that the knock-on is the most abused law in the book – the one that regularly produces wrong decisions, which lead to stoppages when there should be none.

Let’s start with the definition of a knock-on.

Knock-on: When a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward, or when a player hits the ball forward with the hand or arm, or when the ball hits the hand or arm and goes forward, and the ball touches the ground or another player before the original player can catch it.

There are two different players involved in the definition. The first is the player who has the ball and then loses it forward, whether because of his own carelessness or because contact with opponents has jolted it from his grasp.


There is no debate about that one.

(Continue reading below … )

The second type of player is one who is getting possession of the ball but fails to do so. Instead he hits it with hand or arm and it goes forward beyond his control.


In most cases the ball is coming his way from a pass or a kick or it is loose and he seeks to gather it.

It’s the ball that comes his way from a team-mate’s pass or from a kick that is of interest.

For a knock-on to occur in both of these cases the ball needs to go forward from the catcher’s hand or arm.

Forward: Towards the opposition’s dead-ball line.

It is what the hand or arm does to the ball that counts, not what the ball does because it is oval. If the hand or arm does not knock the ball forward, but it bounces forward, it is not a knock-on.

For a knock-on, the ball must come off hand or arm, not any other part of the body – not the head, not the chest, not the stomach, not the thigh, not the knee.

It is on catching kicks that things often go wrong, especially if the catcher is out in the open, on his own and waiting to catch the ball. If the ball goes to ground, you can be sure that a knock-on will be blown.

If the referee did not whistle for a knock-on, the crowd would roast him – even if the ball went behind his hands and slipped to ground and bounced forward, even if the ball hit his body and went straight down, even if the ball rebounded off his chest, even if there was no knock-on in terms of the law’s criteria for a knock-on.

The crowd expects the scrum and the referee delivers. It’s not the same with the head as the referees have consistently not whistled for a knock-on and have an easy gesture to explain their silence, and the crowd have grown to accept it.

Perhaps, with a bit or bravery, the crowd and the players could be taught that failure to catch a ball is not necessarily a knock-on.


* For more of Paul Dobson’s Law discussions, CLICK HERE!

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