ANOTHER change coming? Referee left ‘fuming’ after ‘awful law’ controversially denies England hooker a try

Colin Newboult
Luke Cowan-Dickie denied try during Sale Sharks' Premiership clash against Saracens in 2024.

Luke Cowan-Dickie denied try during Sale Sharks' Premiership clash against Saracens in 2024.

Luke Cowan-Dickie’s controversial non-try on Saturday has opened up another debate over the game’s laws.

The England hooker was playing for Sale Sharks in their crucial Premiership encounter against Saracens at StoneX Stadium.

Sale were 7-3 ahead when they pinned the hosts back, forcing their opponents to throw in at a lineout five metres out from their own line.

Under pressure, Sarries got it wrong at the set-piece as Jamie George failed to hit his target. The ball landed in the arms of Cowan-Dickie and the front-rower powered towards the whitewash.

Lost control

He was tackled before the line but reached out and managed to place the ball down.

Replays showed that the 30-year-old had briefly lost control and there was separation before he got his hand back on it, appearing to extend his side’s lead.

Not according to the laws, though, as it was deemed that the ball had completely slipped from Cowan-Dickie’s grasp and, because it hit the deck, it was technically a knock-on.

It was therefore ruled out and stopped the Sharks from going 12-3 in front, but it did not matter in the end result as the visitors went away with a 20-10 Premiership triumph.

Most agreed that, in the letter of the law, the officials got the decision correct, but it raised a debate.

In commentary on TNT Sports, ex-England back Austin Healey argued Cowan-Dickie’s case by saying: “He regathers the ball before it hits the floor”, but fellow co-commentator Ben Kay responded: “I don’t think it matters because that’s deemed as losing control.”

Kay added: “That is how the referees have been told to referee it because clear separation (means a knock-on).”

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Referee’s explanation

Sale weren’t happy and fly-half George Ford spoke to the referee about it. Luke Pearce had sympathy for the Sharks but stated: “The ball clearly comes away from the hand and then back in… he’s not in control, it’s a knock on. It’s tough, it’s harsh but that’s the way it is.”

Kay insisted that nobody – other than Sarries obviously – were happy about the situation and revealed that he has already queried why the law is being implemented in that way.

“I remember when we were told about this, I thought, ‘why is that the law?’ I don’t really understand it because if a player drops it but catches it before it hits the floor, that’s fine,” the former England lock said.

“He’s clearly pushed the ball towards the line but Luke Pearce is absolutely right. The Sale fans will be fuming, he (Sharks boss Alex Sanderson) will be fuming, Luke Pearce is fuming – he’s just said he doesn’t like it.”

Social media reaction

RugbyInsideLine was not impressed by the decision to rule it out and felt that it should have been awarded.

“WHAT?! That is a bizarre call,” they wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“The ball leaves Cowan-Dickie’s hands but he doesn’t drop it and then regathers whilst it is mid-air to score.

“It’s an awful law. There’s no knock on… The try should stand.”

However, as others pointed out, Pearce had no other option but to rule it out.

“I don’t get this post. It’s an awful law (agree) so why is a bizarre call. It’s clearly a non try. Easiest call in the world,” one person responded.

“Amazing how many ref criticisers don’t know the laws and or how they are interpreted.”

Another added: “Agreed, it’s a bad law, but it is the law as it stands, so no try is the correct call.”

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