Let’s Knock-Out the Knock-On in Rugby


A growing bugbear of mine in recent seasons has been the knock-on and how it interferes with the flow of the game, despite rarely providing an advantage.

The issue is that almost every time a player drops the ball the referee blows up for a knock-on. Whilst many will claim that this is simply the implementation of the rules, how often does the ball actually travel forwards? And even more importantly, how often does the knock-on provide any form of competitive advantage?


First of all let’s take a look at the current law surrounding the 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.

In principle I have no issue with the knock-on law, however it is with the resulting sanctions against the offending team where the issue lies.

12.1 The outcome of a knock-on or throw forward

(a) Unintentional knock-on or throw forward. A scrum is awarded at the place of infringement.

(b) Unintentional knock-on or throw forward at a lineout. A scrum is awarded 15 metres from the touchline.

(c) Knock-on or throw forward into the in-goal. If an attacking player knocks-on or throws-forward in the field of play and the ball goes into the opponents’ in-goal and it is made dead there, a scrum is awarded where the knock-on or throw forward happened.


(d) Knock-on or throw forward inside the in-goal. If a player of either team knocks-on or throws-forward inside the in-goal, a 5-metre scrum is awarded in line with the place of infringement not closer than 5 metres from the touchline.

(e) Knock-on or throw forward into touch. When the ball goes into touch from a knock-on or throw forward, the non-offending team will have the option of a lineout at the point the ball crossed the touch line or a scrum at the place of the knock-on or throw forward, or a quick throw in.

(f) Intentional knock or throw forward. A player must not intentionally knock the ball forward with hand or arm, nor throw forward.

Sanction: Penalty kick. A penalty try must be awarded if the offence prevents a try that would probably otherwise have been scored.

Notice how it is only in the instance of a deliberate knock-on where there is not the potential for a scrum to ensue. Now obviously in the event of a deliberate knock-on the concession of a penalty seems a fair outcome, however given the farce the scrum has become in recent seasons, I would question the other sanctions.

My argument would be just how much advantage do the majority of knock-on’s actually provide? In many instances knock-on’s barely move the ball forward, if at all and if anything disadvantage the attacking side as they must slow down their run in order to reclaim the lost ball.

Even worse is when a player drops the ball that proceeds to roll backwards, or even when a scrum-half fumbles the ball at the base of a ruck. In both these instances the ball either rolls behind the player, or it rolls forward a matter of inches before bouncing back off the ruck.

In neither of these instances are the attacking side provided with any kind of advantage, does it really warrant the formation of a time consuming scrum? For the sake of allowing the ball to roll forward ever so slightly we could avoid losing playing time to set pieces (in the 2013 Six Nations there were 14.27 scrums a game averaging 61 seconds a go) and instead see the ball in play for longer periods.


By allowing the game to continue unless a clear and obvious advantage was gained we would see the ball in play for longer periods of time which no doubt would be welcomed by the majority of fans. This would be particularly true during the winter months when wet balls are dropped on a regular basis.

Even if there’s no law change made to the knock-on rule, we should at least stop seeing referee’s penalising players simply for dropping the ball. There have been far too many incidents recently when the ball has been dropped but gone backwards yet the referee has blown it up as an infringement.

Would you like to see a change to the knock-on law?




  1. The back-of-the-ruck fumble is usually the result of pressure. The SH knocking on in that circumstance is the reward the opposition get for their hard work. And scrums are one of the best bits of the game – always happy to see more of them.

  2. the game at the international level only has a few knock ons per game, if the law was changed or altered to allow more knock ons there would be a sharp rise in sloppy ball handling.

  3. Alot of these articles about at the moment, particularly with the new laws being trialled in Aus. If it aint broke don’t fix it. This is rugby, scrums are part of the game. Knock forwards could clearly gain an advantage if allowed, and as Bob said below – actually having the knock on law encourages better ball handling skills.

  4. Let’s allow forward passes as well… oh hang on they are allowed with the ridiculous hands pointing backwards momentum rule nonsense. Leave rugby as it is complete with scrums, knock ons, forward passes. I wish the southern hemisphere lot would stop trying to interfere in the name of entertaining rugby. Perhaps we could create a harlem globe trotters team to sort out that particular bug bear or make rugby scripted like WWE.

    • why mention the south? this guy is from your north. just because we have the best teams and like to score trys ….just look at the 6 nations so far 2 rounds and only 2 good games …the rest …..3 points 3 points ,,,,look this is a stupid idea but dont bad mouth the south mate

  5. the actual law is fine, especially since the hands backwards bull has been removed. Also i have no problem with the small knock ons at the base of the ruck, the problem is in how referees ref the scrum, countless times you see teams popping and being driven backwards, which the rules say should be a penalty, and the ref just resetting the scrum. Refferees need to get the scrum interpretations right as they are killing the scrum as an attacking force

  6. It pisses me off when I see a dropped ball go straight down penalised for a knock on.

  7. We can save all the hassel with one easy action…..tap & go!

    Rugby prides itself on being COMPETITIVE. We compete in the air, on the ground, in the tackle, in the scrums, in the lineouts even over that ball when It is being transferred to the rear…..there is no moment in a Rugby match where the ball is being fought after.
    So to that end I say for minor infringements such as;
    – Knock ons
    – Forward pass
    – Not straight throws
    – Collapsed scrums
    – Pre-Lifting in lineouts
    These are offenses that will always happen due to the speed of the game and the amount of moving parts during any given phase of the game.

    So my point is, the sport should be a battle of attrition. Tap and go, keep the game flowing. If a player is blowing his ass because he can’t keep up with the pace of the game then he doesn’t deserve to be there, especially if he is a well paid professional athletes.
    We look at soldiers – Shitty ass paycheck but yet he is obliged to be driven to the ground, lack of sleep, water and food but still has to walk 100 km’s under time whilst carrying a 30kg pack on his back and as a team carrying a stretcher with a mock patient……WHY?…because despite his shit pay and how his life is endangered, IT IS HIS PROFESSIONAL OBLIGATIONS & DUTY.
    So should it be for these professional rugby players. They should keep up with the pace of the game where everything minus DELIBERATE FOUL OFFENSES should be sanctioned by scrum. We all love the scrums but it’s eating up precious cardio time you could be out playing your opposition.
    Just my opinion anyway

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