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.
Each half of the match is started with a drop kick from the centre of the halfway line. The non-kicking team must be 10 metres back from the ball when it is kicked and the kick must travel 10m towards the opposition goal-line before hitting the ground.
A player may pass (throw the ball) to a team-mate who is in a better position to continue the attack, but the pass must not travel towards the opposing team’s goal-line. It must travel either directly across the field, or back in the direction of the passer’s own goal-line.
By carrying the ball forwards and passing backwards, territory is gained.
If a forward pass is made, the referee will stop the game and award a scrum with the throw-in going to the team which was not in possession at the time of the pass. In this way, a forward pass is punished by that team losing possession of the ball.
When a player mishandles the ball, i.e. drops it or allows it to rebound off a hand or arm, and the ball travels forwards, it is known as a knock-on.
This is punishable by a scrum to the opposition and therefore a turnover of possession.