Law discussion: Knock-on
This law discussion comes as a result of a discussion amongst a group of referees of an incident in the match between the Sharks and the Cheetahs in Durban recently.
The Cheetahs win a line-out on their right and go left for a short phase. From the tackle they come back to the right where scrumhalf Shaun Venter passes to fullback Clayton Blommetjies who is up in the line. The ball is at Blommetjies' left side and as he brings it in front of him it leaves his hands and is travelling forward. Blommetjies stretches out his right leg and manages to kick the ball. But the referee blows his whistle and wards a scrum to the Sharks for a knock-on by Blommetjies.
In their discussion the referee were divided into those who believed it was a knock-on and those who though it should be play on.
There was no need for a long discussion as the law is perfectly clear in this regard.
Law 12 DEFINITION: KNOCK-ON
A knock-on occurs 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.
‘Forward’ means towards the opposing team’s dead ball line.
On a rugby field catching is done with hands and arms, not feet and legs.
Blommetjies does not catch the ball after it leaves his hand. He kicks the ball, which is not catching it, however prehensile his right foot may be.
The referee is right to award a scrum for a knock-on.
In that match Blommetjies kicks the ball several times. On each occasion he drops the ball straight down and when his boot strikes the ball it is under his head. In the case of the knock-on he is clearly startled when the loses the ball forward and he stretches his leg far ahead of his body to make desperate contact with the ball.
It certainly seems that it was not his intention to kick the ball. He certainly does not catch it.
The knock-on law is as old as the game, possibly as far back as the early 17th century. It is clearly not allowed in the laws of 1866. Knocking on deliberately became a penalty as far back as 1912.
In earlier days it was a knock-on if a player fumbled the ball, even if he just adjusted the ball in his hands. In 1924 New Zealand proposed the 'cricket catch', i.e. that it would not be a knock-on if the player who knocked the ball forward caught it before it touched the ground. It took another 48 years before it became law, though in 1958 it became allowable to steady or readjust the ball when in the player's possession.
The laws used to be changed at a slow pace.
We are still hoping to get a clip of the incident. But if you have the match the incident happens in the second half, just on 53 minutes.