KERF ref explains “controversial” yellow card



You may have seen this penalised in Super Rugby and wondered how can that be that a deliberate knock back of opposition ball is a penalisable offence. At the recent Kearsney Easter Rugby Festival, a player even received a yellow card for the severity of his knock back.

At the start of the second half of the HTS Middelburg versus Noord-Kaap match (see the image below for the exact time on SSL’s youtube footage), while the Kimberley team is on the attack and attempts a pass towards the inside, the retreating Rooibul centre manages to take up the space between the passer and recipient and aggressively and deliberately slaps the ball downwards and backwards towards his own try line, effecting a turnover of possession. All appears to be legit. However experienced and well-respected KZN referee halts play, awards a penalty to Noord-Kaap and sinbins the HTS centre for extreme negative play.

After the match the ref explained that he binned the player for slapping the ball in accordance with a reminder directive issued by SARU in conjunction with the Laws which reminded officials that negative play is against the spirit of the game – an example being throwing the ball into touch which is not mentioned in the Laws but penalisable.

Interestingly the Law makes no mention of the direction of the ball has to travel so it can be forward or backwards. Referees therefore interpret this negative play in the same manner irrespective of whether the ball travels forward or backwards.

On review, it was confirmed that a slap-back towards your own goal-line is allowed. The decision on the field was incorrect.



  1. Maybe we should look at the knock on law first, can you please post it Beet. However, the decision appears to be ridiculous.

  2. 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.

    If a player in tackling an opponent makes contact with the ball and the ball goes forward from the ball carrier’s hands, that is a knock-on.

    If a player rips the ball or deliberately knocks the ball from an opponent’s hands and the ball goes forward from the ball carrier’s hands, that is not a knock-on.

    Charge down. If a player charges down the ball as an opponent kicks it, or immediately after the kick, it is not a knock-on even though the ball may travel forward.

  3. 12.1 The outcome of a knock-on or throw forward


    Unintentional knock-on or throw forward. A scrum is awarded at the place of infringement.


    Unintentional knock-on or throw forward at a lineout. A scrum is awarded 15 metres from the touchline.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.

  4. @beet: “‘Forward’ means towards the opposing team’s dead ball line.” – that’s the key phrase. Playing the ball towards your own goal line can never be penalisable, we see it all the time; we even howl if it’s not done that way during passing and the ref does nothing!

  5. @tzavosky:
    I was also shocked by the decision.

    This ref is on the ball though. He knows what he’s talking about.

    We probably need to see the directive. It’s about negative play.

    When you slap a ball even towards in your own tryline in attempt to break up an opponent attack, it’s been penalised at Super Rugby level. Happened this season.

  6. @QC86: Spear was convinced your son was going to signed by the Sharks. I’ve just been chatting to Bush about him and the cards.

  7. @McCulleys Workshop: little shit deserved both of them,of course not his fault,Monnas boy should never have jumped that high when taking the kickoff :roll: and he can’t help it that the PBHS OKE RAN INTO HIM while he was taking a quick tap and go :roll:

  8. @beet: So what’s next – red card for a lock who repeatedly taps the ball to his side on the opponents’ lineout throw?

    It’s not negative play to stop an opponent’s attack by legitimate means.

  9. @beet: How is a line-out defined? Is it an attacking opportunity for the team that is awarded it, or is it, to use basketball speak a “jump-ball” situation – i.e. a fair contest?

    I ask because, if it’s considered an attack, should a line-out steal by the ‘defending’ side, by knocking the ball back, not then be a penalisable offense?

    Do you perhaps have a copy of this directive that states “…deliberately knocking the ball to stop an opponent’s play is a penalisable offence”? It may answer my concerns. A line-out throw in my view is an opponent’s play. A contesting (one could argue that the Middleburg center was ‘contesting’ for the ball) jumper who knocks the ball backwards stealing the opponent’s throw in, has in effect done so deliberately.

    I could be totally wrong in my assertion, or maybe I am just trying to be a smarty pants here, but this law, is ridiculous in my view, and will open itself up to a lot of questions.

  10. @beet: I have never seen an interpretation where slapping the ball towards your own goal line is deemed a “knock”. A knock has always been interpreted as towards the opponent goal line.
    This was purely a referee interpretation and in my opinion an attempt to influence the game through officiating judgement. Quite irrelevant to me if it is an experienced referee or not. Issue remains if it is a fair and just call. If the rules are not clear, then the official should not bend it to satisfy his or her sense of “righteousness”.
    Another area of contention is the breakdowns. Some referees totally unable to interpret correctly (as are many spectators). Helpmekaar extremely good on ground and was severely penalized ( many times unjustly – I watched all the videos). This totally took momentum away at times.

  11. @BrotherBear: It’s one thing to be extremely good on the ground, that entirely depends on the ref on the day, and it’s entirely another skill to adapt after being blown a few times. Its a flaw in any side not being able to adapt to the refs view. Two penalties aren’t necessarily going to lose you the game, however if your entire game plan is built on scavenging the ball from the tackled player or rucks – it’s a problem.

  12. So what is more relevant and/or necessary: sticking to a game plan that does not work like a donkey and/or adapting to the ref on the day?

  13. @Playa: Ah, great minds or fools…!

    There is nothing in the laws that prevents a player from playing the ball towards his own goal line as long as he is i) onside and ii) on his feet, no matter how that ball gets to him. He may even dribble it basketball style if he prefers.

  14. @tzavosky: Exactly my thoughts. Negative play stems from illegal play.
    For example, an intercept is not illegal on its own (just as hitting the ball backwards) if it happens from an onside position. If you intercept from an offside position, then that’s negative play because by being offside you are technically out of the game.
    A player on his feet, turning over a ball by hitting it to his side? Is that now also negative play?
    Maybe we are the fools? I don’t know

  15. For what its worth I was also puzzled by the penalty compounded by a yellow card.

    @tzavosky: @Playa: I can understand why the lineout is different though. It’s an open contest restart for the ball and has its own set of unique rules like having to throw the ball straight down the middle as opposed to being able to throw it towards one’s own side.

  16. @beet: Maybe we should ask oom Paul from R365, he is a law fundi? I’ll do so if you prefer, he can do a “Laws Discussion” on it.

  17. @McCulleys Workshop: @Valkie: problem is how do the players then interpret how far they must go. Do they then stop contesting. Each time they try again the referee blows penalty.
    Funnily enough during the Nellies game one of their players were lying offside and not rolling away. The ref warned him twice and even pulled on his arm to roll away, but did not penalise. Eventually Helpie scrumhalf tried to play the ball and was blown for a knock. WTF? There were many such incidents, but real reason for loss were handling errors and some very poor player decisions.
    Issue is that in a tight game it can cost you the match. One penalty, kicked out on your goal line and a poorly defended driving maul results in a try (1 to 7 points difference).

  18. @BrotherBear: I do think that in this particular case the experience and with it knowledge of the ref was important. The ref could have said I made a mistake or I didn’t know if he was inexperienced but this guy who is not one of those trigger happy refs was very confident that what he had done was in line with what SARU wanted out of positive play.

    The ruck is the most subjective part of rugby still and very frustrating to see unfold at times. Watching the 6 Nations this year I think their officials are getting it spot on now to promote continuity and attractive rugby with calls that tend to end the contest for the ball very quickly – obviously this goes hand in hand with attacking team support players responding quickly to turn tackled ball into rucks. Also lot of it has to do with clear cut communication from the refs. A fit referee is often on the spot and he makes it clear to players when they can no longer compete for tackled ball. Naturally consistency by the officials also helps a lot at that high level. SBR players don’t have these luxuries I’m afraid and they aren’t pros who can just adjust during a match. They depend a lot on the officials to be on the same wavelength as the way they were coached. Not easy in running time festival game where 3-4 penalties can destroy momentum and chow up lots of valuable time.

    Watching the Blitzbokke play 7’s I noticed how quickly the second man support player responds and arrives to create a ruck after his teammate is tackled. That secures recycled ball. It’s a key element these days.

  19. @BrotherBear: Yes, but the refs position is generally made clear fairly early in a game as to how he is going to blow the breakdowns, if you continue with that infringement late in the game, you do so at your own peril. Not that a ref is consistent through out the game. I great case in point was the PBH v Grey game last year which created a fair degree of anxiety for a certain mired Grey supporter, he felt that the PBH 7 was consistently playing the ball on the ground – well it was a touch and go decision to my mind, but Grey never adapted to the refs interpretation and came second.

  20. @Playa: issue also with perceived unjust officiating is that players become confused in a few situations and it puts a brake on their vigour and play. Now they have to start thinking in situations where good instinct means fractions of seconds. Extremely few international players can adapt. Test matches are lost because of this phenomenon.

  21. @McCulleys Workshop: I agree that if you do not change at all, you will be penalised. I believe all players at least try and change, but once again it remains a highly contentious area, where inconsistency by the referee (even when players change) can make a big difference. Test is to watch the game on video and analyze referee decisions – shocking to say the least, in some games.

  22. @beet: you are spot on with the referee communication. When done at all, the players understands what he expects (during game) end when done correctly greatly enhances flow. Good referees quite rightly penalise when they have to continuously warn.

  23. @BrotherBear: Okay so we have moved to rugs and refs. I often get the impression that refs and players know each other so well that they know exactly what they will get from one another. To give you an idea of what I’m saying: I spoke to a certain Bulls player Sunday morning after their game against the Jaquares. He was a replacement player and in no time received 4 penalties against him for playing the ball on the ground. He said he had to adapt to the ref’s style of playing the ball on the ground or faced a yellow card because they don’t know each other. He said that if it was a ref that knew him things might have been different.

    Thing is, the ref makes the call and the player must listen or be blown out of the game. The ref is not going to change.

    @BrotherBear: Yes we did win, and maybe Helpies should have won the game. It’s all irrelevant in the end…..the boys all played a decent game of rugby, and there were no serious injuries. That is more important to me than winning or losing an Easter festival game. You always have to ask yourself the question: Is this worth dying for? … me it wasn’t ……

  24. @beet: Fair enough.

    And this is where I say this directive opens up a whole bunch of questions.It is unfortunate that refs will be the villains, whilst those in suits writing up the laws sit pretty.

    According to the Beginner’s Guide to Rugby Union booklet, open play is defined as follows:
    “Open play. The term ‘open play’ refers to any phase in the match where the ball is being passed or kicked between team mates and both teams are contesting for the ball. In open play, the team in possession tries to get the ball to players in space who can make forward progress towards the opposing goal line.”
    My key take away here is the part where it says “both teams are contesting for the ball”

  25. @BrotherBear: I’d be lying if I had a number, but there is always a point where a team needs to either get answers, or ask themselves the hard questions. And the sooner the better. A starting point is usually with the captain approaching the ref, explaining his own interpretation, then asking the ref to correct him where he is wrong, and explaining exactly what it is the players are doing wrong. This should guide the captain on how to approach the game. More often than not, where a ref fails to explain himself, or cannot adequately explain the wrongness, he will think twice before blowing future incidents. Then again, you will find some possessed refs who ran onto the field with their own evil agenda :twisted:

  26. :oops: :oops: :oops:

    Sorry all!

    I just received confirmation that the decision made during that HTS Middelburg match was the incorrect one.

    The player was well within his rights to slap the ball back towards his own line as hard as he likes.

  27. @Playa: and then you get those refs that have a “kort mannetjie kompleks” (tokkelosh complex) who does not listen to anyone or anything and wants to litterally stamp his authority. Helpies captain spoke quite a few times. He is experienced and has a calm demeanor, so would not have intimidated the ref. Incident where no 7 was tackled without the ball with open tryline was only penalty. Offender should have received a yellow. Yes, penalty resulted in try but referee was inconsistent w.r.t. his very dicy call to yellow card Helpie no 11 earlier in game for “grass cutter” tackle. All these things tally in the end.

  28. @BrotherBear: Thanks.

    I should have double checked. At least there’s the video evidence this time. Anyway on the bright side at least it happened on Friday.

  29. @beet: We’ll let this one slide. It was nice to have a bit of a debate on the laws though, albeit misdirected. I was hoping that Gungets would even get out of hibernation for this one :mrgreen:

  30. @Playa: Here’s the thing: After watching the game for many years I came to the conclusion that your average rugby supporter has a very poor understanding and knowledge of the laws. By that I don’t mean the basic laws, but an in depth knowledge thereof. So I decided to do an in depth study myself.

    That was about 15 years ago and I was surprised about how poorly I knew the laws myself, so I formulated Tzavosky’s Law on Rugby Laws: Of all people involved with rugby, 90% have never seen a law book; of the 10% that have seen one, 90% have never bothered to study it; of the 10% that have studied it, 90% have never written a referee exam. I fall in the latter category, but in mitigation, I was way too old to become a referee by then.

    BUT, everyone involved regards himself as an expert on the laws and therefore is entitled to criticize referee decisions! There are a few very strange and peculiar laws, sort of counter intuitive, that when they are applied, people in the stand go bonkers. I’ve seen it!

  31. @tzavosky: Proud to say I am part of the 0.1% :mrgreen: Albeit a lifetime ago. I refereed for a bit as well for my sins. I try and read as much as I can nowadays, but I battle to keep up with the constant changes.

    My dad always says that one of the easiest things to do is to criticize someone for only managing to do 80% of a job you cannot even do. Refs unfortunately have that to put up with. Then we go and analyse videos that refs didn’t have the benefit of seeing during the 80 minutes of a game.

    I am believer that criticism is good, but also have some empathy and understand that he is watching 20 different things at the same time, including the crowd that keeps on shouting unsavoury slogans at him from the stands – and us spectators are only focusing on where the ball is. We have an advantage.

    Some years back, Jonathan Kaplan adjudged a pass as a forward pass, Dale leading QC 13-12 with no time left, which had led to a disallowed try that would have won the game for Queens. It looked forward to me (had plenty beers in my system though), and a few others. It was, however interesting to note that there was a split in how we saw it as spectators when we were discussing it in the beer tent after the game – Old Dalians and Old Queenians alike – there were groups believing Kaplan was right, and group believing he was wrong. I believed he got it wrong, but QC86 from where he was sitting believed he was right for example.

    My point – let’s stop shouting at the ref…engage him with a beer afterwards instead and you might learn something. Being a ref is a tough and thankless task.

  32. @Playa: The law that intriqued me most 15 years ago was 22.4(h) which basically says that a player outside the field of play can score a try if the ball is in goal, provided he didn’t carry the ball in goal himself.

    At the time I’ve never seen this happening and I discussed it with a longstanding CW coach that I know. He was unaware of this law and I told him then that whenever this happens, we will witness outcries from all and sundry.

    Low and behold, a few weeks later the Chiefs were playing the Bulls at Loftus and their FH grubbered the ball in goal. Their right wing ran on the outside of the touch line and pressed down on the ball as he went past.

    The referee, George Ayoub, referred to the TMO and enquired about the grounding. A former Bok captain was one of the commentators and he insisted it couldn’t be a try as the player was outside the field of play. The TMO came back and said, “the grounding was good, but the player’s feet..”. Ayoub said he wasn’t interested in the player’s feet and awarded the try.

    The following Sunday Ayoub was castigated in the papers by experienced rugby scribes for his poor decision. So, what do we have? A former Bok captain, an experienced TMO and a bunch of people making a living from writing on rugby, all of them, don’t know the laws. What chance does Joe Average in the stands have?!

  33. @Tzavosky: what does the law say about the incident in last week super rugby game, with the reserves warming up in the in goal area…. I cani remember who the teams were, think it was Lions/Stormers (might be wrong)…anyway, i think Ross Cronje got the ball from a ruck a few meters from his own tryline early in 2nd half…the stormers bench were warming up and was literally standing on the tryline a few meters behind Cronje…he tried to pass the ball to one of them, thinking it was Jantjies….Lions had to scramble, om ‘dood te druk” and 5 mr scrum awarded to Stormers

    Surely the reserves was interfering with play and could be construed as negative (albeit unintentional)…..should that not have been a Lions penalty? Surely they can’t stand in a playing area, causing confusion

    my apologies if I have the players and team wrong, but the incident remain…what does the law say?

  34. @Vyfster: Howzit, your team seems to be doing OK under the new dispensation!

    I think it’s covered by Law 6A.11: The ball in in-goal being touched by a non-player – the referee judges what would have happened next and award a try or touch down at the place where the ball was touched.

    In your scenario I think a 5m scrum to the attacking team seems a bit unfair, and my intuition says a 22m drop out would be more appropriate, but the law doesn’t specify that.

    There used to be some interesting rules in the laws regulating what should happen if a spectator interferes in-goal, depending on whether the visiting team is affected, etc, but I think the Law above now covers that.


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