The free kick is an ancient part of the game appearing in the Rules of Football at Rugby School before even the forward pass
In today's law discussion, we look at a situation from the Blues-Force Super Rugby match... and a free kick - an ancient part of the game.
Taking a free kick:
The Blues are to put the ball into a scrum against the Force but the Force have their alignment wrong. The referee awards the Blues a free kick.
Michael Hobbs, the Blues flyhalf, is to take the kick. He notes the mark (= place where he to take the kick), goes back and moves forward towards that mark to kick the ball there.
Before he can kick, Nathan Charles, the Forces' eager hooker, charges up. Hobbs sidesteps Charles, runs forward and kicks the ball.
The referee stops play and awards s scrum to the Force.
The free kick is an ancient part of the game appearing in the Rules of Football at Rugby School before even the forward pass. It dates back to the simple days of the law when the game was about the fearless strong men who hacked the ball forward and handling the ball was limited.
If an opponent kicked the ball and you caught it, you were allowed a free kick. It was that simple though there were certain complications in taking the kick which was the result of a fair catch or mark. The kick was called a free kick and it happened only if a player caught an opponent's kick and made it known that he wanted a free kick. Opponents were allowed to stand on the mark and were allowed to charge 'as soon as the player offers to kick'. The player making the mark would draw back to kick. That, more or less, is how things stayed till 1977.
In 1882 the free kick was extended to include a punishment for doing wrong - a free kick by way of penalty. It was taken in the same way as the free kick from a fair catch except that any member of the team was allowed to take it. For years and years what we call a penalty today was referred to as a free kick, erroneously in fact as more and more it had a life of its own and was called a penalty kick. For one thing opponents came to be forbidden to charge the penalty kick while they were allowed to charge a free kick from a fair catch. It also came to pass in the case of a penalty that opponents were required to go back 10 yards from the mark. There were just the free kick from the fair catch and the penalty kick for an infringement.
The change in 1977 brought in a third type of kick - the free kick for an infringement. We now had a penalty, a free kick from a fair catch and a free kick for some technical offences - like putting the ball in skew at a scrum (an anachronism it seems) and engaging early (a recent introduction).
The way of the fair catch and the punitive free kick became mercifully the same except that only the catcher could kick the fair catch.
One thing that remained common to both forms of free kick and dated back at least till 1846 was that opponents may charge 'as soon as the player offers to kick'. That is still true in 2012 and is the reason why Nathan Charles was allowed to charge.
But a free kick is a kick. It's not a pass and it's not licence to run with the ball. The ball needs to be brought into play with a kick - putting foot to ball. Hobbs did not do that; he ran with it.
Law 21.3 HOW THE PENALTY AND FREE KICKS ARE TAKEN
(a) Any player may take a penalty or free kick awarded for an infringement with any type of kick: punt, drop kick or place kick. The ball may be kicked with any part of the lower leg from knee to the foot, excluding the knee and the heel.
Sanction: Any infringement by the kicker’s team results in a scrum at the mark. The opposing team throws in the ball.
Early engagement at a scrum is an infringement. The sanction is a free kick. The ball must be brought into play by 'any type of kick'.
Hobbs was required to kick the ball.
What about Charles?
Law 21.8 WHAT OPTIONS THE OPPOSING TEAM HAVE AT A FREE KICK
(e) Charging the free kick. Once they have retired the necessary distance, players of the opposing team may charge and try to prevent the kick being taken. They may charge the free kick as soon as the kicker starts to approach to kick.
Charles was allowed to charge when Hobbs moved forward (started to approach) to kick.
Law 21.8 (f) Preventing the free kick. If the opposing team charge and prevent the free kick being taken, the kick is disallowed. Play restarts with a scrum at the mark. The opposing team throw in the ball.
But Hobbs did kick the ball. Why the scrum?
Law 21.2 WHERE PENALTY AND FREE KICKS ARE TAKEN
(a) The kicker must take the penalty or free kick at the mark or anywhere behind it on a line through the mark. If the place for a penalty or free kick is within 5 metres of the opponents’ goal line, the mark for the kick is 5 metres from the goal line, opposite the place of infringement.
Sanction: Any infringement by the kicker’s team results in a scrum 5 metres from the goal line in line with the mark. The opposing team throws in the ball.
The award of a scrum to the Force was the correct decision.