Nigel Owens has urged players to change their behaviour in light of the high number of red cards being handed out in recent times.
The Welsh referee was speaking on BT Sport‘s Rugby Tonight Show about the numerous incidents that have resulted in players being sent off across several competitions.
The Six Nations has had two red cards already in the first two rounds of fixtures, with Peter O’Mahony and Zander Fagerson punished for similar offences at the breakdown.
“If we apply the law as it is, I’m sure the game can be refereed that way any more.”
“Players really do need to change their behaviour.”
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) February 21, 2021
Meanwhile, five red cards were handed out at the weekend in the latest round of the Gallagher Premiership, with three of those in the one match between Leicester Tigers and Wasps.
While rugby bosses have clamped down on dangerous play in recent times, Owens was surprised by the number of red card offences being committed by players.
“What amazes me more than anything is that the players don’t seem to grasp what the directives are and what the law is,” Owens said.
“There really needs to be a change in behaviour because you just can’t lead with an elbow or a shoulder or fly into a ruck anymore with the head, you just can’t do it.
“Whether it is the dynamics of the modern game that makes it very difficult for the players to change and adapt, I don’t know, but something needs to change.”
Do the laws need to be changed?
While the Welshman placed much of the onus on players to bring down the number of red cards being handed out, he admitted that referees also need to examine how they officiate the game.
“If we apply the law as it is, I’m not quite sure the game can be refereed that way anymore. The laws of the game say you must enter the ruck above hip height and you must bind on to your own team-mate when you join the ruck, but the game hasn’t been played or refereed like that.
“Whether it can be played and refereed like that after the way the game has evolved, [I don’t know].
“If you look at situations like the croc roll, for example. It’s quite clear in the law today you cannot wilfully collapse a ruck. So you can’t grab a player and croc roll him to the ground, but it has never been refereed or coached like that.
“We must all decide, are we going to referee the game the way it is in the law book and change the way the game is played or do we change the laws?
“One thing that I think is very clear is players need to change their behaviour,” Owens commented.
While there is no obvious plan in place that will bring down the number of red cards, Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa have introduced a new rule to lessen the impact of players being sent off.