Nigel Owens urges World Rugby to ditch bunker system after Rugby World Cup final red card

Colin Newboult
Former international rugby referee Nigel Owens in 2020.

Former international rugby referee Nigel Owens in 2020.

Former Test referee Nigel Owens believes that the bunker system, which was used in the recent Rugby World Cup, has not helped improve the game.

After deeming it a success following a trial during the World Rugby U20 Championship, World Rugby decided to bring it in for the global tournament in France.

It is intended to speed up the game while also coming to more accurate decisions.

How it works

The governing body also intended to take the pressure off referees who, following a yellow card-worthy incident, would sin-bin a player and send the matter for a formal review.

That independent official would then take that time while the individual was off the field to decide whether it should be upgraded to a red.

During the Rugby World Cup final, that is what happened to Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane and Siya Kolisi, who were sin-binned for dangerous play.

While Kolisi and Frizell were allowed to return after their incidents stayed at a yellow, Cane was not, which meant he became the first man to be sent off in a World Cup final.

Owens did not divulge whether or not he thought it was a red card, but insisted that it should be the referee deciding if it is worthy of the harshest punishment.

“Whether you agree with Cane’s red card or not, the guy who should be making those key decisions should be the man in the middle,” Owens wrote in his column for WalesOnline.

“It shouldn’t be sent to a bunker. They’re not international referees, but they’re making international refereeing decisions.

“Wayne Barnes was appointed to referee that final because he was deemed the best person to referee that final. He’s the one who should be making those decisions.

“Certainly if I was reffing that game, there’s no way I’d want to send it to two people in the bunker to make that decision. It also means that now referees are no longer giving red cards themselves on field and to me that is wrong.

“What’s more, it’s not doing anything to eliminate the controversy. At the moment there are red cards being given for highly contentious incidents, and it’s in danger of spoiling the appeal of the game for supporters.

“I also think that when you have these sorts of red cards dished out for debatable decisions, it does open referees up to the sort of abuse we’ve seen recently.

“That’s not to excuse it in any way. It’s still utterly wrong. But when there’s controversy, everyone’s going to have an opinion and that’s inevitably going to be taken too far by some.”

What Owens would change

Owens, who refereed the 2015 World Cup final, identified what he would like to see altered in the sport going forward.

The 52-year-old doesn’t believe that the current laws around high tackles are reducing the number of head contacts in a game.

“I think rugby itself is at a crossroads at the moment,” Owens wrote on WalesOnline.

“For me, there are three big issues that need to be looked at. For one, the laws and directives around things like head contact, because current laws and sanctions are not changing player behaviour and we’re still seeing inconsistencies in decisions.

“Then there are the laws over being held up over the goal line. It so often rewards defensive play and that’s not what the game should be about.

“Rewards should always be for attacking play, and for that reason I would consider getting rid of the goal line drop out now. It hasn’t worked and never will.

“The other issue then is technology and the bunker. It just feels like the TMO is refereeing games at the moment and that’s not right.

“Your best man is on the field and they should be making more of the big decisions. Between the on-field officials, TMO and the bunker you had six people having a view or opinion on a decision. Too many cooks in the kitchen has never been so true.”

READ MORE: Nigel Owens calls for action after Wayne Barnes receives ‘disgraceful and unacceptable’ abuse