Nigel Owens warns the scrum will be ‘gone for good’ after World Rugby’s potentially ‘damaging’ amendment

Colin Newboult
Former international rugby referee Nigel Owens in 2020.

Former international rugby referee Nigel Owens in 2020.

Former Test referee Nigel Owens has revealed his worries around World Rugby’s decision to amend the scrum law.

From July 1, teams will not be allowed to call a scrum when a free-kick has been awarded, sparking concerns that it could depower that set-piece.

Critics argue that it will lead to more gamesmanship from sides that have weaker scrums and won’t actually achieve what it is designed to do, and Owens agrees.

‘Likely to create further problems’

“I fear that introducing this new law is simply papering over the cracks of the game’s issues and is more likely to create further problems than solve the existing ones,” the hugely respected former match official wrote in his WalesOnline column.

“We must always remember that rugby has always been a very unique sport because it is a sport for all shapes and sizes. That is one of the main attractions, people play the game because there’s a place for them in it.

“For the guys in the front row, the likes of your Adam Joneses and your Ben Tameifunas, their bread and butter is being in the scrum. It’s a chance for them to use their strength and physical ability to benefit their team.

“That’s the same for all front rows, including the youngsters coming through.

“We simply have to ensure that the scrum remains an integral part of the game. If it’s not, then we are going to lose these players – and damage the game itself.”

World Rugby argue that reducing the number of scrums will open up attacking opportunities, but Owens very much disagrees.

“When you have a scrum setup, you have 16 players bound in the scrum, so what you have behind you is space. It’s important to be able to keep those 16 players in the scrum for as long as you can, because when the ball comes out, there’s space for them to attack,” he wrote.

“If we don’t have those players in the scrum, we’re just going to have continuous pick-and-go ball.”

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Owens ultimately believes that it could lead to more kicking in the game due to the fact that teams will be less likely to earn territory and possession from the scrum.

The set-piece offers a chance to use a strike move, but it also gives teams an opportunity to win penalties and therefore set up better attacking platforms.

“With this new law, World Rugby is not bringing in something which is not going to deal with the issues that are at play, but it is going to depower the scrum and take away an important part of the game,” the ex-ref wrote.

“If we’re not careful, within a couple of years we will be like rugby league, with even less space on the field that what we have now.

“Imagine you’re a weak scrummaging side and a scrum is awarded. With this new law, you’re just going to give a free-kick away by making a deliberate error as the stronger opposition won’t be able to take the scrum, where they have the advantage.

“And what will you have then? A wall of defence in front of you or more up-and-under box kicking.”

For the love of scrums, World Rugby stop changing the laws!

Giving fans what they want

While supporters often get frustrated about the scrums, it can also create huge excitement, especially when a team is demolishing the opposition, and Owens argues the set-piece can provide one of the biggest cheers during a match.

“It will remove some of the spectacle too. Imagine Wales were playing England in Cardiff and the Welsh scrum shoved the English pack back a couple of metres for a try. The roof would be blown off the stadium and that’s how it should be,” he added.

“The game is there for your attacking backs, your Shane Williams types. It’s there for your rampaging number eights. But it’s also there for your big, physical front rows – and we must remember that.

“I could be proved wrong, but I’d be very very surprised if this new law brought any extra positives to the game. I can just see it increasing negativity and rewarding poor scrummaging and, if we’re not careful, the scrum will be gone for good.”

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