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?