Nigel Owens calls for law change after Duhan van der Merwe and Ange Capuozzo incident

Jared Wright
Ex-referee Nigel Owens and Scotland winger Duhan van der Merwe and Italy fullback Ange Capouzzo.

Ex-referee Nigel Owens and Scotland winger Duhan van der Merwe and Italy fullback Ange Capouzzo.

Former rugby referee Nigel Owens has called for a change in a law that rewards defence following an incident in the Six Nations clash between Italy and Scotland in Rome.

Owens would prefer that the law revert back to its original state before World Rugby adopted the update in May 2022.

Rewarding the defence

In the latter stages of the Six Nations clash, Ange Capuozzo scooped up the ball inside the Scotland 22 after a kick-through from teammate Louis Lynagh.

The Azzurri fullback looked on course to grab a try, which, if converted, would have put Italy ahead at half-time.

However, Duhan van der Merwe managed to tackle the outside back, dragged him over the line and held him up, preventing him from scoring.

According to the current World Rugby laws, Van der Merwe’s actions secured Scotland a goal-line dropout.

Law 21.16 states: “When a player carrying the ball is held up in-goal, so that the player cannot ground the ball or play the ball, the ball is dead. Play restarts with a goal line drop-out or a 5m scrum, depending on how the ball entered in-goal. (law 12.12a, and law 19.1 row 5).”

In this case, law 12.12a applies as Capuozzo was in possession of the ball when taken over the line; the law reads: “Play is restarted with a goal line drop-out when: The ball is played or taken into in-goal by an attacking player and is then held up, grounded or otherwise made legally dead by an opponent.”

This is where Owens feels that change is needed as the game is becoming too defence-oriented.

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Nigel Owens’ reaction

Nigel Owens' post which reads: That is why I don’t like the goal line drop out held up law. We should be giving the benefit of the doubt and rewarding the attacking team not the defence. The game is far too much defence oriented already. #ItalyvScotland

“That is why I don’t like the goal line drop out held up law. We should be giving the benefit of the doubt and rewarding the attacking team not the defence. The game is far too much defence oriented already,” he wrote on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

When asked by a follower what he would like to see be awarded instead, Owens replied, “As it was 5m scrum.”

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So instead of Scotland being awarded a goal-line drop out, Owens said that the old law was better which in this case would lead to Italy having a scrum five metres out from the Scottish try line.

This law was changed to discourage teams from using forwards to pick and go close to the line as well as maul tries, but Owens believes that it hasn’t been that effective, adding in another reply, “But it hasn’t thought (sic). The endless pick up and goes are still there as much as ever.”

Another follower wrote: “Disagree…if attacking team don’t want to risk being held up then be expansive and more adventurous in attack than the pick and go option,” in reply to Owens.

He replied: “But that hasn’t happened and that’s what the law was bought in for.”

In the end, the denied try had little influence on the result as Italy still managed to edge ahead of Scotland and would hold on for a memorable victory in Rome.

READ MORE: Italy v Scotland: Five takeaways as Scots ‘pay heavy price’ for inconsistencies as ‘stunning’ Azzurri rule Rome