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The Roar



It's time rugby union changed the intentional knock-on rule

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Roar Guru
28th January, 2022
1730 Reads

It has taken a while. I last wrote the article in 2012. However, it’s occurred.

Players sent from the field in general play may now be replaced after a period of 20 minutes. This is fair to say the least, even if nearly ten years too late.

It’s especially important when it happens in the first five minutes, as happened in a recent Test last year when a player was sent from the field in the first five minutes after making what the referee considered a high tackle.

I was there… God, give me strength. I really thought I was watching a football international against Italy, but alas, it was against the French.

Same actor, though different country.

The judiciary saw it for what it really was – a referee error – and didn’t provide any further punishment.

A similar incident several years ago against Wales. A game was ruined by what was a dangerous tackle, but considering everything, a 20-minute loss of a player (25 per cent of 80 minutes) would have been a better outcome.

Michael Hooper

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Anyway, there are many more examples but enough is enough. The powers that be have seen the light and changes are (slowly) being made.


As an aside, I note rugby league is moving with the times considerably quicker than our international game, possibly as they don’t have the stuffed coats calling the shots from afar. It’s becoming a better spectacle. Watch out, rugby union.

Okay, let’s talk about this contentious intentional knock-on. Back in 2009, I first alluded to the stupidity of this rule, and it seems the refereeing of this contentious area of the game has only got worse.

As I noted back then, a player either becomes a hero if they hold the ball and score through an intercept, or a villain as they’re penalised for intentionally knocking it on.

It’s interesting to note that in general play, there is absolutely no way of being penalised for knocking it on, just the embarrassment that accompanies the aftermath, especially if a try was to be scored.

I just can’t see how on most occasions referees can call this intentional. Someone may correct me here but I think the law was first established to prevent the ball from being slapped out of the halfback’s hand.


This is certainly still the case, but you don’t see it, or rarely see it anymore. It’s progressed.

Now, if the best form of defence is offence and attempting an intercept is the best means of offensive play, then so be it.

Teams must recognise there’s considerable danger in holding up a pass until it’s nearly too late. But no, they’re given the benefit of the doubt and rewarded, generally with a penalty when their passing skills were a bit lacklustre.

Please, let’s reward positive play and penalise negative play. Missing an intercept, therefore not gathering the pass fully, isn’t necessarily negative play.

Slapping the ball from the halfback’s hand is and should be penalised fully by the referee. Once again, let’s not make them mind readers as well.

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