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Law discussion: The knock-back

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We have lately dealt with things that can happen to a knock-on, now we have a knock-back.

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

In the second half of the match in Bloemfontein between England and South Africa, with South Africa leading 20-12, England have a line-out five metres from the South African line.

They form a maul and try to move on the line. Hooker Jamie George breaks away to the left and is tackled. England bash at the line. England scrumhalf Ben Youngs passes the ball to Brad Shields who plunges for the line, the ball in two hand in front of him.

Franco Mostert, the South African lock is on Shields's left. Mostert tries to half Shields's progress, his left arm on Shield's back. Mostert swings his right hand in front of Shields, presumably to prevent the grounding of the ball. The bull spurts out of Shields's hands into in-goal.

Initially, the referee awards a try, but then he blows his whistle again to consult the TMO. England hurriedly take the conversion but the referee informs them that he had already blown his whistle to stop further play.

The TMO's replays show that Shields did indeed lose the ball forward. It also shows Mostert's right hand making contact with the ball.

What would your decision be?

Here is a choice:

a. award a try.
b. award a penalty try.
c. penalise Mostert.
d. award a five-metre scrum to England.
e. award a five-metre scrum to South Africa.

The try is not a possibility, because the ball is not grounded.

For a penalty try or just a penalty, Mostert would have had to infringe, done something wrong within the laws of rugby football.

It is perfectly acceptable, within the laws of the game, for the player to play the ball with his hands, provided he does not play the ball forward.

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

The ball goes towards the South African dead-ball line, that is forward from Shields's perception, backwards from Mostert's perception.

Law 21.11 If a tackled player is in the act of reaching out to ground the ball for a try or touch down, players may pull the ball from the player’s possession but must not kick or attempt to kick the ball.
Sanction: Penalty.

Mostert did what he was allowed to do.

No penalty, no penalty try. But whose scrum?

In his decision, the referee said that Shields had lost the ball forward.

DEFINITION

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.

Shields had possession
Shields lost possession.
The ball went forward.

But...

Law 11.5 (b) The ball is not knocked-on, and play continues, if:
A player rips or knocks the ball from an opponent and the ball goes forward from the opponent’s hand or arm.

The referee's decision thus becomes: Did Shields lose the ball or did Mostert knock the ball from Shields's grasp?

The referee decides that Shields lost the ball forward.

In that case, the scrum for the knock-on will be five metres from South Africa's line, South Africa to put the ball in.

If the referee decides that Mostert knocked the ball back, there are two possibilities for the scrum.

i. If Mostert knocked it over before the goal-line, in other words in the field of play, it would have been a five-metre scrum to England.
ii. If Mostert had knocked it back after the goal-line, in other words in in-goal, it would have been a drop-out.

The referee was saved all those niceties. He had been playing advantage and went back to a penalty for England. 

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