View Full Version : Late Tackle or not

12-07-05, 01:07
Is a tackle made against a player who has lost the ball forward deemed to be a late tackle? I would have thought that a player losing the ball forward would still effectively be in possession of the ball until he fails to recover it (i.e. referee signals advantage or whistles for knock-on). Otherwise, I could see a scenario where a player could juggle the ball the whole length of the field with no player being allowed to tackle him.

12-07-05, 05:07

This is a very contentious one. I remember in the Super 12 this year, when the Crusaders were playing the Blues in Eden Park; one of the Crusaders' players gained possession of the ball about 2m from the Blues' goal line. He juggled it up high in the air and ran in-goal to retrieve it before it hit the ground, which he would have done and scored a try. However before he could regather it, he was tackled from behind by a Blues player. The TMO was called and he ruled that the player was tackled without the ball and hence a penalty try was awarded.

Lets put it simply, there is no IRB Law or Law Ruling dealing with this concept. One has to make his own judgement.
When a player is juggling the ball; whether he is legally allowed to be tackled or not is, in my opinion, depends on whether you deem he to still be 'in control' of the ball. I know that sounds confusing because how can he be in control of the ball if he's juggling it?

Maybe explaining the two extremes would help. If a player catches the ball and it bounces 3cm off his hands before he catches it again, strictly speaking that's juggling it. But he hasn't lost control of the ball.

On the other hand a player may catch the ball and it rebounds 3m up into the air and goes 4m forward before he catches it. Here he does not have control over the ball, although he is still juggling it.

Obviously in the first extreme one CAN legally tackle the player in the latter extreme he CANT. But there is alot of grey area in between, and unfortunately only the referee can decide on the legality of the tackle or not.

PS: All this is different if the player INTENTIONALLY propelled the ball forward. Some people have an issue with the player unintentionally lopping the ball forward and it goes over an opponent's head or something. Maybe someone can explain that better.

12-07-05, 12:07
Tim Stimpson.

Against South Africa in 2000 he chased a kick but could not gather it cleanly. It went forward first off his right hand a couple of metres, then again off his left hand. At this point he was tackled by Andre Vos. As he fell to ground in in-goal, the ball landed just in reach. He slapped his hand down on it and leapt up as if he had scored.

The referee (Andre Watson) awarded a 5m scrum for the knock-on.

Most of the argument was over Vos: was he legally allowed to tackle? As it happens the slomo seemed to show that he tackled just at the same moment as Stimpson touched the ball with his left hand, so that even Clive Woodward accepted it was "technically legal".

I feel very strongly about this. If a player cannot control the ball, he has no right to gain advantage from his own incompetence. I think he must be deemed to have knocked on because I do not want players to be encouraged to tackle somebody who manifestly does not have the ball.

The problem arises in part from the rewrite of the law in 2000. Prior to that the phrase about the ball touching the ground etc clearly only applied to one situation: the ball striking the hand (passive). It did not apply to losing possession or striking the ball (active). The current phrasing has lost that distinction, so most people assume the caveat about the ground applies in all circumstances.

Account Deleted
12-07-05, 16:07
It seems that a player "juggling" the ball is being given two bites of the cherry. IF he's tackled - Penalty if he does not get tackled he may score. I would say that if the ball juggled just the once and the tackle is pretty swift then you can say that the player was commited to the tackle and only the lose of the ball prevented the tackle being legal. If the juggle is so prolonged that the tackle is clearly "late" could you argue the player ever had the ball "under control"? I think the Knock-on verdict described in one of the above post was spot on!

12-07-05, 22:07
The law does not actually talk about control. Here are the three circumstances considered (my numbering and re-paragraphing):-

A knock-on occurs
(1) when a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward, or
(2) when a player hits the ball forward with the hand or arm, or
(3) 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.

There used to be a caveat up to 1999, that it is not a knock-on if:

the ball is knocked on one or more times by a player who is in the act of catching or picking it up or losing possession of it and is recovered by that player before it has touched the ground or another player.

That has gone, and the provision about touching the ground or another person is now deemed to apply to all the 3 circumstances.

We are talking about (2) above. The problem arises because a player cannot be tackled without the ball, so: is the juggler a ball-carrier? In 1999 there was the phrase "in the act of". A player who cannot reach the ball cannot IMHO be considered to be in the act of catching etc.

I am very clear in my mind: Equity demands that you should not be able to gain an advantage by incompetence that you could not have gained otherwise. If you catch the ball you get tackled. If you juggle it high and forward can you run round the opponent and not be tackled? Obvious nonsense.

The 2000 rewrite of the knock-on law has produced a problem. It needs to be re-written. In the mean time, referees have to make sense of the mess, which to me means applying Equity.

12-07-05, 22:07
Thanks for the replies. It's good to read other opinions

I have always felt that there is something missing in the Laws regarding this one. While I have never actually ruled it this way when I was refereeing, I nevertheless have always felt that a player who has lost control ir is losing control of the ball should be fair game to be tackled, even though he is not actually holding the ball. I believe a late tackle should only be ruled if the player being tackled has "legitimately" played the ball, i.e. passed or kicked. A knock-on is an infringement of the rules and at the very least should come back to a scrum unless advantage it being played.

14-07-05, 09:07
another possible interpretation is that now the 1999 wording has been removed this means that definiitively juggling the ball is NOT a knock on therefore is under control (until such time as the ball strikes the ground or another player) and thus the player can be tackled.

This fits in perfectly with OBs equity line.

(apologies if that was already said elsewhere!)


14-07-05, 12:07
This fits in perfectly with OBs equity line.
Actually, I am opposed to tackling a player who has lost control.

If a player loses the ball past you, and you tackle him before the ball hits the ground, some would argue that is legitimate. However if the ball hits the ground just before you tackle, then it was a knock-on, and a late tackle. How can you tell, when the ball is behind you?

IMHO the only sensible option overall is to say that when a player has obviously lost control, he is no longer a ball-carrier, so he cannot be tackled. If he then manages to catch the ball before etc, I would blow up for a knock-on despite one literal interpretation of the law, because it is the only thing that makes sense.

15-07-05, 02:07
OK. That makes sense, but perhaps you also have to consider that, unlike the situation with a kick or a pass, the tackler would not be expecting his opponent to lose the ball forward. Therefore, in all probability, the tackler in the circumstances you are talking about is probably truly committed to the tackle. After all, we cannot expect the tackler to simply disappear. The circumstance I am most concerned about when the tackler can see that the ball carrier is juggling the ball and has to make a decision as to whether to tackle and risk a penalty try or "hope" that the player drops the ball. The two incidents that you and Robertti mention earlier, are examples of the right decision (Andre Watson, England v SA 2000) and the wrong decision (Paddy O'Brien, Crusaders v Blues 2005). To expect a tackler to tackle so precisely at the exact moment when hand is touching the ball is asking the near impossible; asking the ref to determine this is doubly difficult! As was mentioned earlier, a player should not gain advantage from their inability to control the ball, so I believe that a player who is in the act of attempting to regain control of a ball lost or knocked forward should be deemed to still be the ball carrier until it is clear that the knock or loss forward becomes an infringement under Law 12.

15-07-05, 10:07
I agree that there are circumstances when a fully committed tackler cannot pull out. However I am also sure that many tacklers like to push their luck in order to "make their mark". It is a difficult judgement call by the referee, but one he should not shirk. But that does not help resolve the underlying problem.

The 1999 law I quoted earlier "the act of catching or picking it up or losing possession of it" clearly implied that the ball must be nearby. I strongly oppose the view that
a player who is in the act of attempting to regain control of a ball lost or knocked forward should be deemed to still be the ball carrier until it is clear that the knock or loss forward becomes an infringement under Law 12.The law defines the ball carrier as "a player carrying the ball". In practical terms we have to allow that to include juggling in close proximity, but how can we possibly include the situation where the ball has been knocked forward 20 feet with no prospect whatever of the player recovering it?

The law has provided a contradiction: you can only tackle a ball-carrier, but a knock-on (it is argued) does not occur until the ball touches the ground or another person.

If you allow the tackle, then we quite clearly have a case of tackling a player without the ball in a situation where the tackler may well not know if the ball has hit the ground (late tackle) or not (claimed to be legal).

If you disallow the tackle, and players make the effort to comply, then we apparently allow a player to catch his knock-on if possible and thus avoid a tackle. That would be demonstrably unfair.

My proposed solution is to interpret the knock-on law more restrictively in line with the old law, and take "A knock-on occurs when a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward" at face value.

We can sensibly deem that close juggling does not count as losing possession, but "long range" juggling is not allowed. We can then decide virtually instantaneously (and so can the tackler) that a player has lost possession. We may then have the problem of whether or not the tackler could pull out, but we have that in many other situations anyway (So'oialo on Murphy after a kick).

The problem arises because the mantra about touching the ground etc is currently taken to apply to all the options listed, whereas it is not necessary for it to do so, and in 1999 it did not.

15-07-05, 13:07
So, ignore the man in motion.

Take the no 10 receiving a pass from his no 9, standing stock still. Guddles it, juggling it.
Meantime, opposing no 6 has broken from the scrum and is heading to the no 10 like a rocket - does he wait until the 10 has the ball under control, or does he commit to tackle?

I know what I'll allow....

15-07-05, 16:07
If he is juggling it close to himself, I have no problem. He can be tackled.

However if the 10 clearly spills the ball forwards, outside his grasp, my argument is that he should be penalised for a knock-on (subject to advantage) and should not be tackled, since he is no longer a ball-carrier.

As ever, a tackler who is in mid-air at the time will not be expected to stop dead.

16-07-05, 00:07
OB - I don't think there is disagreement with your last point but the split second judgement that we make on the park as to whether a tackle is a fair or a late challenge is a function of the timing of the juggler's and of the tackler's actions.

I am of the opinion that a juggler is fair game for a tackle, his attempt to gain control of the ball makes him the immediate likely ball carrier such that a potential tackler has the right to line him up for a tackle. Yet the moment I consider the juggler's attempts to control the ball have failed, then I expect a potential tackler to reach the same conclusion at the same time and to do his best to avoid or at least mitigate his momentum towards his intended tackle as far as possible. I will then make a decision based on the timings of the two players actions with my priority on whether the tackle is avoidable or not. If the tackler is committed and unable to avoid collision then his side may well benefit from a knock on decision. If he is fails to make a sufficient effort to avoid a late tackle then a penalty advantage occurs.

16-07-05, 09:07
Deeps - that is all very sensible, but you do not really tackle (sorry!) the knotty point. If the ball flies up and away, do you "consider the juggler's attempts to control the ball have failed"?

16-07-05, 13:07
OB - Yes I do but there is a period of time before that when the juggling player can be perceived to have a high probability of taking control of the ball. At this point he is fair game. When he no longer has a reasonable chance of controlling it then he is not fair game. It is a judgement call that I make based on my experience and one that I expect players to make too.

Mike Whittaker
16-07-05, 17:07
Firstly I would just say that I am very impressed by the speed of thought and action which attributed to tacklers and referees in this situation...

When watching a game where a situation like this arises I would just ask the ref why he thought it was reasonable / unreasonable for the tackle to have taken place as it did. and expect his decision to reflect that view.....

16-07-05, 18:07
Deeps - agreed.

Mike Whittaker - agreed.
(However I would expect better reactions and judgement at top level than in the local park.)

Did anybody see the Currie Cup matches this afternoon? The yellow card for Wylie Human was almost a carbon copy of the So'oialo/Murphy incident. Nice to see consistency across such great distances.

18-07-05, 13:07
Did anybody see the Currie Cup matches this afternoon? The yellow card for Wylie Human was almost a carbon copy of the So'oialo/Murphy incident. Nice to see consistency across such great distances.

Not yet - but that name cracks me up. Cousin of Wylie Coyote of "Roadrunner" fame?

Simon Griffiths
18-07-05, 16:07
Not sure, but whenever he made a mistake in Northampton colours at Kingsholm the (to be fair quite lame) cry of 'He's only human!' went up. :D

20-07-05, 08:07
I have no issue with either OB or Ian's suggestions particularly, but will raise the difficulty of a "close juggle"... was Stimpson's attampts to hold the ball a "close juggle"? Especially seeing as he was going at pace and a "knock forward" of a couple or more feet would easily see the ball remain in close proximity to his body. Its only HUGE knock forwards that can be seen as "not close"... to the extent that probvably anything other than knocked UPWARDS probably has to be "close juglle" to have any chance of being retrieved anyway.

Not nit-picking - if anything backing up just how clouded this area in reality is anmd what a nightmare it is.

Clearly what the outcome needed is that the tackler can know whether or not he may legally make a tackle, and that the "ball carrier" can know when he is likely to be tackled or not/when he is or is not "carrying" the ball.


20-07-05, 09:07
didds - earlier I used the phrase "when a player has obviously lost control, he is no longer a ball-carrier" and I also quoted the law A knock-on occurs (1) when a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward.

To me, these say that Tim Stimpson knocked the ball on. The ball did not "remain in close proximity to his body". He had to change direction, take a couple of paces, and stretch out the other hand to get anywhere near it.

I don't think it is a good idea to allow Stimpson to be tackled between the first and second touches - in which case, it would be grossly unfair to allow him to go ahead and gather the ball. It would become a very desirable accident, and we can be sure that players would try it on. The poor referee would then have to decide if the knock-on was deliberate or accidental: penalty or nothing. A difficult decision with a much wider difference in outcome. Obviously there are going to be marginal cases of juggling, but at least it is only a question of scrum or nothing.

One of the other arguments that is often raised in this context is: "If the would-be catcher cannot immediately reach the ball, then the opponents can go for the ball themselves so they don't need to have the right to tackle". The Stimpson case again shows the problem with this.

Vos was indeed going for the ball initially, but once Stimpson had knocked it back infield (and forward) he placed himself between the ball and Vos. If he had caught the ball first, he would have been tackled. If Vos' only legal option was to go for the ball, Stimpson's knock forward had denied him this. Clearly unfair.

Yes, we need to work out criteria for the sort of juggling that is permitted. I would suggest that, taking into account the player's forward movement, the ball should be within his grasp ie within an arms length. This is deliberately restrictive. Why not? Do we really want to encourage juggling?

28-07-05, 13:07
Can we identify a difference between the two following scenarios.

1 Red 8 at tail of line out. Ball is thrown to middle jumper (doesn't really matter whose throw, assume its straight) and goes over his head. Red 8 makes a grab for it, but the ball strikes him on the forearm and bounces forward past his opposite number. Before it touches the ground or another player Red 8 grabs it successfully, and sets off at a gallop.

2 Same situation, but Red 8 this time deliberately bats the ball forward, past an opponent, and then regathers as before and sets off on his gallop.

Would either be classed as a knock-on?
Do we have to have a "knock-on" in Law before we can judge whether it was deliberate or not?

If rather than going past his opponent the ball had struck that player then I assume we are all agreed that 1 would be advantage then scrum; whilst 2 would be advantage then Penalty.

28-07-05, 16:07
Just one question

How can you tell the difference between deliberate and accidental, also if you are watching lifting or other line out offences the last worry (well mine) is ball flying off the red 8 .

I would referee both the same if he gathers the ball play on , if not advantage then scrum


Mike Whittaker
28-07-05, 17:07
This is of course where an assessor / adviser at a game at say level 8 or below expects a referee to show his management skills in judging the situation and communication skills in dealing with it..

so... use your eyes and say out loud what you have seen... what your decision is... and why you have given it!!

If you think he knocked on deliberately to gain an advantage then why not penalise him? No argument.. he DID lose control of it... back 10 (there may be an advantage of course...)

Otherwise...'play on .. no knock on' and in the bar 'clearly had it under control'..

They won't argue... even if they remember it...

Fellows... try not to fill heads with all the once a season incidents...

Remember the 5 Cs....Control, Clear, Calm, Consistent and Continuity and players and observers alike will be happy.

28-07-05, 17:07
here here Mike.

I have just been given a game Wednesday night a couple of weeks time 4 level 6 teams have training session with games at the end. 3 referees going to Be TJ and change being in the middle.

Looking forward to it, this will my first level 6 game in the middle.


Mike Whittaker
28-07-05, 17:07
Sounds like an excellent way to start the season David...

Hopefuly at level 6 they will be looking to play to you.. or show their coaches that they can. In which case they will be looking for oodles of communication and some decisive action backing up what has been said. No reason why you shouldn't find it straight forward.
Hope you are nice and fit?!


28-07-05, 18:07
Hi Mike

Fit as a butchers Dog at moment been training with a couple of our elite referees and one panel ref.

I have been running a mile in about 6 mins now

Then stretching exercises all from RFU dynamic hand book thing

Then shuttle runs.

The we do a JAM test done 13.5 mins I am aiming for 15 with the panel guys by 18th August hopefully will be fitter than most of the players


28-07-05, 19:07
Do we have to have a "knock-on" in Law before we can judge whether it was deliberate or not?I don't think so. Law 12.1 (e) says: " A player must not intentionally knock the ball forward with hand or arm, nor throw-forward." It does not use the term "knock-on".

Your situation 1 is one I dislike. The player has clearly knocked the ball forward. By applying the (to my mind rather curious) formal definition, we can argue that if he can recover it before …etc, it is not a knock-on. So he is entitled to a major gain from his own error? 5m lineout: if deliberate, penalty against him; if not, try. Far too much depends on this judgement, whereas it is clear to everybody that he knocked the ball forward.

The phrase about the ground first appeared in the laws in 1992, in the following format:-

"A knock-on occurs when the ball travels forwards towards the direction of the opponents' dead-ball line after:-
● a player loses possession of it, or
● a player propels or strikes it with his hand or arm, or
● it strikes a player's hand or arm and touches the ground or another player before it is recovered by the player."

The contentious phrase clearly only refers to the third situation, but even that might allow your situation 1. I think it has been potentially but accidentally extended to all three by removing the punctuation in 2000.

I quite like the 1959 definition:

"A knock-on occurs when the ball is propelled by the hand or arm of a player in the direction of his opponents' dead ball line or when the ball after striking he hand or arm of a player travels in the said direction; provided that a movement of the ball in the player's grasp which is in the nature of a steadying or readjustment of the ball within his possession without loss of control is not a knock-on."

I can see the sense in adding "losing possession" eg in a tackle; and there is a point in saying that if the ball strikes a player who is not trying to play the ball, he should not be penalised (though I am not sure why he should benefit either).

I think the current law should be interpreted restrictively: the ground etc only matters if the ball hits the player when he is not trying to play the ball.

If you are going to allow the wide interpretation, then you must in equity allow the opposition to tackle the player to prevent him getting to the ball. After all, you are deeming him to be a ball carrier.