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  • Is it legal to head the ball in Rugby Union?


    Technically, Yes.

    However, like most things in rugby it is subjective to how the header was carried out.

    The topic was recently raised because of a video on the BBC website showing a player running for the ball, heading the ball in order to keep it in play, and then regathering the ball and passing to a team mate who scores the try. The video is here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugb...n/15593746.stm

    That header is perfectly legal, and nothing in law prevents it, in fact it was a very skillful piece of play by the attacker and deservedly the try stood.

    Some have argued that it is a knock on, however if we look at the law that tells us what a knock on is, we can see it doesn't fit the definition.

    DEFINITION: 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.


    The ball has clearly not come off the hand, but has the player lost possession of the ball?

    Possession: This happens when a player is carrying the ball or a team mate has the ball in its control; for example the ball is one half of a ruck or scrum is in that team's possession


    The answer is no because they were not carrying the ball at the time of the header. And the team possession doesn't apply as it's not a team phase of play, i.e. Scrum, Ruck or Maul.

    So in this instance, the header was perfectly legal, but this does not mean all headers are legal.

    If you have a player that is running with the ball and the heads it over an opponent, like this example from a rugby league game (I believe this is also illegal in Rugby League now):



    Expect your referee to penalise it, and the referee has 2 choices in how to penalise it.

    They can class this as a knock on, as the player had possession and lost it forward, and the only way the ball can go forward legally with possession is by a kick. however, be careful, they can also class it as an act contrary to good sportsmanship, which is a penalty. The law covering it is 10.4(m) and states:

    Acts contrary to good sportsmanship: A player must not do anything that is against the spirit of good sportsmanship in the playing enclosure.
    Sanction: Penalty Kick


    This law is there to stop unfair play such as throwing a ball straight up (not forwards) and over an opponents head and regathering it on the other side, while technically legal in law, it is certainly against the spirit of play.

    So, in essence, headers while not in possession fine, header carried out after having possession knock on or possibly penalty if seen as an unsporting act.
    Comments 45 Comments
    1. OB..'s Avatar
      OB.. -
      Throwing the ball forward over an opponent's head is not "technically legal".
      Law 12.1 (e) Intentional knock or throw forward. A player must not intentionally knock the ball forward with hand or arm, nor throw forward.
    1. chopper15's Avatar
      chopper15 -
      RB, unable to view snippets on my iPad but are you sure of these statements?

      . . . . the player had possession and lost it forward, and the only way the ball can go forward legally with possession is by a kick. however, be careful, they can also class it as an act contrary to good sportsmanship, which is a penalty.

      What scenarios do you propose is OK for a header?

      If it was deliberately propelled forward it would be unlawful not only for a header but also for throw and a kick. (12.1(e).

      If it was accidentally propelled forward then kicked or headed before touching the ground and caught , what's that got to do with good sportsmanship?

      The law 'Acts contrary to good sportsmanship', you say is there to stop unfair play such as throwing a ball over an opponents head and regathering it on the other side, while technically legal in law, it is certainly against the spirit of play.

      How is throwing a ball intentionally 'technically legal'?
    1. Phil E's Avatar
      Phil E -
      Quote Originally Posted by chopper15 View Post
      How is throwing a ball intentionally 'technically legal'?
      You will never find the answer if you deliberately misquote the question.

      How is throwing a ball forward intentionally not 'technically legal'
    1. Ricardowensleydale's Avatar
      Ricardowensleydale -
      Genuine question. Which law says you can kick the ball forwards? I've been looking and I can't find it.
    1. Robert Burns's Avatar
      Robert Burns -
      OB, using our momentum theory it would be possible to throw the ball straight up, or slightly backwards but still catch it behind of the oncoming player, I do agree thought that the deliberate throw forward is illegalChopper,As stated, A header is fine providing you do not have possession before doing it.
    1. Ricardowensleydale's Avatar
      Ricardowensleydale -
      The reason I asked about which law actually says you can kick the ball forward is that if it doesn't specifically say so then surely this would also count as a player losing possession of the ball and it going forward. As such this is no different to throwing the ball vertically upwards and heading it. At best it would be a Law 12 "Bounce Forward. If the ball is not thrown forward but it hits a player or the ground and bounces forward, this is not a throw forward. " Rugby has evolved as a hands and feet game and heading is certainly against the spirit and should be punished as such.
    1. Robert Burns's Avatar
      Robert Burns -
      Ricardowensleydale:There is nothing specifically in the laws that says you may kick the ball forward, however there are plenty of references about kicking for goal, and if you were not able to kick forward, this would be very difficult.So, ipso-facto, you're allowed to kick forward.
    1. Robert Burns's Avatar
      Robert Burns -
      Quote Originally Posted by chopper15 View Post
      RB, unable to view snippets on my iPad but are you sure of these statements?

      . . . . the player had possession and lost it forward, and the only way the ball can go forward legally with possession is by a kick. however, be careful, they can also class it as an act contrary to good sportsmanship, which is a penalty.

      What scenarios do you propose is OK for a header?

      If it was deliberately propelled forward it would be unlawful not only for a header but also for throw and a kick. (12.1(e).

      If it was accidentally propelled forward then kicked or headed before touching the ground and caught , what's that got to do with good sportsmanship?

      The law 'Acts contrary to good sportsmanship', you say is there to stop unfair play such as throwing a ball over an opponents head and regathering it on the other side, while technically legal in law, it is certainly against the spirit of play.

      How is throwing a ball intentionally 'technically legal'?
      Ok Chopper.

      I answered the header part, if you don't have possession, you may legally header the ball.

      A throw forward is illegal (see OB..'s earlier post) but a kick is not.

      If it were accidentally propelled forward and then headed forward the player has still lost the ball forward when they were in possession of it, knock on, as per then kicking it, this is completely legal, nothing in the law says a kick must be a deliberate action, and quite a number of players now days are skilful enough to be able to recover from loosing possession forward by turning it into a kick (providing the ball is kicked before it touches the ground or another player). Note: A drop kick is obviously an exception, though not stated as such in law.

      Definitions of a kick, note that none of them state the ball must be deliberately dropped onto the foot.
      Kick: A kick is made by hitting the ball with any part of the leg or foot, except the heel, from the toe to the knee but not including the knee; a kick must move the ball a visible distance out of the hand, or along the ground.

      Punt: The ball is dropped from the hand or hands and kicked before it touches the ground.


      I never mentioned that these were unsporting.

      Throwing a ball straight up in the air is not illegal, If this was done at pace the ball would have enough momentum to carry it forward, though it would not be a forward pass. Hence it is technically legal, but seen as unsporting.

      I am not heading into the momentum pass debate here, so don't go there.
    1. didds's Avatar
      didds -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ricardowensleydale View Post
      Rugby has evolved as a hands and feet game and heading is certainly against the spirit and should be punished as such.
      so kneeing/chesting the ball on in general play ie ball bobbling around, not dropped to the chest/knee etc is as well?

      i think this is an area where we/refs should be looking to reward quick thinking rather than look for reasons to blow the whistle.

      but i am in a minority of one when it comes to throwing the ball backwards into the knee not breaking any laws anyway!

      didds
    1. the magpie's Avatar
      the magpie -
      Aside from the RL head but of the ball, white 12 was offside anyway - definite no try.
    1. Robert Burns's Avatar
      Robert Burns -
      Didds,Accidental hit by knee where no possession by player precedes it is fine in my book, i.e. 3 red passes to 5 red but the passes is rubbish and it hits 5 reds knee and bounces forward, my call play on.However:3 red passes to 5 red who catches but then loses possession forward, quick thinking 5 red sticks out a leg and it bounces forward off his knee, Knock on.
    1. Wert Twacky's Avatar
      Wert Twacky -
      Check out this video on YouTube:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI4gl...e_gdata_player

      Heading the ball forward for a try - great piece of skill!!!
    1. Ian_Cook's Avatar
      Ian_Cook -
      This law is there to stop unfair play such as throwing a ball straight up (not forwards) and over an opponents head and regathering it on the other side, while technically legal in law, it is certainly against the spirit of play.
      OK, so how about this one... ... it is a piece of sublime brilliance by BOD, but some questions; 1. Was it legal? Did he throw the ball forward to himself? 2. If an Ulster player had tackled him while the ball was in the air, was it a late tackle from when he passed it, an early tackle as he was about to catch it, or not a penalty at all?
    1. Robert Burns's Avatar
      Robert Burns -
      Yep, one of those that looked good and the crowd enjoyed.We'll put that one away now,
    1. OB..'s Avatar
      OB.. -
      Quote Originally Posted by Robert Burns View Post
      Throwing a ball straight up in the air is not illegal, If this was done at pace the ball would have enough momentum to carry it forward, though it would not be a forward pass.
      If you manage to throw it exactly vertically wrt yourself, yes it is legal. Fractionally forward is not, of course, and backwards will mean the ball comes down behind you.

      There is also the matter of whether or not you are deemed to be still in possession and can therefore be tackled.

      All in all I think this is an unrealistic scenario. I'm heading off ....
    1. Robert Burns's Avatar
      Robert Burns -
      Indeed, lol.

      But I know you understand the point is about unsporting play not the semantics of the throw.
    1. chopper15's Avatar
      chopper15 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Robert Burns View Post
      Ricardowensleydale:There is nothing specifically in the laws that says you may kick the ball forward, however there are plenty of references about kicking for goal, and if you were not able to kick forward, this would be very difficult.So, ipso-facto, you're allowed to kick forward.
      When you kick a loose ball forward from an on-side position you're not violating any laws. However, if you're the ball-carrier and obviously propel it forward to punt or drop-kick, it has to be a throw forward whether deliberate or mis-judged, surely?

      If you are receiving a pass and fumble the ball forward with the hands and retrieve it before touching the ground or another player . . . . play on , of course.

      But, should you knock the ball deliberately forward over the shoulder of a potential tackler ahead of your run, then retrieve it . . . PK?

      Now when it comes to using the head, chest, knee or foot to propel a fumbled pass that was not propelled forward, would I be correct in thinking it would be play on? Isn't this the scenario in question?


      PS Now off to London for a few days with the hope i'll get in to see the see the d'Vinci exhibition.
    1. Ricardowensleydale's Avatar
      Ricardowensleydale -
      Quote Originally Posted by didds View Post
      so kneeing/chesting the ball on in general play ie ball bobbling around, not dropped to the chest/knee etc is as well?

      i think this is an area where we/refs should be looking to reward quick thinking rather than look for reasons to blow the whistle.

      but i am in a minority of one when it comes to throwing the ball backwards into the knee not breaking any laws anyway!

      didds
      I was only talking about dropping the ball onto the head/knee/chest etc. With the ball bouncing around I have no issue with using any part of the body apart from the hands/arms. I said rugby evolved as a hands and feet game and it will continue to evolve. One of the main driving forces is open minded referees who are willing to consider their options and the spirit of the game rather than try to hold back the tide by penalising imaginative play. Waiting for an IRB directive on every nuance of the game will only hold it back. If the laws don't specifically outlaw an action, I say "play on"
    1. OB..'s Avatar
      OB.. -
      Quote Originally Posted by chopper15 View Post
      When you kick a loose ball forward from an on-side position you're not violating any laws. However, if you're the ball-carrier and obviously propel it forward to punt or drop-kick, it has to be a throw forward whether deliberate or mis-judged, surely?
      It would make no sense at all for referees to suddenly start penalising it.

      If you are receiving a pass and fumble the ball forward with the hands and retrieve it before touching the ground or another player . . . . play on , of course.
      Yes. And IMHO you can be tackled while trying to retrieve it.

      But, should you knock the ball deliberately forward over the shoulder of a potential tackler ahead of your run, then retrieve it . . . PK?
      Yes.

      Now when it comes to using the head, chest, knee or foot to propel a fumbled pass that was not propelled forward, would I be correct in thinking it would be play on? Isn't this the scenario in question?
      If you throw it forward to head it, it will almost certainly be treated like the so-called knee-kick.


      PS Now off to London for a few days with the hope i'll get in to see the see the d'Vinci exhibition.
      I hope you get in get in.
    1. OB..'s Avatar
      OB.. -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ricardowensleydale View Post
      If the laws don't specifically outlaw an action, I say "play on"
      In that case, what (specifically) is prohibited by Law 10.4 (m)?
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