Nigel Owens calls on World Rugby to axe ‘farcical’ law which blighted Scotland v France

Colin Newboult
Former international rugby referee Nigel Owens in 2020.

Former international rugby referee Nigel Owens in 2020.

Former international referee Nigel Owens has thought up an idea to close the loophole which has harmed the spectacle of some matches this season.

Kicking is a vital part of the game and is exciting when used correctly, but there is a law which can create the dreaded ‘kick tennis’.

It has occurred in both Scotland games so far, where players, who are at least 10 metres away from catcher, do not need to retreat and can just stand still.

They are then played onside when the individual that has the ball advances five metres, leaving little chance of counter-attacking.

No attacking option available

As a result, neither side can find the space to do something positive, resulting in them simply kicking it back and forth waiting for an error.

Boos broke out during Scotland’s Six Nations clash with France when that happened and there have been calls, including from Owens, for World Rugby to take action and alter the law.

“There is a loophole in the law, which has been used fairly frequently in recent months,” the ex-Test referee wrote in his WalesOnline column.

“If you are more than 10 metres away from where the ball lands, you don’t have to retreat – you can stand still, until you’re put onside. As long as they don’t move forward, they can just stay still.

“As that viral clip from the Bath v Gloucester game earlier this year showed, it can create a farcical situation that is not at all entertaining to watch.

“Can we close the loophole? Potentially. A solution may be to say, whether you’re within 10 metres of where the ball lands or not, you still have to move back towards your own goal line until you’re put onside.

“This of course will be more work for the referee and his team, as they would now have to make sure that players retreat and not just advance.

“It wouldn’t be that hard to follow though, I think, and maybe that will allow the catching side more space to counter attack and lead to less kicking. I might be wrong, but I can’t really see any negative effect this could have anywhere else.

“Whatever the solution is, it’s clear that we need something to try and cut down the amount of kicking back and forth.

“We want to take pride in our game and the strange situations this loophole leads to can make it all look like we are watching tennis sometimes and not rugby!”

Owens’ other qualm

The 52-year-old also wants to see the match officials enforce the five-second law more stringently, especially when sides are lining up a box kick.

“At the moment, there are certainly areas of the game which I think need to be more strongly refereed,” he added.

“One of those is the five-second law, where players must use the ball within five seconds after the referee says ‘use it’. That was brought in because players were slowing the game down by extending the ruck in order to get a box kick in further away, to avoid being charged down.

“It’s a good law on paper and one that definitely benefits the game, but the problem is that it’s not being refereed properly at the moment.

“Quite often I watch games where instead of being five seconds, it ends up being eight or nine seconds because referees are taking so long before they make that call. The referee should be calling this as soon as the ball is available to be used and not three or four seconds after.”

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