Recently retired referee Nigel Owens has called on World Rugby to make three changes to rugby’s laws next year, with safety, entertainment and fairness in mind.
Referee decisions have arguably never been discussed as much as they have been this year, with Rassie Erasmus’s hour-long video rant just one example of notable discontent with how the game has been officiated in 2021.
While Owens certainly doesn’t want to see excessive amounts of criticism directed towards officials, he does believe that some changes should be made to the game’s rules.
Owens was writing in his column for The Telegraph and called for a reduction of the number of replacements, for less use of the TMO and for scrum-halves to feed the ball into the scrum straight.
Reducing the number of replacements.
Owens isn’t the first high-profile figure in rugby to call for fewer replacements, and he likely won’t be the last as the sport’s administrators attempt to lessen the number of injuries occurring in rugby.
A number of former British and Irish Lions, including Ian McGeechan, signed an open letter to World Rugby back in August calling on a reduction of replacements, so mismatches collisions with fresh and fatigued players won’t be as common.
The Welshman agrees that eight replacements being introduced late on leads to a greater number of injuries, and has called for the number of replacements to be reduced to four or five.
“Every question and answer session I do I am always asked which law I would like to change and I always say I would like to see the substitution law changed,” Owens wrote.
“We as referees and referee managers in World Rugby, we’re always looking at things that need to be applied firmer, which contributes to the safety of the game and that is an ongoing process.”
Taking steps to prevent an over-reliance on TMOs.
Lengthy breaks in play due to TMO referrals are nothing new, although it could be argued that referees are going upstairs to check minor incidents of little relevance on a more regular basis recently.
TMOs can often be heard feeding referees information during live play, something which has also become far more common lately, and Owens believes that referees should be less concerned about getting every single decision correct.
“We should aim for good performances that facilitate good games,” Owens argued.
“In my opinion, perfect has become the enemy of the good because people are striving for a standard that is unachievable. A frustrating over-reliance on the TMO is one result of this fear of getting things wrong.”
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) December 8, 2021
Cracking down on crooked scrum feeds.
Last but not least is a rather simple one, which actually doesn’t require any law changes, but does require referees to actually adhere to the law that is already in place.
Scrum-halves are technically required to feed the ball into the scrum straight, but that hasn’t really been the case in a number of years, as the ball is often thrown into the feet of the attacking scrum’s second row.
Owens wants to see teams being awarded free kicks for crooked scrum feeds next year.
“Some of the scrum feeds from in the test series between Springboks and Lions – particularly by Cobus Reinach – were beyond a joke,” Owens commented.
“I must say that I have been as guilty of not giving enough free kicks for crooked feeds as any referee, but it has to be stopped as soon as possible now. Scrum-halves simply have to put the ball into scrums in an acceptable manner.”
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